Wednesday, November 26, 2008


She stood by the sink looking out through the window. It was dusk and a line of crows were passing above the bare trees, all flying in the same direction, heading for their winter roosts in the valley a few miles to the west. They knew where they were going but showed no sign of haste.

The backyard brambles were bare and stiff. The fruit trees had gotten out of control again; she would have to tend to them but not now, later when the worst of winter was over.

Her children were grown, gone. She poured flour into a bowl, scattered in a little sugar, salt, and yeast, then mixed it with a wooden spoon. She took a glass measuring cup and filled it at the tap, then poured the water in, scouring and beating the mixture together with a few efficient strokes. She added more flour, until she could no longer turn it with the spoon. Rolling her sleeves up, she gathered the uneven mass in her hands and worked it until it came together. She spread another bit of flour on a wooden board and began to fold the dough, slowly, strongly, with a practiced touch, adding a little more flour when it began to stick.

She thought about the motions she was making, how they had been performed, with little alteration, for thousands of years, from the time when some woman unknown, somewhere in the Levant or North Africa, had taken flour she had likely querned by hand, coarser and darker flour than this to be sure, and worked it together with a bit of saved and soured dough, then set it aside to let it ferment and rise.

Her own yeast came out of a jar, the flour came from god only knew where, all the ingredients had passed through a complicated nexus of exchange, had been processed, reduced to their most elemental and negotiable state, packaged, transported, sold and re-sold. But as she finished kneading and set a damp cloth over the dough it was no longer a commodity, it had reverted to its ancient identity, beyond all that. It would rise for a while and then she would bake it and eat it on her own, with a little leftover soup she had made two days before.

And she would keep on doing so, for a long time to come.

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