Gloria stood at the bakery counter, oblivious to the shoppers who ebbed and flowed around her, transfixed by the array of cream cakes and cup cakes and decorated gingerbread men. Her eyes devoured the display. Her mouth watered. She could feel the crumbling pastry melting on her tongue. The quiet crack of the chocolate top. The soft, sweet cream dancing on her taste buds. There was nothing in the world like a choux bun.
The young girl behind the counter looked up and smiled.
“Can I help you?”
Gloria returned her smile. Such a pretty girl. Fresh-faced and shiny-cheeked, her hat sitting jauntily on top of golden curls.
“I’m still deciding, thank you,” she said.
“They’re all so lovely, it’s hard to choose, isn’t it?”
“Strawberry gateau is my favourite,” the girl said, “Okay for a treat, but you know what they say … a moment on the lips …”
Gloria ran her hand over her stomach. She tried to remember the last time she’d allowed herself a treat.
“That was ages ago,” she said to herself. “It must have been Jack’s birthday. I made him a Victoria Sponge. His favourite. Light dusting of icing sugar. Candles on top. His face all lit up. Surely one bun won’t hurt.”
But still she hesitated. Snippets of memories scattered through her head like the hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top of the iced doughnut. Laughing and pointing in the playground. Pinching an inch. Straining seams.
A small, dark-haired girl now stood at the counter with her mother.
“Can I have one, Mummy? A Smartie one? A big one? Can I have it now?” She bounced from foot to foot as she held onto her mother’s hand, but her eyes were fixed on the brightly coloured biscuits in front of her.
“Two slices of the cheesecake, please,” the woman said to the shiny-cheeked girl, whose name badge, Gloria now noticed, read Tania.
The little girl pulled on her mother’s hand.
“Please, Mummy. Please can I? Mummy, mummy, mummymummymummy — ”
“Yes, Charlotte. I heard you. You had a biscuit after lunch, I don’t know — ”
“Please, Mummy! Please. I’ll be good and brush my teeth and eat an apple later.”
The woman smiled down at her daughter.
“You’re a monster, that’s what you are. I’ll get you a biscuit, but you can only have half today. You can have the rest tomorrow. Deal?”
The little girl nodded, a grin spreading from ear to ear.
“Hurray, hurray, thank you, Mummy. You’re the bestest Mummy in the whole wide world.”
“Yes, well you won’t think so when you’re the size of a house and you blame me for feeding you rubbish.”
“I won’t, I won’t, I won’t, I promise.”
Tania wrapped the biscuit in a plastic bag and gave it to the little girl, whose mother eased her daughter away from further pestering opportunities and back into the flow of shoppers.
The mother’s words echoed in Gloria’s head.
‘You won’t think so when you’re the size of a house …’
‘Gloria’s coming! Her arse’s so big there’ll be an eclipse …’
‘You’ve got such a pretty face, Gloria, if you’d just lose some weight …’
‘It’s just puppy fat, sweetheart. You’ll grow out of it. It’s what’s inside that counts. There’s sponge pudding and custard for afters …’
Gloria brings her hand to her chest to rub away a sudden pain.
But she showed them. The gnawing ache in her stomach meaning her clothes would be looser. The excess fat melting away leaving limbs long and slender and her waist small enough for two hands to span. They weren’t laughing then, were they? No. Not when she took Jenny’s boyfriend to pay her back and then dumped him so he’d think twice about laughing at a girl again. Not when she married Jack, the handsomest boy Gloria’d ever seen. No-one laughed then.
A bump on her arm brought Gloria back into the present.
“Sorry, love,” the man said and he hurried past with a basket over his arm.
“Have you decided yet?” asked Tania from behind the counter.
“Yes. Two choux buns, please,” she said. “One for me and one for my Jack.’
Gloria’s mouth began to water as the buns were lifted from the tray and slid into the paper bag. She placed the bag gently at the top of her shopping basket and then covered it over with this month’s copy of Good Food before heading for the checkout.
“I’m home, Jack!” she shouted up the stairs as she crossed the hall and deposited her bags on the kitchen worktop. Returning to the bottom of the stairs, hand placed lightly on the newel post, she looked upwards and called, “Jack… Jack. Are you awake? Do you want a cup of tea? I’ve got us something lovely.”
A muffled voice came back.
“When you’re ready. No rush.”
The china cups rattled in their saucers as Gloria carried the tray up the stairs and placed it on the dressing table.
“See what I’ve got you,” she said putting Jack’s cup of tea on the bedside cupboard and a plate with the choux bun on Jack’s legs. Collecting a knife and fork from the tray, she sliced into the bun, piercing the sliver with the fork and transferring it to Jack’s mouth.
“Oooh, how delicious,” she said.
Jack just smiled and chewed.
“The carers will be coming shortly to turn you. Got to keep you off those bed sores. Can’t think why that new medication isn’t working.”
Another slice, lifted to Jack’s mouth. Gloria licked her lips and swallowed.
“I’ll have this cleared up before they get here, don’t you worry. We won’t have them telling you off again, eh?”
She held the teacup to his lips before offering him another slice of bun.
“You can have the rest of mine after your dinner. I won’t be able to eat it all. Open up, here comes another piece.”
Danielle Posner Sykes has been out of the writing closet for just over two years. She lives in Hertfordshire with three cats, two daughters and an unreasonably large collection of books.