Macarons by Louise Ferreira

FICTION: Macarons

A short story by Louise Ferreira

BY LOUISE FERREIRA

Oh. Oh dear.

Marion read through the list again, counting silently. With a sigh she placed her spectacles on the coffee table and pinched the bridge of her nose.

Perhaps she was in over her head here.

When Evangeline had asked her to do the catering for the wedding – a small wedding, only fifty people! – she couldn’t exactly say no.

“You’re such a good cook, Marion. And you’re not all that busy, are you?” her baby sister had said in the little girl voice she reserved for asking favours.

“Not unless you count running a household and trying to stop three teenagers from killing each other, no,” is what Marion had wanted to say, but Evangeline beamed at her and even after three decades she couldn’t resist that smile.

But that was half a year ago, when Evangeline had still been planning her charmingly rustic wedding, and wanted what she called “gourmet potjiekos”. Marion had suppressed a snort at the thought of a gourmet potjie, but at least it was doable.

Then, after reading about some starlet’s wedding in a gossip rag at the hairdresser, the girl got it into her head that a Victorian-themed champagne breakfast would be much classier, and of course the entire menu had to change.

Which meant that instead of chucking everything together on the morning of the wedding and having Gene help with the coals, Marion was going to have to do a lot of baking.

Rolls. Scones. Quiche (three kinds, including vegetarian). Fairy cakes and hand pies. Petits fours and macarons. For fifty people!

The one bit of luck was that Evangeline had ordered the wedding cake months ago from a professional baker. Marion and fondant icing did not mix.

Typically, Evangeline had dilly-dallied and waited until a week before the wedding to give Marion the final list. A week! But she’d never be able to find – or afford – a different caterer at this point, and Marion liked a challenge.

She sat up straight. Schools had closed yesterday for the week-long mid-semester break.

She would have to recruit the boys.

 

“You want us to do what?”

Tom’s perpetual expression of 14-year-old disdain darkened considerably.

“I said, I need you to help me with the baking for your aunt’s wedding. Sit down, Alex, and put that thing away. No crash helmets on the kitchen table.”

Alex had been nearly out the door to visit his girlfriend before Marion caught him. He was in a proper strop, tapping at his phone with such force Marion almost expected the device to start shrieking in pain.

Ben picked at a loose piece of skin next to his thumbnail. He was 12 and hadn’t reached the defiant stage quite yet. Marion was determined to savour this moment.

He looked up. “But… I thought only girls baked?”

Marion raised her eyebrows.

“Rubbish. Where on earth did you get that idea? Now come on, I have a shopping list the length of my arm, and one of you will have to push the trolley.”

 

Marion sat at the dining room table, trying to work out a schedule. She turned around when she heard a cupboard door creak and a rustling in the kitchen.

“Tom, stop snacking! That biltong is for the quiche.”

The boy slowly removed his hand from the brown paper bag, still clutching a handful of meat slivers.

“But I’m hungry.”

“Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes, and there’s a giant bunch of bananas right in front of you if you’re desperate.”

Tom pulled two bananas from the bunch in the bowl and stalked off to his bedroom, muttering something about growing boys needing protein.

Marion tapped her pen against the paper. Of course, several things would have to be made the morning of the wedding, and since the brunch was at eleven and Marion couldn’t exactly miss the ceremony, she’d have to get up at five to make sure everything got done. Four-thirty, even.

Well, bugger.

Let’s see. Today was Saturday, so if she made the macarons on Monday and stored them properly they’d stay fresh for a week… And the filling for the pies could be made ahead and frozen. She was using store-bought puff pastry, of course. She wasn’t a complete masochist.

She began penning down items in the blocks outlined on the paper, just as the oven timer went off.

“Gene! Boys! Dinner’s ready!”

The cats were all under Marion’s feet as she took the lasagne out of the oven. She shooed them away. She didn’t particularly like them, but Gene loved them and they were good for his blood pressure. Board directors needed distractions.

“So what do we have to do exactly?” Alex asked after they had said grace.

“Well, you’ll have to help with the filling for the quiche on Friday, I’ll tell you exactly what and how, and since I’ll be focusing on the fiddly things I need you to do the bread. I’m not letting you anywhere near my macarons.”

Ben sniggered. Marion peered at him over her spectacles.

“Macarons are like very, very complicated meringues. And if everything’s not perfect your aunt will have a cadenza. Now eat, the food’s getting cold.”

 

It was nearly midnight on Friday when Marion pulled the last quiche from the oven. It had taken longer than she’d planned and she’d sent the boys to bed an hour before. At least all of the cakes were done, and the boys had a lot of fun with the decorating. Not that Alex would ever admit to playing with edible glitter, but she’d save that story for his wedding.

She had to get up again in a few hours and she was definitely not going to wait for the quiche to cool down. They’d be fine on the kitchen counter overnight, if she left them on the cooling racks and covered them.

Petits fours, fairy cakes, macarons, pies, quiche – done. The bread dough had been moulded into rolls and arranged on baking trays in the pantry, ready for the oven first thing in the morning. Then just the scones.

Almost there.

 

The alarm went off at five. Marion resisted the temptation to hit snooze and groaned as she sat up. Gene sighed in his sleep and turned over. She put her shoulder-length hair in a tight bun – can’t have any hairs in the food now – and tied the belt of her dressing-gown before going downstairs.

At the kitchen door she paused.

She looked at the counter, at the nine quiches that were meant to be there under their muslin cloths. There were four. An empty cooling rack stood skew at the opposite edge of the counter.

Marion crossed the floor in three strides and rounded the corner of the breakfast nook. Five quiches lay on the floor in various states of destruction. Cracked in half from the fall, bits of crust broken off, crumbs everywhere.

She bent down. There were definitely bite marks in the filling. Most of the chicken bits were missing and a few half-chewed scraps of biltong lay abandoned next to their former home. More crumbs led towards the living room. Then she spotted the greasy little paw print on the wood.

Those fucking cats.

Marion straightened up. For a good five minutes she stood staring at the remains of her handiwork. All three chicken and mushroom tarts were gone, as well as two of the biltong and goat’s cheese ones. The spinach, tomato and feta quiche apparently hadn’t interested the three ratbags.

She switched on the kettle. While the water boiled she chucked the ruined food in the bin and swept up the crumbs. She ignored the mixing bowls, baking trays and scone ingredients neatly arranged on the table, ignored the rolls in the pantry, and made coffee in the biggest mug she could find.

Marion opened the front door and fetched the rolled-up newspaper from the gate. She went and sat in her favourite chair on the patio and spread open the newspaper, sipping her coffee. The sun was halfway up already and she could smell jasmine from the bush in the corner. No wind. What a lovely day for a wedding.

Just before seven she went upstairs, took a twenty minute shower and got dressed. She shook Gene awake and asked him to check that the boys got ready, and to start loading the food into the Jeep. Handbag over her shoulder she trotted to her car.

At the bakery she walked straight to the back counter.

“Hello. Do you have quiche today?”

“Yes ma’am. We have the biltong one, the special recipe chicken, and a vegetarian—”

“Three chicken, please, and two biltong. Could I have fifty scones and fifty of the Portuguese rolls as well?”

The woman looked at her, mouth open.

“Last minute brunch.” Marion smiled.

“Yes ma’am. We’ll just need to pack everything…”

“That’s fine. I’ll go pay so long.”

Marion walked to the till and pulled her credit card from her purse. She glanced out the open doors.

What a lovely day for a wedding.

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