The Mayor of Marzipan
~ Kimberly Moore
Tea & Tarot inspires fear in some people. Some condemn us. Some of them are fascinated by us. Most of them think we’re full of shit, but a source of entertainment. However they may feel, the citizens of Oak Village end up in the back room with Madame Bresa eventually, full of doubt but wanting to believe so strongly that they lay an offering on her table and watch her place the mysterious cards and solve their problems. We even ushered the pastor’s wife through the basement door for a reading the day after her judgmental husband fired up a mob to protest our existence. We are a forgiving business.
I’m the baker. If anyone exists in this town who has not yet allowed Bresa to read their cards, they have still eaten my work. They say my talent is wasted here, but I have no culinary degrees. I learned from my father and YouTube. I confess my lack of qualifications every time I am complimented and told I belong in a fancy hotel or a French patisserie. Years ago, before Madame Bresa arrived and invited herself to an interview with Tilly, the owner, I considered leaving for a possible pay increase. Somehow, that idea lost appeal after she arrived. Before Bresa, the fortune-tellers were only actors.
On my cutting board this morning is our mayor, George Williams, made of marzipan. Before Bresa arrived, I used store-bought, but Bresa’s recipe is slightly different and she insists that I use her recipe for this ceremony. It includes honey from her bees and almonds from her source, whatever that may be. Bresa has secrets, as a tarot reader is expected, I suppose. She claims to have ancient gypsy blood, a multitude of ex-husbands, ex-wives, and ex-lovers, and now in the golden years of her life, she only wants to assist fellow humans instead of breaking hearts. I’ve always wanted details, but even drunk, she’ll only wink and grin. “Oh, my darling Penelope, I was trouble,” she’ll say with her slowly enunciated words and thick Slavic accent.
Bresa appears in the kitchen just as I am admiring my Mayor Williams doll.
“Lovely,” she says, looking at the photo his wife sent and then at my handiwork.
“I didn’t need the photo. He’s been mayor for as long as I can remember. He watched me grow up.” I enjoyed adding the pigment to darken his skin, rounding his belly, forcing his belt buckle to face his feet. As plump as he has always been in my memory, he was always elegant. I fretted for hours last night with a razor designing his wrinkle-free blue suit.
“A man with a good reputation,” she says as if it’s extinct. Now she’s frowning at the doll.
“This isn’t like voodoo, is it?”
“No, no, no. You know me better than that.” Bresa is petite, barely five feet tall. Her affection is always meant to be motherly, but I feel like the mother during an embrace with her head at the level of my chest. “Is he complete? His wife will be here in an hour.”
I watch Bresa glide away with my masterpiece. What she does with the dolls before the client arrives is one of her many secrets. Her clients refuse to reveal the details of the ceremony, no matter how much Tilly and I have begged. “Just give us a hint,” we’ve whispered later when we’ve run into them in the village. They always, without fail, happily decline.
Tilly closes the kitchen door. It must be almost time to open and I have more to do this morning than worry about my marzipan man. The Oak Village book club meets today in the main dining room, and due to Tilly’s misremembering dates, the fifth birthday party for the bank president’s daughter has been scheduled at the same time in the playhouse.
Tilly glances over the spread for the book club. “I thought we were going to give them more sweet than savory.”
“The opposite. Remember last month when they hardly touched the sweets and ran out of savory?”
“I trust you,” she chuckles. “I’ve been screwing up everything lately. It looks fantastic. Are we all set for the birthday party?”
“Take a look.” I point her in the direction of the second kitchen island, where my purple sloth-themed cupcakes await the birthday guests.
Tilly smiles and applauds for a moment. “I love sloths!” We hear a car crunching the gravel behind the building. “That will be Cheryl.” Tilly descends to the basement to open the door for Cheryl, the mayor’s wife, who requested a discreet arrival.
