Angel Food & Windchimes
Trixie tossed the last empty box onto the cardboard mountain by the front door of her new studio apartment. The Crosley turntable, which was the first item unpacked, twanged a rockabilly boogie, as she step-ball-changed to the kitchen sink and rinsed out her paintbrushes. Drying and tucking them in her shorts pocket, Trixie aimed a portable fan at the flowers she had just painted above the stovetop. A strand of her short blonde hair flopped free of her red kerchief, as she capered to the center of the room, and surveyed her work.
The studio was small but not too cramped. A bar separated the kitchen, and there was a small table, sofa, an upright piano, and a tiny mattress on an old metal frame. Extremely ho-hum if you take stock like that. But it wasn’t ho-hum. It was spectacular. The space was alive with a brilliantly colored, hodgepodge collection of bric-a-brac: gleaming mosaic bowls, tribal masks, fuzzy periwinkle llamas, 1950’s memorabilia, beaded dream-catchers, and mirror embroidered pillows and hangings, all set against the freshly painted jade walls.
Trixie gave a nod of satisfaction. She hopped over to the birdcage dangling from the ceiling and poked a finger through the bars. The little canary inside rubbed his orangy face against her finger.
“I do believe we are ready, Percival.”
He agreed with a soaring aria.
With that, Trixie drew aside the pom-pom fringed curtains and swung open the kitchen window. Above the sprouting lobelia in the flower box, she hung a windchime strewn with shells, colored glass, and beads. As if summoned, a zephyr swept between the brick tenements, sending tinkling fairy music through the urban afternoon.
On the following Friday night, Percival twittered with excitement when a tap came to the apartment door at 6:42 pm. Trixie’s bare feet skipped over and opened it to a skittish woman in formal pants and blouse.
“Sorry, I’m late,” The woman’s apology lacked sincerity.
Trixie didn’t mind. In fact, she had expected it. The two had only met the day Trixie moved in, and Olivia was shy. She would have wriggled out of coming tonight if Trixie hadn’t been so incredibly persuasive. It was Trixie’s birthday after all, and she was new to the area. Even Olivia couldn’t rationalize abandoning someone on her birthday.
Olivia slogged into the colorful, strawberry-scented apartment and noticed the ingredients, bowls, and measuring cups scattered on the kitchen bar.
“Wow, you’re prepared.”
Trixie turned with a grin and flipped on the Crosley which burst into 70’s funk, making it impossible for Olivia to drone on about her job like she had when they met.
At first, Olivia didn’t know what to do, feeling the only safe place to look was at her hands. But Trixie pointed to the dry ingredient list on her recipe card, smiling and jiving to the music, so they began measuring and whisking.
Olivia was relieved to have something to do and to not have to talk. Slowly the music carried this relief deeper. The rhythm and beat stirred Olivia’s marrow, and her high school days of hip hop class flooded back to her muscle memory. Her reserve blew out the window with the breeze, her brunette curls falling loose from their bun, as she and Trixie grooved like they were born to dance.
Olivia pulled a hilarious move, and Trixie laughed, spilling sugar halfway across the countertop. They both roared until their backs cramped.
“Ugh!” Olivia sighed, catching her breath, “You know, I haven’t had angel food cake in forever. I think the last time was with my family on the 4th of July, oh, ages and ages ago.” Olivia glimmered with sparkling memories.
Trixie winked at Percival, then exclaimed, “Oh no!”
Olivia ceased her booty-popping. “What is it?”
“That was the last of my sugar, and we need another quarter cup.”
Olivia frowned, “Sorry, I don’t have any. I can’t remember the last time I baked.”
“Well, you know…” Trixie thought, “I bet the guy across the hall has some. Would you go ask while I start whipping the egg whites?”
Olivia’s eyes widened, “Umm… could you?”
Trixie held up her hands, which suddenly had egg on them, and shrugged.
Olivia shriveled inside herself, “Oh, okay.”
Leaving Trixie’s banana-yellow door ajar behind her, Olivia shuffled into the hall and gave two pitiful taps on the neighbor’s door, hoping there would be no answer. She started backing away prematurely when the door creaked open revealing a man in a wheelchair.
Olivia’s gaze lowered to meet the tattooed fellow. He wore a once white tank top and sorely needed a shave and shower. When Olivia’s eyes met the place where his right leg should have been, her face drained of color. She was floundering in her social anxiety like a cat in a sewage canal when Trixie appeared at her shoulder.
