TO BAKE A PIE

Add ice cold water.

Colby gently poured the water over the floor mixture and started mixing. The instructions were very clear, and this time she planned to follow them to a T. You’d think that creating something edible off of an online recipe,with pictures,would be easy, but it was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. Even now her phone was propped up against the wall at the kitchen counter and she could clearly see that what she’d made so far looked nothing like the pictures. It was only a matter of time before this latest attempt joined the other failures in the almost overflowing dustbin.

Her phone was propped up against the wall on the kitchen counter. Looks like it’s finally taking shape, she thought, looking at the pictures and then at the lump of dough under her hands. Hardly daring to breathe, she quickly transferred it into a resealable plastic bag and popped it in the freezer. Colby needed to give it a few minutes to set.

At that moment, the various aches and pains in her body decided to make themselves known. Her arms felt like they would break off at the joints, while her tension headache just wouldn’t quit. The nature of her job meant that she was on her feet for at least fourteen hours a day and she had long reconciled herself to the red-hot poker like pain at the small of her back and on the soles of her feet.

She snagged a bottle of the house wine- a really expensive vintage- and a glass on her way to sitting down. The employees were never allowed to drink or eat for free, but at this late hour, she was the only one left at work. No one would know. Besides, she could always refill the bottle with cheap wine. All the people who frequented this place would never know the difference.

It was time to take the pastry shells out and roll them. Urgh.

This was all Daniel’s fault. The new manager had hit the ground running by introducing new changes to the menu, including various common cakes and pies, to bring in a more diverse clientele. He’d then gone and hired a flaky pastry chef-no pun intended- who hadn’t shown up for work in two days, leaving her to stretch herself thin trying to make everything on the menu.  People came to The Zephyr to eat world class food, not to be served common fare. Her attempts to point that out to Daniel had been met by him telling her that the new location would appreciate the current menu more.

She was a renowned cook,but pastries had always stumped her. Back in culinary school, she had barely passed when tested on that topic, and since then she could count only a handful of times when she was required to bake anything. Colby had created a niche for herself as a chef and that’s how people knew her.

She took the shells out and started the other tedious process. Her mind drifted back to the beginning. For as long as she could remember, cooking had always been fascinating for her. As a child, she would spend hours in the kitchen with the housekeeper while her parents were away on their many “business trips” and just watch. At first glance, the art of cooking seemed simple, mindless,even, but there was order and precision in the way the ingredients were mixed and the timings of each addition. Even when the rest of her life had seemed chaotic and out of control, especially in the early years, she had always been able to rely on cooking for the familiarity that always kept her grounded. Her parents were yet to understand how she could have chosen such a lowly profession when the world was her oyster. Why, just the other day at her obligatory once-a-month lunch, her mother had once again expressed her displeasure,exclaiming about the state of her hands. Granted, her hands were always red due to being exposed to very high temperatures in the kitchen all the time and with all the kneading, cutting, and slicing she did on a daily basis, a manicure would just be a waste of money. The way her mother carried on,you’d think split nails were a capital offense.

Colby didn’t blame her, though. After all, her mother had never had to work a day in her life. She had been born with two silver spoons in her mouth. Her mother lived for looking like she’d just stepped out of a magazine ad and knowing the latest gossip. She honestly didn’t understand her daughter’s compulsion to work. After all, she reasoned, why do menial, backbreaking work when you could pay others to do it and go to a spa instead? Over the years both had agreed to disagree and their monthly lunches were just a way for Colby’s mother to air her issues for the upteenth time, and for Colby to smile and pretend to think about it.

Back to the present, she eyed the pastry shells. They kinda,sorta looked like the picture. Not bad, for a beginner. It probably wouldn’t matter, anyway. The clientele in this place were not that discriminating. If it looked good and tasted better, it was a winner.

She could feel her anger at Daniel rising again. How dare he bring them to this… this hovel!

The Zephyr chain of hotels were old and very prestigious, a giant in the industry. The day the employment letter had come in the mail was the happiest day of her life. Finally, all those years of slaving away in the kitchen had paid off. She vowed then and there to be the best and ensure her job security. In the five years since,she had surmounted all the obstacles before her and surpassed all expectations, including her own. Now, to eat a meal made by Colby was “like eating liquid gold”, according to one review.The Zephyr enjoyed a steady stream of patrons as a result, with a reservation Iist almost three years long.