Cheryl keeps her sunglasses on when she greets me, making her appear more like an insect than usual. She and the mayor are visually incompatible. They are the same race, which is all they seem to have in common. He is short, fat, manic with the need to socialize, and immediately in control of every situation. Cheryl is half a foot taller than her husband and fragile in build. Her friendliness has been rehearsed, but not perfected. Although Cheryl has never been unkind to me, I always feel she would prefer to be ignored.
“Hello, Penelope,” she says without smiling. She surveys my work.
“Bresa’s waiting for you,” Tilly says, leading her to the back hallway.
Cheryl moves quickly to the door. I can’t help wondering what problem she might have with her husband, who at least in my eyes, has the personality of a teddy bear and leaves happy faces wherever he goes. Most customers who have asked for this ceremony have been more transparent. Everyone knew the high school basketball coach was cheating on his wife, and I was asked to create his doll as a nude. I didn’t ask questions, but Tilly shook her head when she saw my work, followed by a frown for his long-suffering wife. The coach has spent more time at home since the ceremony. Others seemed to be fidelity-related, too, but I can’t imagine that to be the problem with the mayor.
Tilly joins me in the kitchen again. “You think you know someone. How could they have problems? He’s the sweetest man I’ve ever known. Including my dad. And yours.”
“I agree. Guess we’ll never know.”
Once the birthday party begins, we forget the mayor. Tilly’s nephews and nieces serve the book club, the auxiliary dining room, and the playhouse. There are only four of them, so Tilly and I join the chaos. Word travels between us as we burst through the kitchen door of requests and needs, mistakes, and skinned knees in the playhouse.
It is only when I see Bresa at the door to the basement that I take a moment to breathe. Bresa’s expression is unfamiliar. Nothing fazes her usually, but she stares out the front windows, then turns back to the dining room, where the book club continues their debates. Seeing her uncomfortable makes me uncomfortable.
“Bresa,” I whisper when the register line is empty and I can cross the room, “what’s going on?”
She doesn’t answer as quickly as I’d like. She looks up at me and sighs. “Cheryl changed her mind.”
“I don’t know what to do with him now.”
“George is here?”
“The mayor you made.”
“Throw him away.”
“You don’t understand.” She takes my hand and pulls me to the door of her room. “Penelope, you have to swear you’ll never tell what I’m about to show you.”
I shouldn’t leave the register, but Bresa’s message seems urgent. “I swear.”
She opens the door and I see nothing at first. Then, there is motion on the floor. The wire trashcan inverted with a stack of books on top is scooting closer to me. I have to bend to see the little marzipan mayor pushing the trashcan with all the strength honey and almonds will give him.
No sleep tonight. I pretend to sleep so Mike won’t stay awake and worry about me. He freaked out when I fainted at work today. He wasn’t alone. I have never fainted before and it freaked me out, too. I wanted to tell him. As my husband, he needed more of an explanation than low blood sugar, which I’ve never suffered as a baker. I should feel worse for concocting that lie. However, the truth would have been more unbelievable.
His back is to me now, expanding and deflating with his deep sleep breath. I imagine how I would confess. I may be a criminal, although I can’t imagine what the indictment would be. It’s a moral dilemma I never thought I would confront—creating a type of life for the sole purpose of a ceremony. However, Bresa whispered to me while I was regaining consciousness that my creation was not a living individual.
“He’s a form of thought like a memory,” she said as she sprinkled a flowery liquid over my shirt and crossed my forehead with a feather. “He has no soul or will. He only knows what Cheryl communicated to him in the ceremony.”
At that moment, I glanced at the moving trash can again. He seemed to have desires, and what he wanted was to get out of the trashcan. Bresa scooted him to a closet and closed the door just as Mike arrived. I found myself answering questions about pregnancy, and although I swore I wasn’t, Mike insisted on a visit to my doctor.
I’m not pregnant, but that would be less troubling. I trace my finger down Mike’s shoulder blade, both wanting him to wake up and not wanting to wake him. I only wake our Siamese cat who is curled behind Mike’s bent knees. It’s three-thirty. If I go to work now, I will have some time to observe the tiny mayor and perhaps make sense of it.
