Updated: Mar 17
Penny stared blankly out of her kitchen window, squinting hard as the scorching summer sun pierced its way through the branches of the enormous gum tree that towered over her backyard. She glanced down at the mixing bowl on the bench, and studied her sticky fingers. What the hell is the next ingredient? This was happening all too often and it was beginning to worry her. Penny was only fifty-two.
It was her daughter Sally’s eleventh birthday today and Penny had baked her favourite, jam and cream sponge cake every year since Sally was three. Sally has always known precisely what she wants and has never had any difficulty expressing it since the day she learned to talk.
Penny fondly remembered the day Sally entered this world, as she mindlessly kneaded the cake mixture. Why is it she could remember the sweet scent of Sally’s soft pink skin following her very first bath, yet here she was struggling to recall the next ingredient. Eggs……. that’s it. That explained why the gooey mess wasn’t quite coming together as it should.
Penny glanced down at her watch. 6pm. Her husband was working late yet again. He normally arrived home around five. Damien is an accountant and often works long hours at the office. Five years ago, Penny and Damien moved from Sydney to the outskirts of Adelaide for a sea change, in order for Penny to realise her lifelong dream of opening and running a cafe, starring her own baked goodies. Both rent, and the cost of living were much less in South Australia.
Penny enjoyed the wide-open space of their one-acre block. The Adelaide Hills are beautifully breathtaking. Being less than an hour’s drive from The Barossa Valley was an added bonus. She admired the curve of the rolling hills and the invigorating aroma of eucalyptus in the morning. The familiar sound of a kookaburra’s chuckle echoing through the trees always made her smile.
Penny grew up in Sydney and spent most of her life living near Botany Bay, with a bird’s eye view of Sydney Heads. One of her favourite things to do as a child, was to sit on the old stone wall at airport view with her parents, and watch Jumbo Jets landing and taking off from Kingsford Smith Airport. She would sit with her little legs dangling over the edge and wonder where the plane was heading, or where it might be returning from.
The only thing Penny really missed from her home town was living by the water. The Bay looks like a ray of light glistening on a piece of broken glass on a clear day. On the other hand, her daily commute in torturous Sydney Traffic to her tedious job, she did not miss.
Another pass time Penny missed was going to watch a live Rugby League match. She loved The St George-Illawarra Dragons, and had been a die hard fan since she was a young child. South Australia was an Aussie Rules loving state, meaning Rugby League hardly got any air time on TV. Penny would rather watch paint dry than sit through potentially, two long hours of aerial ping pong, as she liked to refer to it.
This was Penny’s second marriage and at times she wondered why her first marriage had failed. She had always believed she and Mark were soulmates. However sadly, somewhere along the line, the stressors of life had caused them to slowly drift apart.
Penny and Mark’s twenty-two-year-old daughter Emma, still lives in Sydney, just around the corner from her dad. Penny gently brushed her curly ginger locks out of her eyes. Salty tears began to roll down her freckled face, splashing into the cake batter, as she reminisced about how close she and Emma used to be. They had always been the best of mates, and now Emma felt like a stranger to her.
Ever since Penny and her husband had made the big move across to Adelaide, Emma slowly grew more and more distant, and Penny had not heard from her in nearly two years. The last text message she had received from Emma was savage in nature, and Penny thought she might die of a broken heart, as her eyes carefully scanned the hurtful words appearing on the screen in front of her. Emma blamed Penny for the breakdown of the family, as she was the one who had walked out on Mark.
Mark and Penny had remained very good friends and chat to each other on a regular basis. Thanks to Mark’s updates, Penny not only knew Emma was alive and well, but that she was studying fashion design, and loving every minute of it. Penny was extremely proud of her girl.
Emma was sixteen years old when they split, and shared her time equally between both parents, depending on their work. When Penny married Damien and later moved interstate, Emma chose to stay living close to her dad. Penny was crushed, but what could she do, Emma was an adult after all. Penny wondered if she was happy. That’s all any parent wants for their kids.
Penny’s thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the sound of her mobile ringing. She has always been a huge fan of Cold Chisel, and as the familiar melody of Flame Trees emitted from her phone, Penny almost knocked the whole bowl off the kitchen bench, as she stretched out to reach for it.
It was Penny’s best friend Chloe on the other end of the phone. Chloe moved to Adelaide when her marriage broke down and encouraged Penny to do the same. It was their love of baking that brought the girls together all those years ago, in home economics class back in high school. If they weren’t hanging out on the beach at Brighten Le Sands, they could be found in their parent’s kitchen baking up a storm.
It was Chloe who suggested Penny convince Damien to make the sea change so they could open the business together. Penny had recently given up her extremely dull and mind-numbing job as an administration assistant, as she found it unchallenging. It had never once given her any sense of satisfaction. So, they all took a leap of faith, and Dinkum Damper was born.
Chloe had always been the more adventurous one of the two. She firmly believed there is no gain in life without the element of risk. Penny was the more cautious one who needed a regular nudge in order to venture far from her comfort zone. Penny’s childhood would have been rather boring if it wasn’t for Chloe. Penny would never have wagged school, drove a car before she got her driver’s licence, or snuck out after dark.
‘It’s only two days, will we need to roster someone else to cover? It’s Monday and Tuesday which are normally our quiet days. What if two days turns into more? Should we plan for that? Penny, are you there? What do you think?’Chloe didn’t draw breath, and only about half of what Chloe had said had registered. Penny’s head was pounding.
‘Don’t worry Chloe, it will sort itself out like it always does.’ Penny said goodbye and hung up the phone, after discussing next month’s rostering crisis with Chloe. Their head waiter Liam had to take a couple of day’s emergency leave and covering his shifts at short notice was proving to be a bit of a nightmare.
The oven promptly beeped to remind Penny it had reached the desired temperature. Penny found herself standing in the laundry and would have completely forgot all about Sally’s birthday cake if the oven hadn’t had jogged her memory. Only last week, she had found the milk in the pantry, and the dish-washing liquid in the fridge.
At that precise moment Sally came bounding into the room with her beaming grin that could light up a thousand Christmas trees. Just the sight of Sally made Penny smile and gave her great comfort during a moment of extreme fear and uncertainty.
Buddy the family Cattle Dog was hot on her heels, albeit much slower these days. He followed her everywhere. They brought Buddy home as a puppy on Sally’s first birthday. He was an old man now.
Penny was feeling anxious and overwhelmed as she couldn’t remember if she had added the eggs. Sally emptied the bowl of its contents, rinsed it out and suggested they start again, offering her eager assistance. Sally was mature beyond her young years and Penny had no idea what she would do without her right-hand girl.
Unpublished Work - Hayley Walsh (c) 2020