Margriet de Moor
Baking a cake in the dead of night as a meditation on loss
Unable to sleep, a woman tries to stem the tide of sorrow at the death of her husband and the years spent trying to fathom the mystery behind his suicide. Can she honestly say she knew him? They seemed to have a sound relationship: a happy, loving marriage. And yet… Why did he take his own life? Was there more to it than she knows? And if so, what could it be?
As the young widow goes down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to bake a cake, a man lies sleeping upstairs. A man she met that day for the first time, through a personal ad. They spent a pleasant day together and she invited him to share her bed.
The memories of her husband surface with increasing clarity: a farmer’s son, skating through a frozen landscape together, the first time they made love, their wedding and then, out of the blue, his suicide. Why? The question pulses through the narrative. Looking back, is an explanation hidden somewhere? She remembers the day it happened, how she reacted, the questions asked by family and acquaintances. ‘I would not be able to tell a single soul what possessed my husband in the final moments of his life.’ Inexorably, the reader is drawn into mulling over events in the lead-up to the tragedy. Had a former girlfriend re-entered his life? Did his relationship with his mother or his sister play a part?
As in all her work, De Moor excels at creating scenes that are rich in telling, unexpected and sometimes humorous details. Her distinctive, finely wrought style eschews threadbare imagery, with subtle and wry descriptions that lighten the tone, mitigate the grief and highlight the sensitivity of the protagonist’s inner world.
Ultimately, the riddle of the suicide is not solved. Any solution is left to the reader, and who is to say one even exists, since we can never know exactly what goes on inside the mind of another human being? The reason why the man she loved took his own life will always remain a mystery and there is nothing left for the woman to do but bake her cake in the middle of the night. De Moor’s novella is a miracle of empathy and literary artistry.