The Last Arabesque
Sheriff’s Crime Report: An unidentified woman allegedly stole two macaroon baking sheets from Jane’s Cakes and Chocolates … a blonde woman approximately 5’5″ and weighing 250 pounds took the baking sheets from a package, covered them with her sweater, and left the store.
She was a rather pretty child, but like most good things in her life, it didn’t last. At seven, her round blue eyes and blonde pigtails registered as cute with most folks, despite her unfortunate tendency to dress in imitation of Holly Hobbie — pinafores weren’t cool in 1975.
But, alas, by sixth grade, the chubbiness had set in. She had always had an affinity for sweets, especially cupcakes, especially the chocolate ones with whipped cream frosting and sprinkles. She just couldn’t help herself, cupcakes were her inspiration and her nemesis. The thick, creamy gooeyness of the frosting was offset so splendidly by the firmness of the cake, and cupcakes were just the right size for quick consumption when parents were otherwise engaged. At birthday parties, should cupcakes be on offer, Sarah would always be found at the treats table, surreptitiously grabbing any extras while the other kids played pin the tail on the donkey. The other mothers would raise collective, penciled eyebrows and murmur things like, “You know, I don’t allow MY daughter more than one cupcake per week!” and “Too much sugar is quite bad for one’s complexion, you know….” and “My goodness, she really likes those cupcakes, doesn’t she?” Sarah would smile in what she hoped was a charming fashion, and hightail it for the kitchen, cupcakes in hand, in hopes that there resided the rest of the treats, and no condescending maternal eyes.
Her parents faked tolerance and understanding; her mother taught her to grease pans and whip up cupcake mix, reassuring Sarah that “beauty was in the eye of the beholder” and that “it was what was on the inside that counted,” while her father mumbled something about “keeping her (double) chin(s) up” from underneath the headphones which seemed to be affixed permanently to his ears.
Birthday parties and other moms aside, the real terror occurred during ballet. Her teacher, a tall, commanding woman decked out in perfectly matched leotards and dance shoes (often purple), would stalk gracefully through the classroom filled with sweaty little girls, and glare down at Sarah’s increasingly filled out leotard, making remarks about dancers who didn’t understand the necessity of lithe limbs. “You might look fine in street clothes,” Mrs. Cushman would intone, “but a dancer must weigh much less, much less than an ORDINARY person.” Sarah would shrink inside, first wondering if, and later suspecting that, she was merely ordinary. Alas, her external self did not participate in her internal shrinkage.
By the time she was fourteen, the leotards were filled to bursting, and the dainty pointe shoes seemed only to emphasize the increasingly rotund body above them. When it came time to partner up for a pas de deux, Sarah was never chosen. It was like being the last picked for the softball team, except nobody really expected girls to be good at softball, but everyone expected girl dancers to be thin. The three boy dancers in the troupe would make groaning noises and fake limp arms and legs should Mrs. Cushman demand that any of them partner up with Sarah. Finally, after a particularly, humiliatingly, loud landing (the floorboards not only shook, but the metal folding chairs rattled) on a tour jete, Mrs. Cushman laid down the law: Sarah would write down each and everything she ate, participate in weekly weigh-ins, and until she had dropped down to 118 pounds, she could put aside any notion of joining the Ballet Company. “118 pounds is quite generous, you know,” said Mrs. Cushman, “when I was dancing with the American Ballet Theater, we were not allowed to weigh more than 110.” Sarah didn’t doubt it.
Sarah tried to do as she was told, dutifully recording (1) one scrambled egg; (2) one apple; (3) turkey sandwich; (4) milk; (5) chicken breast; (6) green salad and (7) one chocolate cupcake (sometimes two). She would watch the thinner dancers briskly pirouette and grande jete, and miserably stand on the scale underneath the judgmental gaze of Mrs. Cushman who recorded every ounce gained or lost.
And then, at fifteen, she made two exciting discoveries: pot and the boys who smoked it. It turned out that ordinary boys, the kind who, instead of dancing in leotards, hung around behind the school gym, actually liked girls who weren’t particularly skinny, particularly if said girls were insecure, needy, and ready and willing to “make friends.” And weed, glorious weed, not only made her actually not care about Mrs. Cushman, which had seemed improbable, it also accomplished the truly impossible: it made cupcakes taste even better.
So it was goodbye leotards, goodbye pointe shoes, goodbye leotard-wearing, smarmy boys and especially, goodbye Mrs. Cushman, and hello pot-smoking, pill popping, alcohol drinking, Twinkie, Ding-Dong and Hostess Cupcake eating stoner friends.
A great weight had been lifted from Sarah’s shoulders, but… alas and alack, not from her ever expanding hips. Although ballet had certainly shrunk her soul, it had also helped to shrink her body — and after three years of cartoons, smoking, baking, and eating, Sarah was in danger of becoming, not a cupcake, but a triple layer, double frosted, heavily decorated (she was an eager consume of Revlon, Maybelline, and L’Oreal) cake.
Her popularity, although not her weight, declined.
And then a miracle occurred. Cupcakes became TRENDY. Cupcake shops were springing up as if from yeast-laden mountains of sugar and spice, literally (or at least almost metaphorically) on every street corner. People were paying what seemed to be obscene (if cupcakes could be associated with such a word) amounts of money for mini-cakes with outlandish names such as “Red Velvet Rope Cupcake Surprise” and “Rock Candy Sugar Coconut Mini-Mountain.” Skinny starlets were documented consuming cupcakes in magazines! Sarah knew in her heart, soul, and stomach that this was the bandwagon for which she had been waiting. She applied for a small business loan (successfully), badgered parents (successfully), friends (marginally successfully), and fellow stoners (with near total failure) for money, and rented a small space in the Montrose Shopping Park. In six months, her Cupcake Den was open and selling fantastical concoctions such as “Lemon Meringue Surprise,” “Raspberry Rum Delicacy,” “Choco-Peanut Delight,” “Chocolate Dream Cake,” and “Double Fudge Ribbon Decadence” (Sarah’s devotion to chocolate had never abated).
The cupcakes were delicious, but whether it was Sarah’s steady consumption of her own product, or the fifteen other cupcake eateries which had opened within the surrounding five mile radius, her business failed. Tuesday Tastie Specials aside, her business lost money even as its owner continued to gain, not financial success, but weight.
The Cupcake Den closed and Sarah retreated, fat and alone, into her small kitchen, where she baked, ate, smoked, and watched t.v. (not necessarily in that order), and thought sadly of her days as an aspiring ballerina who, if lacking in promise, at least had a dim hope of a future of flashing footlights and beautiful tutus, instead of days and nights spent in baggy sweatpants with Jack Black (onscreen only, of course), and Choco-Mint Rum-Filled Mini-Semi-Surprises.
And then, whilst watching The Cooking Channel (NOT the Cupcake Wars show; she always avoided that one — the pain was too intense), Sarah saw that, not cupcakes, but macaroons were the “new thing.” Macaroons — French, Small, Light, Beautifully Colored (all of the things that fat, pasty-white, American Sarah was not) were the new IT pastry. Dreams of, not sugarplums, but beautifully displayed cookies, and visions of success danced in Sarah’s head.
Broke, obese and alone, Sarah waddled out to find her dream in a cruel and semi-oblivious world….. Because, “one fine day……and so we beat on, boats against the current…” or the frosting, in Sarah’s case.
Blythe Telefson teaches English at Fullerton College and is a frequent contributor to the literary world.