I hear the little mayor bumping into the walls of the closet while I enter the security code. How can Bresa say he’s not alive? Perhaps she is minimizing his existence, the way vegetarians will kill a mosquito and rationalize it because of its size and bothersome personality. In Bresa’s room, my hand shakes when I open the closet door. The trash can moves into the room and I squat to watch the miniature mayor in his continued effort to push.
To my surprise, removing the trash can does not change his activity. He pushes at air, punching and lunging forward at nothing in front of him. Bresa told me the mayor knows nothing but what Cheryl communicated to him. All he seems to know is low-effort fighting. Is this what Cheryl told him? Is he the memory of a physical fight?
He doesn’t respond to my voice, nor does he see me. I observe, trying to become comfortable with my creation as he reaches a wall and pushes against it. Fifteen minutes later, I touch him. No reaction. When I lift him, he continues his pushing motions in my hands. He is as warm as when I first molded him. He appears to breathe, but I feel nothing when I place my hand in front of his tiny face, his unblinking eyes I created yesterday with a needle.
In the kitchen, I place him on the floor and watch him continue the only motion he knows, wandering under the table. I begin measuring almond flour and sugar for macarons. The routine is soothing and it seems kinder to keep him with me than to leave him in a trashcan in a dark closet. I suspect he doesn’t care. If Bresa is correct, he isn’t sentient. While I begin beating egg whites, I try to imagine Bresa’s explanation of being a thought form or a memory. I have too many questions.
When I hear the kitchen door swing open, I expect to see Tilly or Bresa. Mike is unexpected. He stands in the doorway with his arms and mouth open, questioning me with his eyes.
“You didn’t leave a note?” he asked when I turn off the mixer. “I thought you went to the ER!”
“Sorry, babe. I have lots of macarons to make today.” I’ve lost the mayor. I’m surveying the tiled floors when Mike yells and stomps his foot.
“What the hell was this?” He leans on the table and lifts his sneakered foot, attempting to shake it free of what he has just stomped. I’m afraid to look. I recognize the flattened blue suit.
“The mayor. You stepped on the mayor.”
Bresa struggles with English sometimes, but she has no words in any language now. Mike is no help. I scooted a barstool into the back of his legs while I scraped the mayor from his foot and he has sat there catatonic ever since. He should have been at work ten minutes ago.
“Tell me what to do,” I say to Bresa. She is studying the flattened mayor, now motionless on the kitchen island with a size twelve footprint etched into his squashed body.
“Can you redo him?” Bresa finally asks.
“I doubt it. I could make another.”
“A new one won’t remember.”
“Does it matter?”
“I don’t know. This has never happened before. I need Cheryl to come back and finish what she started.”
“Did I kill the mayor?” Mike interrupts, still focusing on the opposite wall, his face drained of color.
“It’s not voodoo,” Bresa says.
I have to wave to get Mike’s attention. “If you’re not going to work, I need you to call my dad and the two of you need to finish the macarons. I’ll try to reshape the mayor.”
Mike takes his phone from his pocket and texts. I assume he’s taking a day off. I hold the warm remains of the mayor, clear a place on my cluttered counter and begin squeezing the body into something recognizable again.
Bresa can’t find Cheryl or George. Meanwhile, the ever-cackling quilting club arrives and my father and husband argue about the neatness Mike lacks patience for. “I hate this fiddly shit,” he mumbles while dotting cupcakes with buttercream and applying butterflies with tweezers.
My father follows Mike, correcting his mistakes. “You’re not saving us any time with your impatience.”
I would reprimand both of them, but my focus must remain on the mayor. I’ve added nothing to what was scraped from Mike’s shoe, but George the marzipan mayor seems larger than before. I put on Tilly’s reading glasses to correct his face.
“The sausage rolls smell done, guys,” I remind my helpers. “Cheddar puffs should go in next. You should have the sandwiches on the trays already.”
“How much do quilters eat?” Mike complains as he put on oven mitts.
