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The Illusion of Warmth by Kerri McCourt

Kerri McCourt takes Lawrence Hill's third writing challenge and has her character bake a pie for other people to enjoy.

Send us your story by 10 am on August 28th for a chance to win a signed copy of The Book of Negroes.

Saturday afternoon sunlight fills the kitchen. Anna meticulously rolls the dough, and presses it into the white porcelain pie plate. Sugar and flour dust the smooth granite counter top. She washes the apples, then cores and peels them. Apple skins curl gracefully under her fingertips before gently falling. She slices the apples very thin, then even thinner.

Anna loves the calming movements of baking: slicing, mixing, kneading. Touching and smelling food fills her with comfort. She’s heard her mother, a realtor, advise clients to bake banana bread or chocolate chip cookies before a showing. Anna knows why. She too appreciates the rich, buttery smells of baking. It is true, it gives the illusion of a warm and happy home.

Apple pie had always been Anna’s favorite dessert—up until six months ago, when she turned thirteen, started a diet, and gave up all desserts. She hungers for much, but not food.

Anna knows her mom will smile when she sees the pie. Her brown eyes will warm with hopefulness, thinking Anna will take a piece of pie for herself, maybe even with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, the way she used to. She imagines her mother thinking the fresh baked pastry goodness will tempt her to break that iron will of hers.  

Anna knows better. She won’t have even a bite. Creating abundance and sweetness for others provides a strange sustenance for herself. She relies on the sense of control deprivation gives her. It thrills her:  the numbers on the scale getting lower, her clothes getting looser, hanging from her. The sharp jut of her bones.

She pours the apple filling - apples, lemon juice, brown sugar, spices - over the bottom crust, covers the whole thing with more pastry, pinches the edges, and sprinkles sugar over top. She scores the top and places it in the hot oven. 

The pie will take one hour. She throws on a jacket and steps out for a walk while the pie bakes. The Autumn air is chilly, trees sway in the wind. Leaves litter the ground. They crunch under her feet, like fragile fallen birds.

She walks briskly, faster, gaining momentum. Even if she wanted to, now she can’t stop. She is a robot, being controlled by some unseen force. Where to turn? Startled, she suddenly realizes how far she must have gone, and that she is lost.

Main page photo credit: Jonathunder

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