It was a good day today — at least, it seemed so at first. My afternoon was free, so I decided to do a little self-care. My mother-in-law said that I’ve been looking a bit tired lately. Plus, my fifteenth anniversary with Mr. Bagel is coming up, so of course I wanted to look my best for the love of my life. If only I had known the depths of anguish I would experience later in the day.
The hairdresser was kind, and she talked to me all throughout the session. Her own hair was a gorgeous shade of chocolate brown, strands catching at her sharp jawline and caressing it lightly. She had this habit of pulling two strands from opposite sides of my head together to check the length, and her arms enveloped me everytime she went to check if her work was even. I admired her dedication to perfection. I envied it, almost. So much of baking is exact, but I always feel like there is some minor error every time I put a cake in the oven. My mother-in-law always notices these things — a minute overbaked, a sprinkle too much of sugar — but I couldn’t find fault in the hairdresser. I looked in the mirror and saw one bright, happy woman talking to another. We talked for so long, the hairdresser and I.
But we talked for too long. I didn’t let the poor girl know that she had hacked off half of my hair, but as I was paying, it was all I could do to hold my sobs in until I could get to my car. I reapplied my makeup and had just enough time to make it to the parking lot to pick up my kids. I waited there, imagining their condemnation and how their jeers would pale in comparison to the awful derision of my husband’s. How silly I must look, I thought to myself contemptuously, how strange. It seemed the shape of my face was entirely changed. I looked in the mirror. I almost didn’t recognize myself.
My kids hopped in the car, excitedly telling me about how their days went. I encouraged the conversation, knowing that, once that was finished, they would hone in on my plight.
But they didn’t. And neither did Mr. Bagel. No one noticed.
How? It was obvious – it was glaring. A fundamental part of me had been changed, had been lessened, and they carried on, too far inside their own lives to notice mine breaking apart like overbaked cheesecake crust.
How could they not notice? I was a facsimile of myself, a substitution where there should have been an original. Is there not something lost, when a part of the whole changes? Does the whole not miss the part?
Tonight, I had invited my mother-in-law over for tea and attempted a vegan cheesecake. I had spent all week mulling over cheese substitutions – a flax egg, blended tofu, tenderly mashed bananas. She noticed I hadn’t swept the flour that dusted the floor after the morning’s baking frenzy. She noticed my daughter was wearing the same outfit as she was yesterday. But she did not notice my hair – which I measured to be two and a half inches shorter, not even including the soft, blended layers that my kind hairdresser had so agonized over.
How much can you remove before anyone notices you’ve changed anything at all?
Mr. Bagel has been so distant lately. He shoveled his fork mechanically into the cheese-free cheesecake I made tonight, making the same expression he makes towards all my desserts. As always, I don’t eat the finished product until everyone has gone to bed.
Right before he went to bed, I looked into my husband’s eyes, seeing my own face reflected back. Would I still be Susan if I didn’t bake a cheesecake every Sunday? Would I still be Susan if I didn’t hold on to the love Mr. Bagel and I once shared? It’s too late to know, too late to make a substitution. Was there love? I can’t remember anymore. There must have been. There had to have been.
Would anyone notice if I became who I wasn’t? If I became who I could be? Not that I would dare do such a thing. I am Susan Bagel. I bake cheesecakes every Sunday for my wonderful husband and my children. feel so hollow. I feel so empty, like a cheesecake mixture that is trying to be something it isn’t, ingredients swapped and changed to such an extent that it fails to spread evenly over the pan.
No one cares that my weekly cheesecake changed. No one cares, I realized, except for me. My own memories. They’re all that’s left of me now. Memories of a time before, when I looked in a mirror, and saw a bright, happy woman talking to another.
I try a bite of the cheesecake in the refrigerator light. It’s disgusting. I have another.
Anyway, here’s the recipe:
1. Prepare the cheesecake
2. Remove everything that brings even a shred of joy
3. Bake. Serve. Attempt to enjoy.