“They’ll stay at least two hours, non-stop snacking.” I’m the calm center of the storm. Tilly’s nieces breeze past me with fresh, steaming teapots and orders for more, and my father and husband continue baking, decorating, and arranging. When the door swings open every few minutes, the laughter from the quilters reminds me of how much I am needed to do other things.
Tilly’s eyes question me from the door.
“Bresa will have to explain,” is all I can say. Many days we are overwhelmed, but Tilly treats each occurrence as the first.
The mayor begins to look like the mayor, slowly, although I can’t shake the feeling that he has grown. I question why this has happened. The mayor is part of so many of my memories—all the school events he attended, smiling and cheering. He bought from all my fundraisers. I have countless certificates he signed with pride from the city of Oak Village when I competed in sports or academics. A photo of Mike and the mayor hangs in my home from the day Mike opened his landscaping business. Whatever complaint Cheryl has against him can’t outweigh the good he has done. I shouldn’t judge, not knowing. I know this, yet I can’t stop.
I remember his replica fighting his way across the floor. Maybe he wasn’t fighting. He could have been defending himself. If Cheryl attacked him, his constant pushing is logical. If he attacked Cheryl, a single punch would suffice. Once more, I tell myself not to speculate, not to judge. I wasn’t there. I can’t know.
Bresa returns, shaking her head. She has not found Cheryl or George. “I’ve left messages. I’ve told her it’s interrogative that she comes back as soon as possible.”
“Didn’t you mean ‘imperative’?”
Bresa sighs. “I can’t believe I said that.”
“She’ll figure it out.” She leans against my arm, the remade body of the mayor on the cutting board in front of us. “He looks bigger. Don’t you think so?”
Bresa raises her eyebrows. “You’re right. Maybe the marzipan expanded?”
“Bresa, please tell me you know what you’re doing.”
“This has never happened before. I don’t know if I can reanimate him after he was stepped on. I’ve never had one stay animated so long, either. We’re in virgin territory, Penelope.”
I follow her as she takes the mayor into her room. She locks us in and places him on her card table. I watch her at her cabinet of mysterious bottles next, measuring and mixing until she brings out a syringe full of a blue, chalky liquid.
“If this doesn’t work, maybe Cheryl can still finish her part. I don’t know what else to try.” Bresa seems to have no expectations when she injects the liquid into the doll.
The mayor sits up, staring at Bresa for a moment while she holds her breath. His neck turns and now he focuses on me. I feel faint again, but I sit on an end table before I fall. He is different now, just sitting instead of pushing against whatever is before him. He seems conscious. I know it’s not my imagination—he is larger than before.
“His memory has changed,” Bresa says. “What were you thinking when you redid him?”
“I was recalling all the good things he did for our town and people in general. Why? What was the memory Cheryl gave him?”
“She wouldn’t tell me. She only thought it during our ceremony and then she changed her mind when it came time to put an end to him.”
“Bresa, you have to tell me what the point of this is. I’m too involved now.”
She stands the mayor on his feet and watches him wobble for a moment before sitting again. “I thought I told you. He’s like a memory sponge. When he is de-animated, the memory is gone forever.”
“From the real mayor?”
“Yes. Only Cheryl didn’t de-animate him. Your husband did, and a day late. Now he doesn’t seem to remember what he remembered before. He’s not pushing and fighting.”
“I can’t imagine him ever fighting with Cheryl like that. It wasn’t his personality.”
“Penelope, you can’t know what people are like unless you live with them. Is Mike exactly the way you thought he would be before you married him?”
“No, but he’s not violent. The surprises have been small and inconsequential.”
Bresa starts to say something but she checks her phone instead. “It’s Cheryl, finally. She’s sorry. She’s at her brother’s house but she can come first thing tomorrow morning.”
I’m relieved, although after reviewing everything Bresa has told me, I’m not sure I should be. “Maybe no damage has been done at all. Right? Nobody knows anything.”
