This is Part 5 of our fictional Lockdown Short Stories. The next instalment of our weekend Solo Lockdown Short Stories will be published tomorrow and then again, next Saturday and Sunday – the 16th and 17th of May 2020.
For Jonah, life was much the same. He had followed the same routine for five years, working from home ever since he started up his own publishing company. Neighbours hardly ever saw him, friends knew to call or text rather than expect him to show up for nights out. To some, it might have looked like he was a shut-in – to Jonah, that was just how his life was.
But now, having the choice to go out taken from him, even he wasn’t immune to cabin fever. By week two he was truly fed up, wishing for nothing more than a trip to his favourite bakery for one of their delicious strawberry tarts. They had always been something of an elusive treat – a Friday indulgence after a hard week.
Maybe it was strange, to miss something so simple more than anything else.
Regardless, that was how Jonah ended up standing in his kitchen, staring into his fridge as if an adequate substitute might somehow appear. It wasn’t like there was a lack of food – after the initial chaos, people’s panic-buying had all but vanished – but there just wasn’t anything he wanted. Huffing, Jonah let the fridge door swing closed. Then, rolling his eyes at his own silly cravings, he moved to wander back to the office – until something caught his eye.
A cookbook. More precisely, a baking book. It had been a gift from his sister three years ago, probably a subtle nudge that, at thirty years old, he should probably have more useful skills than he did. It had been gathering dust on his windowsill for the entire three years, forgotten about until it became part of the scenery. But… well, it wasn’t as if he was going to get any proper cakes any time soon, so why not give it a try?
Jonah wasn’t a traditionally masculine man – he loved the colour pink, had both his ears pierced, got along better with women than other men – but the one thing he had never understood was baking. As he shrugged on a black cooking apron, he realised the absurdity of the situation. In his nearly thirty-four years on this earth, he had never learned anything more complicated than a vanilla sponge. Smiling to himself, Jonah leaned an elbow on the countertop to flick through the little book.
No strawberry tarts, a fact that left disappointment curling in his stomach. There was, however, recipes for baked strawberry cheesecake, strawberry loaf, strawberry and blackberry crumble… just looking at the beautiful photos made his stomach growl. He had all the ingredients for cheesecake too – wasn’t that supposed to be an easy dessert to start on?
Jonah quickly realised how wrong he had been. Bowls littered the counter, the sink full to the brim with dirty dishes. He had somehow managed to splash cream over every available surface – the sink, the counters, the windows. He was also fairly certain the recipe had called for two teaspoons of vanilla – but thinking back on it, hadn’t he used tablespoons? Not to mention his oven was so old he had no idea what temperature it was at…
Yet when he slid it out of the oven an hour later, the aroma of sweet, rich baked cheesecake filling the small kitchen, he had to admit it looked brilliant. A little crispy around the edges, sure, but it was the perfect golden brown. It slid out of the baking tin so easily it was practically a miracle – it was picturesque, really.
Jonah couldn’t resist taking a quick photo on his phone. Then, without really thinking about it, he uploaded that same photo to his Instagram. An Instagram that had been long dead, unused for years.
Then, grinning broadly, Jonah cut himself a generous slice and sat down to enjoy. It was delicious.
Over the weeks Jonah found himself baking more and more; and every time, he uploaded a photo to his Instagram. He was surprised to find himself enjoying his creations – but the biggest shock of all was how popular his Instagram became. It was just simple photographs of his baking – amateur at best, it wasn’t like he had a great phone or much experience with photography.
Yet every time a little notification pinged, Jonah found himself grinning like an idiot.
Today was, perhaps, his biggest challenge yet; lemon meringue pie. It wasn’t as if he had no experience – he had watched his parents make it dozens of times as a teenager, but it had always been a mystery to him.
Homemade pastry. Homemade meringue. Homemade lemon filling. It was adventurous, that was for sure.
First, the pastry. He set about it with far more concentration than was really necessary; even during something fun like this, he treated it like another task that needed completing. Preheat the oven. Add butter, flour, eggs and sugar. Mix. (He didn’t have a food mixer, which was quickly becoming his biggest trouble).
It was all going exceedingly well, despite the mess quickly accumulating in the sink – that is, until his phone dinged and his heart leapt, and he spilled egg whites all down his apron.
“Dammit,” he muttered, reaching with his one clean hand to grab the phone. It slipped in his hands, sweaty from whipping so many egg whites, and he held it to his ear with a sigh. “Hello, Jonah here.”
“Jonah!” The familiar voice of Lin crackled through the receiver, “I see you’ve been busy! Finally learning some useful skills that aren’t work related.”
He couldn’t help but smile at the excitement in her voice. Nestling the phone in the crook of his shoulders, Jonah reached for more eggs – since the last lot was currently soaking into his clothes. “Yeah. I mean, I’m no prodigy or anything but-“
“We’ve been in lockdown for six weeks, and you can already make chocolate souffle. You’re absolutely a prodigy.”
If Jonah hadn’t been so busy wrestling with eggshells, he might have blushed. As it was, he simply snorted out a laugh and rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Lin. Maybe you should try baking too – it’s a lot easier than it looks.”
“It’s easy for you because you’re a natural,” Lin countered. Somehow, he could feel her smile through the phone. “I’m too old to be experimenting.”
“Lin, your thirty-nine.”
Her laugh was muffled, as if it was stifled by her hands. “My point is, you’ll end up locally famous if you keep this up.”
An exaggeration, obviously, but Jonah couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. Staring into the bowl of fresh egg whites, he imagined what it would be like. Sure, he loved his work – publishing wasn’t glamorous, but it paid well and he enjoyed the challenges. A bakery though, or his own cake business, that was an entirely different – and genuinely intriguing – idea. But he had only been at this for a handful of weeks, and people trained their skills for years before opening a business.
Shaking his head, Jonah snapped back to reality. Dark hair fell in his eyes and he flicked it away with his free hand. “It’s a nice idea, but there’s no way-“
“Haven’t you seen?” Lin interrupted, voice eager, “you’ve already got people in the comments asking if you do orders.”
“Uh huh. Let me check, hold on.” Her voice faded, nails tapping on the touchscreen as she pulled up, presumably, his Instagram. “Ah, here it is! Someone here asked if you could make them a birthday cake, another person saying they’re going to throw a party once lockdown lifts and they want you to do the desserts…”
Jonah paused, hand hovering above the bowl with another egg still clutched between his fingers. “I’m not that good.“
Lin snorted as if to say yeah, whatever, as she said, “Instagram says otherwise. Have more faith in yourself!”
His heart skipped. Was he really that good? Did people really think he had that much talent? It was enough for his face to flush a gentle pink, a smile curling at the edge of his lips. “Well, I do enjoy it, which I suppose makes sense. People don’t tend to enjoy things they’re bad at.”
“Exactly,” Lin laughed, “so just shut up and enjoy it. Oh, and when we’re all allowed out again, you have to make us one of those cheesecakes. My daughter has been staring lovingly at that strawberry one you made all week.”
Fighting back a laugh, Jonah made a promise to just that. When he considered it – really considered it – he realised just how quickly this hobby had come to mean something to him. What started out as a way to fill time, to fix a craving for something sweet, turned into so much more. This lockdown had hardly been good – and really, for the most part, hadn’t changed much at all for Jonah. Yet it had given him this – so in a weird way, maybe it had actually done him some good.