“Hi, Jake!” she beamed and waved, “This is Olivia. We’re making angel food cake for my birthday and,” she chuckled, “we don’t have quite enough sugar. Can we borrow some?”
“Sure,” he glanced behind him, “Umm, wait here.”
They tried to be inconspicuous as they peeked through the narrow opening. Jake’s apartment smelled like dirty laundry and stale takeout, and the only decoration on the prisonous white walls was a shadow box.
Jake returned with a sugar bowl in his lap and held it up for Trixie to take a scoop, trying not to make eye contact with either of them.
Trixie waited in the doorway until the silence was uncomfortable.
“You,” Olivia started awkwardly, “Would you like to have a slice? When… when it’s done?”
Jake twitched, startled by the invitation. He was on his way to decline when he met Olivia’s kind brown eyes. She spooked like a doe and became acutely aware of her wild curls.
“Okay.” He said, surprising himself.
Trixie had an epiphany, “Oh!” A little sugar sparkled onto the hallway floor, “I’ve made this enormous casserole, and I’ll be eating it for weeks; you should to come for dinner too!”
Jake flushed and looked down at his sweatpants.
Trixie continued, “It won’t be ready for fifteen or twenty minutes, though. Is that alright?”
“Umm.” Jake looked at Olivia again, and his stomach churned with hunger and butterflies, “A—alright.”
“Perfect,” said Trixie, “See you in a bit.”
Trixie led the way back across the hall, and Olivia scurried after her, “I didn’t know you had dinner baking.”
As they stepped over Trixie’s threshold, a waft of garlic and herbs embraced them.
“Surprise,” Trixie’s nose gave a quick, impish scrunch, and they delved back into cake mixing. Sugar, a couple of dashes of lemon juice, splashes of vanilla and almond extract, and just a pinch of salt. Trixie didn’t seem to be following the recipe anymore. Usually, this would have made Olivia hyperventilate, but for some reason, she was able to brush away the panic like a bothersome gnat, and enjoy herself.
Olivia was holding the bowl for Trixie to scrape into the circular pan when Jake rapped at the door.
“Come in!” Trixie sang above the music.
Jake rolled in, looking like a different person. His clothing crisp and clean. He had trimmed his scruff and smelled of soap and maybe cologne. His shiny damp hair swept away from his square face handsomely. Olivia nearly dropped the bowl.
Trixie plopped the last of the batter in, and left Olivia to smooth it out, “Jake, would you mind mixing up a salad?”
A corner of Jake’s mouth flinched. He blinked, and a cutting board, lettuce, and an array of fruits and nuts lay in front of him on the bar.
“Thanks!” Trixie scampered back to business, setting Olivia up with some lemons and a pitcher and wiped off the hand mixer to use whipping up the cream.
Retreating from the noise, Olivia sat next to Jake to make the lemonade. By the time the heavy cream formed peaks, Jake and Olivia were holding silent conversations about funny looking fruit and how much honey to put in the lemonade.
Trixie pranced by, tossing sprigs of mint into the lemonade decanter and put a record of Mediterranean café music spinning. While Jake poured the glasses, Olivia moved a daisy bouquet to the table, and Trixie laid the dinnerware. The casserole came out, the cake when in, and the three sat down to eat.
Olivia looked at the seat beside her, “Trixie, you’ve set the table for four?”
Knock, knick, knock.
Trixie answered the door to a man on the older side of middle age wearing a three-piece suit, his frame narrow and hunched from exhaustion.
“They mixed up our mail,” he handed her an array of letters and advertisements, “Have you received any for— what is that smell?”
Fatigue forgotten, the man swept past Trixie and stared at the table where Jake and Olivia squirmed, off-thrown by the newcomer.
“It smells just like—” He ran a hand through his salt and peppered hair, “Why it is. My Mamma used to make this!”
Trixie invited him to join them.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” he said, suddenly conscious of his impropriety.
“Nonsense! There’s plenty.” And she served the extra plate with a hearty helping of casserole. Red potatoes and sausage toppled out, stringing with cheese.
In animated tones, the businessman told them of his Italian upbringing, how boisterous his mother’s family was, how mischievous his siblings, how hard his father worked, played, and most of all siesta’ed. Everyone chimed in, telling stories of their families, travels, and adventures until they had consumed the last morsel and began clearing the dishes. Trixie removed the cake from the oven, which smelled of sugar fluff, and propped it upside-down on a glass coke bottle just as an accordion’s serenade came to ritardando and concluded the album.
