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Bread and Butterfly

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Many of Fred’s favorite childhood memories—the ones she loses herself in when she’s being shocked by the collar or later when she’s trying to figure out if a person can survive on the lichen that grows on her cave’s walls—are of baking with her mother. She remembers slathering salted sweet cream butter on thick slices of homemade bread and sprinkling them liberally with sugar and cinnamon. They’d toast into buttery, crunchy goodness with crusts that were almost, but not quite, burnt. Fred remembers baking cakes from boxes and muffins from scratch and rolling out dough for pizzas that were always too loaded with toppings to bake properly. And always while the goodies were baking, she and her mother would drink tea from the good china like fancy ladies, pinkies out.

Fred loved history as a child and knew what she wanted to be when she grew up before most of her playmates were even contemplating growing up. She’d be a historian and figure out the secret lives of ancient people, and maybe she’d write books or teach at a university or make documentaries about what she’d learned. But Fred has always loved science, too; she loved it long before Professor Seidell convinced her that physics is her true calling.

When she is curled up on damp stone and so weak from hunger and cold that her hands shake, she remembers her mother’s kitchen—sunlight filtering through white gauzy curtains, a bowl of lemons on the counter, the sweetness of vanilla and sugar and the warm yeasty smell of bread in the air. She remembers reading her mother’s cookbooks like novels, and she remembers the day that she realized exactly what the two of them were doing in that kitchen. “Mom,” Fred said, looking up from The Joy of Cooking. “It’s not just cooking. It’s science. We’re doing science!”

Her mother laughed. “That’s right, Winifred. We’re doing science.” Then she poured them both more Earl Grey, the liquid hot enough to scald Fred’s fingers through the teacup if she wasn’t careful.

Fred has forgotten many things. She can’t remember what being clean feels like anymore or what she felt like after pigging out at Taco Bell with her friends. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t afraid. But Fred remembers baking with her mother—licking the batter off the backs of wooden spoons, sprinkling sugar on cookies cut in the shapes of stars, her mother’s hands on top of her own as they kneaded dough together.