Assignment: Use the following prompt, “Her hands seemed fleshy, overused, warm, swollen, a separate part of her body, servant and strange, beast-like…”

Her hands seemed fleshy, overused, warm, swollen, a separate part of her body, servant and strange, beast-like as she kneaded the dough. For a moment, Tessa could not distinguish her fingers from the spongy mixture. She blinked. There were her hands again, still working, as they always had. But instead of being worked to the bone, she thought, they’d plumped. Much like the rest of her. The scent of yeast floated by as she folded and squeezed. Perhaps she would add some herbs from the garden.

“Lilly!” she called out. “Would you please bring in a handful of rosemary and a few leaves of oregano?” She rinsed her hands, picked up a spoon, gave the soup a stir.

Her daughter rose from the couch, resentment in her posture matching the sigh emitting from her mouth. The back door slammed. Moments later, Lilly returned. “Here,” she said, dropping the herbs on the counter. Tessa caught Lilly’s hand, still slender, leaving patches of flour on her fingers. “Thanks, honey,” she said, keeping her daughter’s hand enmeshed with hers, marveling at the smoothness of Lilly’s skin – or more accurately at the wrinkles wallpapering the back of her own hand. When had she aged so? The veins bulged out against the thin skin, a road map indicating the decades that had passed. Tessa confessed a certain vanity regarding her face, slathering it nightly with cocoa butter – her husband reported she smelled like dessert, a statement she was unsure how to take as he never followed it with any attempt to devour her – but she’d neglected her hands, that much was clear now. She retrieved the wooden spoon.

Lilly pulled away. “When’s dinner ready?” she asked. “Why do you look so sad?”

Tessa started. “I’m not sad,” she said. “I’m just thinking. And probably another hour. Thanks for getting these.” Tessa gestured at the herbs, then stirred the soup again.

“Sure,” Lilly shrugged, then returned to the couch, to her book, something about fairies and werewolves. Oh, for the days of fantasy, Tessa thought. She turned back to the bread.

After the herbs had been folded in, the kneading done, the loaf cooking in the oven, Tessa allowed herself to luxuriate in the smell of baking bread, the sweet-spicy scent of carmelized onions mixing with summer squash. What else smelled so fine? she thought. The scents filling the house spoke of warmth, of love. This, she thought, this was the physical manifestation of her dedication to her family.

“Mom! Is dinner ever going to be ready?” Lilly marched into the kitchen and opened the fridge, pulling out a yogurt meant for school lunch.

“Stop! Don’t eat that!” Tessa said. “Dinner will be ready soon!”

“It’s taking forever and I’m hungry,” Lilly responded, tearing the top off the yogurt container.

“Don’t!” Tessa said, too late.

Lilly grabbed a spoon, left the kitchen. Tessa felt her bottom lip sticking out, was reminded of her mother sulking by the stove, making dinner for a family that cared nothing for fresh-made. Well, except for Tessa. The youngest, she’d seen her mother’s disappointment when her father brought home pizza despite the cutlets that had been marinating all day, the salad dressing carefully assembled, the carrots cut just so. She felt her eyes well.

Pushing a dish towel against her face, Tessa breathed. And breathed again. She stirred the soup, turned off the flame so the vegetables wouldn’t overcook. She scooped a taste to her mouth, her hands competent if not beautiful. Sweet, spicy, delicious, she thought. And the bread would turn out lovely, she was sure, even without much chance to rise.