Typhoid Mary Bakes a
Batch of Brownies
The chocolate bleeds across the saucepan. A fat vein of butter, a dark freckle of vanilla. Flour, like her own skin, unspoiled and pale. The knife through the wandering yolk, a newly-born yellow river. The sugar, quickly swallowed. And last, the meaty spoils of the walnut tree, buried immediately by the turn of the spoon.
She heaves the batter into the baking dish. It will slumber in the belly of the oven and emerge something else. She licks her lips and considers the silent, delicious transformation.
On North Brother Island, she dreamed of this. The satisfying crack of the eggshells and the productive scrape of the whisk. The rush of heat from an open oven door. The sharp sting of oil on a hot pan. Not the throaty call of the herons and the putrid stench of death.
Go, they said. There is just one thing you cannot do. This, she knows, is the one thing she can and must do.
The sickness marches with her name; she is the disease walking. The cartoons place her at the oven, and from her skillet rises a cloud of sinister skulls. It is not the truth she believes.
Upstairs, they are moaning. Swollen abdomens, slippery foreheads, dirty dishwater eyes.
Time is up.
She pulls the brownies from the oven. From the overturned pan they are born onto a serving plate. She peels the paraffin paper from the bottom and cuts the warm flesh into perfect strips. Shapely pieces, says the recipe, as if these brownies had hips and breasts.
Deep in her own chest, she feels the rotting mold of doubt.
She will leave in the morning.
Jennifer Ronsman lives and works in her hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she teaches English Composition at UW Green Bay. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Louisville Review, Arts and Letters, Literary Mama, and Calyx.