We’re extremely pleased to present our first short story feature, a piece titled “Lemon Cake” by Jacqueline Keren. It takes place in Washington Heights and Inwood.
Jacqueline Keren lived in Washington Heights for 15 years on Ellwood and Sickles Streets and Cabrini Boulevard. Her short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Confrontation, and other journals. She was awarded Redivider’s Editor’s Choice Award in 2002 for her story Lemon Cake.
(Please note: the following material is Â© copyright Jacqueline Keren and may not be used in any way without permission from author.)
He dreamed he was preparing a banquet, laying out food on a long table. The hall he worked in was bright and airy. Columns poured down from the ceiling, thick and white and solid. In the center of the table he placed the lemon cake. Although it looked ordinary, a pale yellow cake with white icing, he knew that cutting it would require skill and precision. He took the knife with both hands and tickled the frosting with it, awakening a feeling of excitement he remembered from before the time when fear had overwhelmed him. In his dream, there was no plate, no impediment to cutting the cake from below, as if it was suspended above the table, although the stand it sat on was there for all to see. He brought the knife up through the bottom of the cake. The knife came out clean, and he turned it, flickering blue. Trembling, he brought the knife through again from the bottom and placed the perfect slice on the waiting white saucer. This he left above the row of dessert forks and walked away into the room.
They had liked the apartment because the sun streamed through the windows in the morning, waking them up. The first six months there they had risen together. Now, his wife slept later, rising only after Ray had vacated the shower, when the alarm went off and ordered her up. Standing in the middle of the room, bathed in the soft sunlight on a chilly Monday morning, he watched Amanda sleeping. He could see the evenness of her breathing in the rise and fall of the blanket. She had aged very little in the nine years they had been married; in her face, she was a more sharply defined version of herself, as if someone had taken a chisel and dug the lines thinner and deeper. He rubbed his eyes, clearing the sand, then searched through the dresser drawer for a clean pair of underwear. His wifeâ€™s collection of old buttons gathered dust on the runner, shaking when he slammed shut the sticky drawer. Amanda lay still, just her hair visible, a mop upon the pillow, her shoulders. Nothing he did would wake her. He wondered how she slept so soundly when every sound made him start, her every movement in the apartment. In this way, he thought, they had always been different, and he shut himself into the bathroom.
Although Indian Summer had come, bringing with it a clammy heat, it was cool when Ray stepped outside. He walked down the noisy stretch of Fort Washington Avenue, where the cars streamed into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge. An hour or two earlier, he thought, there would have been quiet, a light still softened by the lingering night. He passed a man standing in front of the hospital selling shaved ice with syrup and bags of peeled oranges. Ray missed the summer. Everything grew then, flowers sprouting between the stalks of corn on the mall on Broadway. Planted amidst the vegetation, he imagined the benches he would make, blond wood in straight slats, the arms curved more fancifully. With a workshop, he thought, he could have built them. Though their apartment was spacious, there was not enough room for the sawdust and the fumes from the polyurethane. Even the soot that came in from the street, turning the windowsills black in the summer, made the space seem tighter, as if it brought them too close, boxed in against each other. He did not remember it being that way when his wife had painted, but it must have been so, for his eyes had watered when she prepared the canvases she would cover with oils and acrylics.
He turned off the avenue, passing through a wrought iron gate and into a complex of Beaux Art buildings, huge columns and porticos facing an interior square. The buildings stared down at each other, as if silently communingâ€”the Hispanic Society, the Academy of Arts and Letters, the bilingual Boricua College. Tucked into the corner was the American Numismatic Society, where he worked. He walked across the plaza, past the sculpture garden, and entered its dim interior. His eyes traveled up along the wood paneled walls and into the depths of the vaulted ceiling. It was as if the city, his neighborhood, even his apartment had disappeared and he had entered another time. The society was a restful place, and he always felt at peace there. He never grew tired of his work, studying the coins. There was always something new to see, a detail he had overlookedâ€”all the bits and pieces he needed to bring a dead world back to life.