I’m not even home an hour before I’m leaning inside the pantry door, one hand hooked around the handle, my weight balanced so the hinges don’t whine. I’ve practiced this posture. Perfected it. My body knows how to fall into it without thought—until the hinges creak and I adjust, aware now of where I am and what I’m doing.
I’m in the pantry and it hasn’t changed. The aroma of spice mingles with the earthier scent of potatoes wafting up from the bin on the floor. Onions. Cumin. The lingering hint of sesame from the time I dropped a bottle of oil.
The shelves sag beneath the weight of food. Cans and bottles and packets and bags. Cake mixes and flour—eight or nine different kinds. A smile catches me at the same time as a scented memory. Mom and I baking a pink lemonade cake. It was the prettiest damn thing either of us had ever seen, and we could smell it from upstairs. Frosting and sugar and lemons. It hadn’t tasted as good as it looked, though. Too sweet. Sweet enough to make our jaws ache and put holes in our teeth. But it sure looked good.
The pasta collection is impressive. Four brands—whatever was on sale that week—and eight or nine different shapes because certain sauces require certain surfaces, apparently. And we had to have them all, even though Dad made pasta most Mondays.
About twelve varieties of soup, even though Mom always kept a pot on the stove. “For emergencies,” she’d say. “In case the world ends—a soup for every scenario.” I know if I opened the freezer, I’d find all the rest of the food kept for the day meteors dropped from the sky, another pandemic swept the globe, or aliens landed on our front lawn.
My favorite potato chips are nestled next to the popcorn. A year’s supply of cat food is stacked next to the rice collection. Dried fruit—for her homemade granola and cookies. And store-bought cookies in unopened packages for “just in case.”
Cheese crackers, rice crackers, whole wheat crackers, and the fancy ones that taste like nothing. There will be seven kinds of cheese in the fridge for those.
Then there are the weird items like the can of ratatouille that has been with us since forever. It’s a joke now. No one remembers buying it, and no one would dare eat it, even at the end of the world. But we can’t throw it away. Not now. Not ever.
All the flavored vinegar and oil. I smell the Old Bay seasoning before I see it. Curry powder. Sealed blocks of dry yeast. Cheddar powder. I have no idea what it is or why it’s there. But… cheese.
As I hang there, cataloging the snacks, the meals, the possibilities, I recall all the other times I’ve leaned inside this door, sometimes with purpose, but often to do just this. To find something when I’m not even sure what I’m looking for. To remember. To recapture a feeling that I don’t quite know how to describe. Nostalgia, yes. But more than that.
My childhood. Treats—the potato chips. Disappointments—the month we tried switching to whole wheat pasta. The house surrounding this pantry says so much about our family, but these shelves reveal more. They speak of planning and preparation. Of all the mealtimes shared. Of the projects we dreamed of. Birthday cakes and graduation cakes. Late-night snacks and early-morning munchies. Of always having enough to eat and being thankful for it. Learning to cook. All the time we spent in the kitchen together.
The hinges creak. I straighten up a little and then jump as a warm hand touches my arm.
“Find what you’re looking for?” Mom asks.
I lean into her side, and she slips her arm around my shoulders. “I don’t even know what I want,” I say.
“Let’s make something. We’ll cook, and we’ll talk. Figure out what comes next.”
“A cake,” I decide, thinking again about pink frosting made with too much sugar, wishing this could be what’s next. That I could come home to stay and let Mom look after me forever. Life is… so huge. And so often cake-less.
“Hmm.” She has her phone out, Pinterest open, and a recipe folder scrolling up. “How about this one?” She shows me a picture. I nod.
It won’t solve any of my problems but it’s the next best thing. Actually, it’s the best thing. Because we’ll cook and we’ll talk, and dad will arrive just in time to lick the mixing spoon, and the house will smell like sugar and frosting and something baked. And I can enjoy being home, even just for today.
Then, tomorrow, I can hang off the door to Mom’s pantry, considering the options for breakfast. After that, I’ll make a plan. One that includes my own stock of apocalypse rations, six different kinds of flour, and maybe, someday, another version of me to come home to and open the door on all those memories.
A plan. My future.
But for now? We bake.
Writer of love stories. Bibliophile. Gamer. Hiker. Cat herder. Waiting for the aliens.