Now however, the management were scared of competition from the newer, more flashy hotels coming up. Although they were yet to feel the pinch ,it was inevitable that the clientele would be drawn away. Personally, Colby thought they wouldn’t have to worry if they just hired an interior decorator to spruce things up, make it more modern. Honestly,sometimes it felt like being trapped in a time capsule where it was still 1901! Most of the board members were third or fourth generation owners, old themselves and quite resistant to change, so Colby knew that was a tall order. Instead they’d called in Daniel, who was touted in all the business magazines as a ” true visionary ” ,a genius when it came to expanding a business. He had suggested opening another hotel which would be more accessible to the masses, and enlisting the help of the locals. So here she found herself, on the wrong side of town, trying to make pastries for riff raff who’d probably not notice the intricate design in the crust the subtleness of taste,wouldn’t appreciate the hours that went into making it.

Speaking of local riff raff….
The young man looked to be around twenty,wearing clothes two sizes too big and boots. He had an angular face, normal looking, with a crooked nose and hair slicked back with gel. As she watched him walk across the floor,inappropriate music blaring from the headphones in his ears,no doubt ,she couldn’t stop her lip from curling in distaste.

She shouldn’t even be here. Her place was with art lovers, food enthusiasts, and others of her kind. Not this place that seemed to suck the soul out of you,where people acted like animals and had no regard for anything or anyone else. Of course,it had been Daniel’s suggestion to send her here, saying that having a celebrity chef was likely to make the opening go smoother and would boost sales. So far, everything was going great, but no one ever told Colby anything about making pie.

Worse still was that the people here seemed not to know or care about who she was. He was certainly making it clear that he preferred his music to her. It was incomprehensible that he wouldn’t know who she was. Colby, chef extraodinaire. She had written several books, appeared on various talk shows and cooked for some of the most famous people in the world. Her presence alone at a restaurant was guaranteed to boost sales sky high. She was Somebody, and how dare he not recognize that.
As always, he went straight to the sink and started washing the dinner crowd dishes. Why did he never talk to her? Was she that repulsive?

                                 *
His initial impression of her had been right.

Vic poured more liquid soap in the warm water before immersing his hands elbow deep. Washing dishes was a mindless task, something he could have done in his sleep. It was perfect as a cover for his real mission here.

He’d been watching her for months, the one they called Colby. Early in life, he’d learned how to blend in and portray the image that was expected of him. With Colby, he didn’t have to try so hard. She was usually too self absorbed to notice anyone else. She probably doesn’t even know my name, he thought. Or maybe she thought she was better than him. He saw the way she looked at him, curling her lip like she’d smelled something bad.

It wouldn’t be long now.

He watched as Colby popped the pie into the oven. He’d been reluctant at first to take this assignment, but after keeping track of her movements and being around her all this time, he could safely say that she would not be missed. At least, not in any way that mattered.

It was almost time. The least he could do was leave a clean sink.

Colby was seated by the counter, phone at her ear griping to someone about how life was unfair, how much people hated her, how much work she had to do and how nothing would get done if she wasn’t there- all things he’d heard her say time and again, in one form or another.

He reached into his knapsack. The syringe went smoothly inside her neck. The effect was instantaneous. Colby’s body went stiff as rigor set in. This would make the next few minutes easier.

The oven timer dinged just as the others came in through the back door.Within a few hours, they had the heart, lungs and kidneys they came for,and he was a very rich man. Vic and his sister would never go hungry again.

After the mission’s successful completion, the others left. His final job was to do the clean up, and he was well prepared. In the morning, they would say that a dishcloth had caught fire and the fire had spread too quickly to be contained, proving fatal to Colby. One should really be careful in the kitchen,you know, even if one was a professional.

Vic took an appreciative whiff of the pie. Mmm, smells good, he thought. Looks like we’re going to have apple pie for dessert tonight.

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LOST

I look for you. Where did you go? You were with me just yesterday. Why can’t I see you now? I feel your presence here. You are that faint whisper of wind in my ear, that fleeting shadow at the corner of my eye. I always turn around when it’s too late to see you. Do you know why that is?

Where did you go? Were we not having fun? Were we not enjoying ourselves, enjoying our youth,our fleeting mortality? Were we not the best of friends? Was it something I said? I do that sometimes, you know. Give my tongue free rein, say what I mean not, hurt others on purpose. It is all a test, you see. I need to know who’ll stay, who’ll look deep deep down inside of me and see me. All the damaged, self sabotaging, possessive parts of me. Who’ll love me in spite of myself. But you left, just like all the others.

Should I keep looking for you now? Do you really want me to find you? Did you run away, across freezing rivers and fields covered by swirling grey mists, just to get away from me? Or were you dragged, kicking and screaming, over barren wastelands and dead sea, to rot away as the days pass? Are you even now trapped in the furthest corners of my mind, a place I never go to?

Are you just a figment of my imagination?