Eight Things the Occupant Thinks About While Making a Cake
and One That Does Not Occur to Her
1. Whether it’s possibleto step figuratively out of one’s body, observe oneself with the detached neutrality of a stranger.
2. No, probably not.
3. Whether some otherperson—e.g. a stranger from the future—seeing her framed here, in the serene light of the kitchen window, beside this orange digital scale, this scattering of currants on the counter, would feel the same prick of ineffable sadness she felt observing Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balancelast week at the museum.
4. Yes. What kind observer would notbe moved at the sight of the pensive baker—herself!— ringed by the quaint tools of her craft, and who, though centuries dead, is quickened in this moment of perception?
5. Even so, the objects that survived her—the rubber spatula, the yellow mixing bowl— now housed in the museum’s 21stcentury collection, speak only of their time, while those in Vermeer’s painting seem undying: the instrument itself, held light and empty in the woman’s hand, the coin-like weights and heavy ropes of pearls that spill from the box beside her, too large, certainly, for the balance to contain.
6. Of course, for the people of Delft, these things—along with theminiature Last Judgmentthat Vermeer hung on the wall behind her—would have testified to his subject’s place, poised between this world and the next, where her life, like theirs, would be measured grain by grain; while the less eloquent tools in Woman Making a Cakemay only recite the facts of mankind’s deathless love of sweet confections.
7. On one side cake; on the other, the resurrection of the body.
8. That on the wall behind her is a mirror, which seems significant, though she cannot decide if it is a sad significance or a happy one, or whether the stranger, in the light of her own time, would see in it a plenitude or a void.
9. That while the woman has been weighing these things, the mirror has been painting the back of her head, the flour sifting softly into the yellow bowl, the five panes of the kitchen window, the green tops of trees, and, minute by minute, the singular colors of the day going down and the night rising to meet it.