(photo credit: Christina)
(dedicated to Dick and Christina)
by Paul Raworth Bennett
Still in his dressing gown, Dick was hauling the blue box to the curb when his wife’s voice burst from the kitchen window, shattering the morning calm.
“Dick! Get in here, now!”
Dropping the container in the driveway, he rushed back into the kitchen where, just as she’d done almost every Saturday morning for twenty years, Christina was baking bread.
On the counter was a glass measuring cup of warm water, yeast, and sugar.
Usually, after Christina mixed the ingredients a cream-colored, bubbling froth would rise an inch or two. But this morning, it had risen far higher than usual and was about to spill over the top.
Dick walked over and slipped an arm around his wife’s slender waist. “Are you having a breakfast beer?” he quipped.
Christina pulled away. “Dick! Seriously! Look, it’s growing like crazy… oh my God, this has never happened before!”
“Never mind, sweetie,” he laughed, “just put the cup in the sink and the excess will go down the drain.”
So with great care Christina lifted the slippery cup, almost dropping it twice, and lowered it into the sink.
Then all hell broke loose.
Quickly overwhelming the basin, the froth flowed across the counter and spilled onto the floor. Dick immediately hurled the cup out the window – but it was too late. Like a gigantic, raging amoeba, the suds had assumed a terrifying life of their own.
Suddenly a great blast of wind burst forth from the sink, hurling them across the kitchen. Dick crashed into the refrigerator while Christina tumbled into a panel of floor-to-ceiling cupboards.
Startled but uninjured, all they could do was pull themselves to their feet and stare, frozen with fear, at the foam rapidly filling the room like a bathtub fills with water. Within ten seconds it had risen knee-high; thirty seconds later it was up to their chests.
Dick held on to the top of the fridge with both hands while Christina clung to a couple of cupboard handles. Both knew that if they fell into the bubbles, they’d most certainly drown.
And as if the rising tide of foam wasn’t bad enough, a yeasty odor was also filling the room. But it wasn’t the friendly, delicious aroma one would expect from homemade bread; this was an overwhelming, suffocating, sinister smell. Christina’s heart leapt into her throat as she realized that she might die not by drowning, but by asphyxiation.
She looked over at the man who’d cherished her for more than thirty years. Dick had given her everything – and now both their lives were at the mercy of a vile yeast gone horribly wrong.
Praying desperately, she wondered if the God she’d likely disappointed during her rebellious youth would be there for them now, and images of the many happy times she and Dick had shared flooded her anguished mind.
Then she heard a word – barely audible above the bubbling, roiling foam – spoken by what sounded like an Italian woman.
The voice was distantly familiar, but her memory turned up nothing. Frantically searching the kitchen, Christina feared she was hallucinating. Was someone else in the room with them – and if so, why on earth would they say “origano”?
By this point the fumes had almost overcome Christina and she was nodding off. At what seemed a great distance, she heard Dick hollering something about chairs and plate glass doors. Her eyes started to roll up in their sockets and the room began fading to black.
Then she heard it again – this time, more distinctly.
Instantly opening her eyes, Christina recalled some advice, in broken English, that she’d received many years ago. It was from a dear old friend, an ancient Sicilian woman who’d spent her life laboring with love in a village bakery.
“Yeasta tooa mucha foama, justa sprinkle origano!”
As luck would have it, right behind the cupboard doors to which she clung was a five-pound bag of oregano that she’d bought a few months prior, at a farmers’ market. At the time, her ever-teasing husband had laughed “Honey, I know you’re fabulous with your Italian cuisine, but how in God’s name are we gonna use all of that stuff?” (Fortunately, she’d ignored him.)
Christina tore open the cupboard door and the bag tumbled right into her trembling hands. Her pulse shouting in her ears, she seized huge handfuls of green flakes and hurled them in all directions. Hearing a faint sizzling sound, she continued to grab and fling, grab and fling, grab and fling… as far across the kitchen as possible, until the bag was empty.
Immediately, the herb began taming the foam and within a minute, the level of bubbles had receded by more than a foot. Dick slogged over to the sliding glass doors and hauled them wide open. The foam quickly drained outside, tumbling over the edge of the wooden deck and onto the grass, where it pooled briefly before swirling, conquered, down a nearby storm sewer.
Soon the foam was only six inches deep, and Christina flung open the kitchen’s three windows. She breathed deeply as fresh air flowed into the room. Other than a little coughing from inhaling some bubbles, she and Dick were okay.
Using a wide broom and a plastic bailer, Dick chased out the last of the bubbles, and then the couple stepped onto the dripping deck.
Embracing silently in the sunshine, they were both overwhelmed by tears – tears not of joy, but of relief from five minutes of terror. They were thankful for their home insurance, and they were grateful for their lives.
After a long hug, Dick looked down into the most beautiful brown eyes he’d ever seen.
“What is it, babe?”
“If you must keep baking bread, would you please use another type of yeast next time?”