A story by SHELBY DE ROND.

There is nothing so sweet as gingerbread.

This is the first thing my grandmother taught me, and the only one that has lasted the slow decay of time.

There is nothing so sweet as gingerbread. Not syrup. Not mildew. Not even fruit picked fresh from the tree. Of course, you have to get it right; what is the use of gingerbread that is too coarse, or too limp, or too small?

Gingerbread dreams, beats, breathes when you make it right: full of love, full of ghosts, full of cinnamon and flour. The batter is mud like we were once mud. Strange dust, full of time and memory and the scent of a forgotten god, spins flavour into the waiting air. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg: these spices match the fire Prometheus once stole. Sugar, too, but that is not what makes it sweet. That is in the water.

Not pale, or briny, or green, but amber: sticky and smooth, the colour of ichor and honey. This is the water we use, drawn from the labyrinth deep beneath the crust of the earth. Its weight is greater than clay; rooted in such cosmic mantle, time gathers in skeins and stretches down from the water banks: dips its toes in the liquid and relinquishes its skin. Such water is strewn with auric fragments, drifting apart like stars in an ever-expanding universe. Sometimes the liquid smells of heat and underground rivers and milk. Other times it smells of nothing, and the gingerbread comes out rotten.

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The oven is the temperature of the womb, and swaddles the loaf in wealthy heat. When the alarm rings, wordless, the bread is taken out: newborn, kissed with sugar-dust and ash, phoenix-like. Gouged across its golden surface, craters form from the heat of the oven, and butter swirls into lakes. Sugar spins snow atop the mountainous crust, and some other earth is visible, if only for a minute. Breathe in: smell. Your body will remember this, carbon to carbon: a primordial memory of creation. Scientists think they know what the Big Bang smelled like; they are wrong. Everything in its beginning smells like gingerbread.

Can you hear it breathing? Bell-like, filled with echoes of water. Feel that opulent, mercury heart. Moist, like mud is moist. Thick, like mud is thick. Warm and sweet and alive.

Sometimes I imagine: this is what Eve tasted when she bit into the fruit of Eden; this is the essence of fire and sun; this is what my flesh is made of. Think for a minute. Wrap yourself in a skin of cinnamon and ginger, retreat back into the womb; taste the sweetness of your mother. It would not be so strange a possibility after all.

We are all full of questions, as we are full of life. I know that you would like a taste, but I do not bake for you. So why do I make gingerbread?

My grandmother taught me; it is sweet as creation itself; I remember what it is like to be a god.

Take your pick.

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