A haggard woman stood at the door with a child clutching her sensible dress. The mother held out a little tab of paper.
“I found this on the lobby bulletin board. You’re a piano teacher?”
“Well, yes I am,” Trixie replied.
The woman asked desperately, “Do you have any availability? I know I took the last tab, but it would help so much to have a teacher for Tabatha in the building.”
“You’re in luck! Would you like to come in so we can get to know one another?”
“Oh no! I’m sorry, you have company!”
“Don’t be silly, music brings life to a party,” Trixie led them to the berry red piano, “I have to tell you, I am only an amateur myself.”
Trixie tickled the keys in a simple, but bright ragtime. Tabatha inched her way around her mother, finally scrambling onto the bench beside Trixie, who pumped the pedal and bounced her hands comically. Tabatha giggled, and her mother’s shoulders relaxed to see her little girl happy and at ease.
The others came over from the kitchen, and watched Trixie teach Tabatha how to peck out a simple melody when—
Bang, Boom, BANG!
Jack flinched, Olivia grimaced, and Tabatha and her mother cowered, embarrassed. Unperturbed, Trixie rose, asking if anyone else played. Jack mumbled that he used to, and people busied themselves moving bench out of the way while Trixie answered the violent knock.
Behind the yellow door fumed the old fuddy-duddy from downstairs, who started berating Trixie before she had the chance to say hello.
“What do you think you’re doing making such a racket!? You’re a nuisance to this building. If you don’t pipe down, I’m complaining to the super! I knew from the start you’d be a—”
He stopped wagging his finger in Trixie’s face and drifted inside like a sleepwalker. At the piano, Jake had started an old parade song nobody had ever heard. Almost nobody.
With his next breath, the old geezer boomed out the lyrics in a rusty baritone, shocking the group a foot in the air from, and just like that, the fragile, crotchety, bothersome old grump became the life of the party. He sang every word with panache, pumping his arms, his false teeth a-clacking.
By the last refrain, people were catching on and joining in. When it ended the geezer wiped salt water from beneath his coke bottle glasses and sniffed, “Haven’t heard that song since V-day…”
Distracted by his rambunctious entrance, Trixie had forgotten to close the front door, and now two new women in their thirties, with very nearly the same face, peered in at the festivities.
“Hello there!” said one.
“We heard the fun when we came by; can we join?” Asked the other.
“Absolutely!” Trixie sashayed over and waved them inside. Standing in the threshold a beat, she nodded conclusively and closed the door.
The two newest additions joined the cluster at the piano as Jack started “Ain’t We Got Fun,” and everybody sang along, even Percival trilled. They warbled their hearts out to a few more old-timey favorites, Tabatha making a llama doll dance in tempo until they were all quite out of breath.
Jack paused to teach Tabatha “Chopsticks” while everybody else bustled around, moving chairs, pouring glasses of wine and berry cordial, slicing strawberries, and adding whipped cream to the glorious cake.
Olivia poked in the candles, and the neighbors urged Trixie to hurry and light them, ooing and awwing over how splendid the finished cake looked.
Trixie leaped excitedly to the door.
Behind it, a lady waited patiently with gloved hands folded. She was the type of older, elegant women whose age you forget as soon as she smiles. Gliding in with the grace of a ballerina, she slid a small parcel into Trixie’s pocket with a wink. Somehow her introduction was lost in the hubbub, and she settled in by the Italian businessman, who did not object.
Appeasing the impatient company, Trixie lit the sparkling candles, made a wish, and blew them out, extinguishing every one. Slices of angel food were passed ‘round until everyone had a luscious, fluffy white piece. Together, they dove in, laughing, eating, joking, dolloping whip cream on noses, and staining their lips strawberry red.
After second helpings, came dishes, soap suds, big band jazz, swing dance lessons, and the evening’s conclusion, which arrived too swiftly to suit anyone’s taste.
The guests retired with many promises of future gatherings, the last visitor giving a kiss on the cheek and a fond farewell. In the stillness of their absence, Trixie withdrew the small, brown paper package from her pocket, and standing near Percival’s cage, opened it. Under the wrapping lay a Celtic medallion; its silver loops swirling and connecting. The symbol of friendship.
Trixie smiled an unsurprised sort of smile and leaned out her kitchen window, over the now budding flowers. Feeling the night air on her cheek, she attached the charm to the bottom of a jingling strand and said:
“Well, Sir Percival, not a bad beginning, eh?”