January 6, 2015

She looked at the small pile of crap sitting on the otherwise clean counter. This was, in a sense, all that remained of the previous tenant. The old woman had moved out years ago…. Well, she’d moved out when they moved in, obviously. But she’d been finding relics for years. Old pill bottles in the medicine cabinet. An old, flowered shower curtain tucked behind the washer/dryer downstairs. A cat toy tucked in an unused corner of an upstairs bedroom. Just little things. Like strange echoes of the previous owner. Which was normal, right?

The house was properly theirs now, after all. They were paying the mortgage. Her husband mowed the lawn. He repainted the siding regularly and fixed the garage door when it got stuck. She’d picked out her own curtains for the kitchen window – not the hideous frilly ones left behind by the old lady.

The house should feel properly hers by now, shouldn’t it?

Echoes of the previous owner shouldn’t feel invasive, like the old lady was peeking around a corner and judging her taste in sofas.

“Much too bright,” she imagined the old woman saying, shaking her head at the teal couches in the previously beige living room.

Still, the house was hers now. Except for this small handful of items. They’d finally gotten around to replacing the stove. Now a bright, shiny, chrome-and-black thing stood where the old, chipped off-white one had been.

The detritus sitting in front of her on the counter was what had been stuck behind the old stove. A handful of old M & Ms. Some pills. A potholder. And a small decorative wooden wall hanging. She swept the old pills and candy and potholder unceremoniously into the garbage. She picked up the old wooden wall hanging.

Did she want to throw it out?

She wasn’t sure.

It was simple and vaguely pleasant – an image of an old, white-haired lady rolling out dough on a counter in an old-fashioned kitchen. The sort of thing you’d find in a kitschy Italian restaurant, maybe. Or in your Grandmother’s kitchen.

She took a wet towel and wiped the dirt off of the thing, setting it back down on the counter when she was done.

It could stay. For now.

She smiled at the new oven.

“What do you do with a new oven?” she asked the little wooden carving. “I’ll tell you what you do. You bake.”

So she flipped open the old cookbook and started pulling things out of the refrigerator and the surrounding cupboards.

Butter. Milk. Flour. Sugar. Baking powder. Eggs.

Humming to herself, she listened to the sound of her bare feet tap-tapping against the floor tile as she did a little dance. This was her kitchen. It was beautiful and it was hers. And she was going to make muffins. Happiness bloomed in her chest as she measured out the flour and salt and baking powder.

“You really should start with the wet ingredients.”

She jumped about a foot into the air and a dusting of flour spilled across the counter. Looking around the kitchen, she confirmed that she was alone…. Absolutely alone. The only thing that it could’ve been…. Could it have been? Could it be that silly little wooden carving?

No, she decided. She wasn’t quite that crazy.

She measured out the rest of the dry ingredients and set them aside.

After unwrapping the butter, she stuck the stick in a Tupperware container, put on the lid and stuck it into the microwave. Perhaps not the best way of melting butter, but it would do in a pinch.

“You’re not supposed to melt butter like that, dear,” the female voice said. “You’d be better off melting it in the pan.”

Ok. No way she was crazy. The voice was coming from that silly little wooden carving.

Crossing the kitchen with perhaps a little more determination than was necessary, she took the thing in both hands.

“Stop it,” she told it, sternly. “I don’t want your advice.”

Nothing. Silence.

With a huff, she lay it back down on the counter, washed her hands again, and started measuring out the wet ingredients. Two eggs, cracked into the bowl, sugar, milk… stir.

“You know, you really should start out with everything at room temperature,” the voice said. “It combines easier that way.”

She turned around and glared at the wooden carving again.

“Not that you need more muffins, dear,” it said. “A figure like yours – you really should stay away from sweets.”

She turned around this time and smiled at it. Then she walked back over to it and looked her attacker in the face.

“I get enough advice from my mother,” she said. “I don’t need it from you.”

And with that, she neatly dropped the wooden carving into the garbage bag, despite its’ protestations, tied up the bag and took it out to the bins by the garage.

Then she walked back into her own kitchen. And she made muffins.

Her kitchen.

Her home.

Her muffins.

Finally.

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