portion of the artwork for Kristina Ten's story

A Manageable Alternative
Kristina Ten

After I began having terrible dreams about the earthquake that would eventually topple our city.

After he fixed my flat tire like there was no question he should be the one to do it, so efficiently that he didn’t notice the stripe of black gunk down his nose, so tenderly that I surprised myself by crying on the drive home from his apartment.

After we smoked weed out of an apple on the way to a party and then realized it was the kind of party where everyone around you seems to be comparing credit scores.

After he said: Shouldn’t the roof of your mouth be called the ceiling?

After he said: San Francisco is some restaurant-loving motherfuckers. After he said: The key to running a successful business is making sure it’s nicer on the inside than the outside.

You know, get those high steel beams and mason jars filled with tiny white flowers. Get that chandelier made from craft beer bottles and repurposed driftwood. Make one wall a chalkboard and one wall a corkboard and one wall a speaker and one wall a mirror. And then name it, like, The Corner Store.

After he took my earlobe out of his mouth and said: Don’t get me wrong, marriage is nuts on principle. But one day I want to have a little girl named Relentlessly so I can say—

I love you, Relentlessly—

I have always loved you, Relentlessly—

I will always love you, Relentlessly.


After he made a joke that I was too tense about the present. Before I responded that he was too perfect about the past. Before he started speaking exclusively in movie references.

After I did it without telling him. After I didn’t tell him. After I told him. After I learned to say I’m so sorry in half a dozen ancient, unwritten languages. Before he confessed he’d rather have it in writing. Before he entered my dreams about the earthquake.

That’s when he became obsessed with making baumkuchen.

Baumkuchen is German for tree cake. Fifteen or 20 thin layers of batter, divided by golden lines like the growth rings on a crosscut tree.

Allegedly it originated with the Romans, who baked it on logs over open fires. Allegedly it’s very popular at weddings in Europe.

Allegedly the world record for the largest baumkuchen is held by a Lithuanian pastry chef who, bored with soufflés, spent 36 hours brushing even, painstaking layers of batter onto her rotating spit, waiting until one browned completely before adding the next.

The result was six and a half feet long, one point two feet in diameter. One hundred and thirty-eight pounds.

Like a high-school basketball player, he said. Could’ve been the team captain, for chrissakes.

We went to the only grocery store within walking distance that we knew sold liquor. We quickly became frustrated with the layout. Why wouldn’t they put the milk next to the butter?

And then his whole—Eggs aren’t so much dairy as chicken embryos, if you think about it, so, technically, they’re poultry—thing.

We bickered over the difference between almond paste and frangipane, whether we wanted marzipan or nougat.

He picked up sugar, salt, and flour. I puffed out my cheeks and mimed how big my belly would be from all these, realizing my mistake immediately.

I said: Wait, let’s pretend we’re playing Supermarket Sweep! and jogged from one aisle to another. I said: These bottles of vanilla essence look like love potion, don’t they? I took a corner too fast and sent a tower of waffle mixes tumbling and looked back, hoping he’d laugh.

I slowed down as we walked past the meat section and he couldn’t even look at the vacuum-sealed bones. Just stared as I pushed the cart like a stroller.

I split off for a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and found him in produce, his eyes closed and both hands wrist-deep in a crate full of peaches. He ran his thumbs over the fuzz and punctured the skin, letting the soft flesh get lodged under his nails and the juice sting his chewed cuticles and he clenched his fists and unclenched and his knuckles cracked when the air bubbles popped until I said:

Honey—

Honey—

Honey—


Honey.

Our last stop was the brandy. He grabbed a fifth of something cheap for the baumkuchen, which called for only half a cup, and another fifth of cognac. I looked at him and he looked at me and said: What? It’s not like you won’t be able to drink it.

Which is true if not entirely fair, and maybe even entirely fair.

But he might as well have said: Think you can handle this one in the oven?

He might as well have said: This time, this thing we make together, try not to mess it up.

The recipe we found online says authentic Swiss baumkuchen is nearly impossible to make without an industrial kitchen, but that this will be a manageable alternative. And taste a little like a Kit Kat bar.

Sweet, it promises. And layered, like anything.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 51 | Spring/Summer 2018