She shrugs and pulls a cardboard box from the closet. The mayor is still content to sit and do nothing. He doesn’t fight when Bresa places him in the box, interlocks the flaps, and puts the box in the closet. “We’ll find out tomorrow. I’d feel better if I knew where the real mayor was and what he remembered.”
In bed, Mike analyzes his involvement in an attempt to absolve himself from murder charges. It’s simple enough. I remind him numerous times that the mayor was not a voodoo doll, and all Mike had done was step on a cookie. Furthermore, we have no reason to believe the mayor is dead.
The thought of the marzipan mayor trapped in a box all night tortures me. Mike reminds me the doll doesn’t need to breathe, or use a toilet, or eat or drink. If Bresa is right, it isn’t alive at all, and its ability to move is only a reflex.
“Tomorrow, it will all be over, one way or another,” Mike says as he picks up his phone. “It’s late. We should sleep.”
I kiss him again.
“One more thing. Promise me you’ll never make a version of me in marzipan.”
It was unlike Tilly to leave a door unlocked. “Hello?” I announce, leaning in. The interior looks normal, maybe slightly untidy by Tilly’s standards. Yesterday was a busy day, though. Sometimes there are mistakes and in this small town, locks are rarely necessary. No one answers, and no other cars are here. I proceed to the safe, which is undisturbed. The register contains some cash, satisfying me that the open door means nothing.
Bresa’s door is also open. Whoever cleaned last night must have forgotten that Bresa’s cash drawer is separate. Turning into Bresa’s room, my eyes are drawn to the open closet. The cardboard box appears to have burst open, torn, and unfolded on the floor.
I knew leaving him in a box was wrong.
I search now, corners and under tables, every dining room. I don’t want to believe the obvious. The marzipan mayor has wandered away somewhere. My creation, easily traced to this business and me, is loose in Oak Village. Bresa and I will have to move.
“Penelope?” It’s Cheryl, still wearing sunglasses, leaning in the open front door. “I am supposed to see Bresa?”
“Come in. She’s not here yet, but you can wait in her room.”
She moves slowly. I doubt she has slept, like the rest of us who are involved. “Did you lose something?”
I stop searching. “It’s gone, I guess. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
I don’t know who to call. Instead, I stand for a moment at the refrigerators, picturing the little mayor being run over by a truck and also realizing I need to make puff pastry. The thoughts are incompatible. I feel paralyzed.
The knock at the back door startles me.
“Penelope? Is that you?” It’s the real mayor, George Williams, his face against the small window in the door. “I’m looking for Cheryl!”
At least the mayor is alive. Mike will be relieved, as will Bresa. I unlock the door. “Forgive my slow reaction, Mr. Williams. I haven’t been sleeping well.”
“Is everything alright? How is Mike?”
“No problems, really.” It’s good to see his smiling face. Like the rest of us, though, he seems tired. I’ve never seen him in a jogging suit, either. He seems a little lopsided. “Cheryl is in Bresa’s room.”
“Good to see you, Penelope.”
Seeing the real mayor has alerted me to reality, at least. I gather blocks of butter for the pastry and take the rolling pin from the island cabinet.
Cheryl screams before I can begin pounding the butter. Peeking into the dining room, I see them—Cheryl walking backward, her face petrified in terror. “But you’re dead!” she screeches.
He reaches forward and pushes her several times, making her stumble toward the door to the basement. One final push and she falls back through the door, thumping and thudding to the basement. What I’m thinking can’t be—just because the mayor was pushing her the way the marzipan mayor was—it has to be a coincidence. What had she meant when she said he was dead?
I hear nothing. Again, I peek into the dining room.
The mayor turns his head in my direction, then his uneven body. It’s his familiar grin, but when his lips part, honey streams from the corners of his mouth.
Kimberly Moore is a writer and educator. Her short works are published in Typehouse Literary Magazine, MacroMicroCosm, Fleas on the Dog, Word Poppy Press, and 34 Orchard. She lives in a haunted house where she indulges the whims of cats.
For more information, visit kimberlymooreblog.com.