(originally printed in Mouth Magazine; reprinted in "A little behind: articles for challenge, change and catching up" and published again here with permission of Diverse City Press)
Butter tarts. She was making butter tarts. I leaned up against the counter and watched. Impossibly slow, incredibly precise, she fair burned with purpose. I was expected elsewhere in the building, to have another meeting about something important, I'm sure. But something bad me watch. As realization dawned, her experience became mine. This is what it had all been for, the years of toil and struggle. The captive is freed. And lady liberty moves, slowly filling the pastry shells , one after another. Not a drop was spilled, if it was I didn't notice. All I could see was a graceful ballet of movement.
Butter tarts. Really. Butter tarts. She was making butter tarts. Her hands, the ones that had mixed the batter, were women's hands. I could tell that hers had not been cared for, seldom scented, maybe never even held. Gentleness, she dipped the spoon into the batter with such gentleness. As if she wanted, more than anything, to never cause hurt or harm. Her hands, at least, could promise a peace she may never have known. I had worked once in one of the places that caged people like her for the crime of difference. I smelled the scent of captivity. Her feet still did the institutional shuffle, as if the shackles of that time had disappeared but not fallen away. Time slowed around us as she turned a mundane chore into a hymn to freedom.
Butter tarts. Do you realize the importance of butter tarts? And yes, that she was making them. Sweet batter, unnecessary calories, a smell of luxury, all in a frivolous food. Panis Angelicus. Not on a diet or menu plan anywhere in the world. Butter tarts, two words that freeze the heart of every nutritionist. I remember the pinched faces of those who disapproved or any pleasure or warmth for them. I remember locking doors behind me and going home, leaving them there. I remember being watched through caged mesh as I walked to the car. I remember emotional poverty. But now, butter melts, sugar runs dark with sweet. She was making something rich though her clothes were little more than threadbare. Her manner was of servitude. Her posture of meekness. And yet she was making something rich. The thin souls of those who live to deny, shiver. She was baking a revolutionary food, a declaration of independence from those who know better.
Butter tarts. With raisins. She was making butter tarts with raisins. There were other people in the room with me but none seemed to notice her. Sound swirled around her but but couldn't penetrate her concentration. Her eyes followed every raisin's fall into the delicate pool of sweetness. Twice she stirred the raisins deep into the batter. Hidden treasures, she smiled, in anticipation. I looked at the others in shock. Why couldn't they see the glint in her eyes as the raisins fell and as she slowly filled each small pastry shell. None ran over. They don't need to anymore. Because and only because she was making ...
Butter tarts. With raisins. On a pan full and waiting only for her. This was her job. Not mine. She didn't meed me, my help, my intercession. This was hers. It needed her hands. We were in a kitchen. It had a sink. A fridge. Stove. It was like a thousand kitchens in a thousand homes. Unremarkable really, except maybe to her. She alone may notice what others do not see. She would see the unlocked doors that led only outside. The windows without mesh or bars. It had only people who knew her name and who used it kindly. She was here because she wanted to be. This was a choice. Freely ... unbelievably ... freely made. Her hand showed no tension from rush, or fear, or force. They simply worked at their own speed in creation of the sweet hereafter.
Butter tarts. I want to call down the corridor of time. "Come one. Come all. Quick come see. The village idiot is making butter tarts. The institution's moron is scooping batter and the school's imbecile watches the raisins fall. The denied child -- her touch knows sweet. The refused communicant -- her heart knows bitter." How long, I wondered had her hands been held captive in that place with the long corridor. How long had she waited, and endured, and prayed for today. The day that she would make ...
Butter tarts. With the poetry of motion she was eloquent. She moved in freedom as if its air had the buoyancy of water. In wisdom we had locked her away for the crime of learning slowly. She will again, I know be called a R#tard by those who know better. She will face those who are embarrassed by her presence. She will struggle, every day, against bigotry to live with dignity. But the battle is won. Because now, and all we really have is now, she is sitting on a comfortable chair and waiting.
For butter tarts.