Plenty of Cakes, Plenty of Time
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia… In this episode (9.1) In Melbourne, Letitia looks up her sister, Doris …]
Letitia had intended to stay only one day in Melbourne, but somehow, that one day stretched into eleven days. The time warp of good intentions began with her well-intentioned plans to look up her sister Doris in the white pages. Two thick wads of telephone directory, now that was a novelty. She hadn’t used one of those since Boris exiled her to Mirror World in 1962. Her eyes found the teeny-weeny letters most challenging. Finally, she located Fahrer which was the family name. But out of all the Fahrers there were none beginning with the letter “D”; or perhaps it was that her weary eyes had trouble deciphering any letters “D” or otherwise. She realized that there were disadvantages to having short-sightedness corrected after the unfortunate encounter with the blast that propelled her into Mirror World. Now that she was in her late forties, she had become long-sighted. The thought of wearing spectacles, did not enthuse her. Here she was, in the dimly lit St Kilda Post Office, and she could not even take the bulky book out into the strong sunlight, even for a second. The staff kept glancing and narrowing their eyes at her.
She decided to abandon the pursuit of her sister and stroll casually up Acland Street. She was hungry. One piece of vegemite toast and a small orange juice simply did not cut it to stave off the hunger pains much past lunchtime. She knew that she should save the money for the bus fare, but she was ravenous. She had never seen so many cake shops in one street in all her life. Even in Mirror. Every second shop front threw before her sweets, pastries, and lashings of cream on display. They all looked so inviting, so delicious, so wanting her to eat them.
She stopped by the narrow shop with the towers of mille-feuille which were labelled in this world’s café as “vanilla slices”. She hadn’t eaten an Australian “vanilla slice” in decades. For all she knew, vanilla slices with their crunchy biscuit base, smooth sweet lemon custard cream and rich hard coconut icing, had not existed for decades; not in Mirror, they hadn’t. In Mirror, the mille-feuille were slightly different, more pastry and whipped cream. She wasn’t keen on cream. Cream tended to make her nose all stuffy and cause her to sneeze.
The Australian variation, she recalled used a biscuit base and custard as the filling. Ah, memories of high school lunches of meat pies with slathers of sauce, milk chocolate and the final satisfying touch of vanilla slices came flooding back to her. She sighed and followed the glass-case parade of sweet slices of vanilla into the tiny cake shop. There was barely room for the two sets of tables and chairs that were squeezed against the baby-blue wall. Black and white checked tiles cowered under a streaky film of dirt caught under a careless attempt at mopping. Or perhaps it was her sunglasses that made the floor, as well as the general atmosphere of the shop darker and dingier than it would have been otherwise.
Letitia ordered the vanilla slice and a hot chocolate to accompany it. The shop did not serve pies, only cakes. A complimentary newspaper served as entertainment for one. She sipped her coffee, ate delicate savouring portions of cake, and picked at the paper’s headlines to read. All the while she remained under the watchful eye of the bored shop assistant and the blaring of talk radio from the back room. The vanilla slice was a disappointment, but she thanked the dark-haired lady, saying that she enjoyed her meal (Ha! What meal?), and politely left the establishment. The overload of sugary sweetness made her dizzy and propelled her back to the seashore.
Letitia dabbled her feet in the cool kelp laden salt water and lay on the damp gravely sand to recover. She intended having a little sunbake, a little closing of the eyes, a brief nap, before making her way to the city to book the bus to Adelaide. She had plenty of time. The bus wouldn’t leave before nine or ten o’clock that evening. That’s what someone had said. She was sure. Plenty of time. Plenty of time. Plenty…Plenty…
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021
Feature Photo: Melbourne skyline from Spirit of Tasmania, 2001 © L.M. Kling 2001