Fondant and Fancies
The red elastic band pinged and caught Penelope’s finger as she opened the post. Wincing only slightly she placed it neatly to the left of her place and flicked deftly through the envelopes. She placed those of interest to the right of her place and the remainder were put with the elastic band to be popped directly in the recycling bin after lunch. Moving her glass of sparkling water to one side she cast her eyes over her diary whilst Martha Kearney discussed how the rise of the humble denim jacket might save the British fashion industry with the Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer.
She closed her eyes and ran through the following day’s meetings. She found this both therapeutic and useful. The parts played by the other participants could be honed and tuned to her satisfaction leaving her completely in control on the day itself. A position she found infinitely preferable to being on the back foot. Her presentation was dusted down and she hung out a couple of client meetings to air. It was only when she got to the part when Christopher returned from Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon that her blood slowed to a trickle and collected somewhere around her lower abdomen. She was out of cake.
Christopher liked a slice of cake with his tea. No matter that Penelope was a high flier, albeit from an age where high flier tended to refer to Lancaster Bombers rather than shatterers of glass ceilings, Christopher expected a perfect slice of Victoria Sponge (margarine not butter in the interests of his cholesterol levels) to accompany his cup of tea and Red Box.
Penelope retraced her steps along the following day’s programme and spotted a small window of opportunity between Morgan Stanley and Freshfields. Gloria, the most aptly named receptionist Penelope had ever met, had waxed lyrically, or rather gushed openly, about a boutique bakery newly opened on Barrington Lane. So long as she kept to her schedule she would have a full ten minutes to pop in and acquire some kind of sponge for Christopher. Problem solved Penelope sighed deeply and put her mind to more pressing matters. The bakery was in the schedule and all was well with the world.
All was marginally less well with the world at 2.44pm the following afternoon when Penelope finally extricated herself from her 12.45 at Morgan Stanley, a full forty minutes behind schedule. She now had only thirty minutes to find the bakery, acquire something suitable to appease Christopher and still make her 3.30 at Freshfields.
Following Gloria’s surprisingly accurate directions Penelope found herself in front of a small but perfectly formed salon. This was not a bakery; it was not even a shop it was a boudoir..
There were roses peering nervously from behind rolled gold chains, red hot hearts which sparkled seductively and enticed voyeurs into their shuddering depths. Bollywood style fancies with rouged corners and gold tipped leaves rubbed shoulders with virginal white wedding cakes with no more than a single, deep vermillion rose stark against the wealth of white.
Penelope felt a wall of heat creep around her. She could not walk through the door into this den of multicoloured treasure boxes. This was no bakery, it was a chocolate bordello.
She steeled herself and pushed open the door. The smell of pleasure knocked her momentarily off her course but she was made of stronger stuff and marched, eyes forward, towards the counter.
“May I help you?”
“A cake,” she stuttered. Looking around it became increasingly clear that her idea of a cake, a neat Victoria sponge, perhaps lightly dusted with icing sugar, was so far removed from the creations which surrounded her as to be from another planet.
The girl on the other side of the counter smiled. No she didn’t smile, she melted into a smile; a vanilla cream with a hint of gold leaf at the corners smile. Fear coursed through Penelope and made her strong.
“That one,” demanded Penelope, pointing at a mini wedding cake complete with gold chain and dusky tea rose trim. “And one of those,” a lime green fondant fancy with electric pink floral finish and old gold rope edging was next in the box. Who cared what was inside; the visual feast alone would sustain Penelope for years. She pointed and grasped and filled her rose gold box with a cacophony of colours. Wrapped with a deep magenta ribbon her box of delights teased and tempted her throughout her final and deeply dull meeting of the day. Once it was finally over she ran out of the building, flinging her pass at the shocked commissionaire, stole a cab from under the nose of an unsuspecting tourist and took herself and her spoils home.
Milo mewed as she unlocked the front door. But for the first time Penelope ignored the cat for today she had riches, goodies. She threw her coat across the hall table; it slid unnoticed to the floor as she reached up to get a cut glass cake stand down from the top of the chiffonier in the dining room.
One by one she placed her glorious haul on the glass. Pink and mauve on the top tier, green and crimson on the middle and on the bottom layer, the most rich and gaudy, the ladies of the night of the confectionary market. Penelope swept her fingers around the rim of the glass like a lion circling its prey.
Deep breathing was the key to self control. She concentrated on the in breath and slowly on the out breath. She looked at carriage clock alone on the mantelpiece. One minute to five. One more long and slow breath. The key creaked in the lock. She stood and slowly, carefully and in complete control she processed towards the front door holding ruffle rose cupcakes, rich ribboned rose festooned fancies, kitsch kaleidoscope cakes. She wrapped herself in them and as Christopher opened the door she offered him cake.