Behind the glass of the perfectly manicured display case sit pastries of every sort: muffins, cinnamon buns, coffee cakes, bagels, of blueberry and cinnamon swirl, banana walnut and asiago. The chalkboard sign above the case reads “Fresh pastries daily!” in perfect script.
Early that morning the pastries were each delicately unwrapped from their airtight packaging, from their sealed off, cellophane world, and placed in the case for all to admire. They are the objects of desire. Passersby pause their lives for a brief moment to ponder the treats. The businessman tells the voice on the other line to “please wait a moment”, the mother hushes her young child, the girl pauses her recap of last night’s episode. They all stop. They look with longing, overcome by a craving, a desire to have what is behind that glass.
With their vibrant colors, shining sugar crystals, and moist exteriors, the pastries appear to be exactly what the sign reads: fresh. And when they were first placed in the case that’s exactly what they were. But now it is 2:00pm.
No longer protected by their packaging, the pastries are exposed to the air. Their edges and outsides begin to harden, their moist interiors begin to dry, the flavors begin to fade. They are stale. She knows this. She has the common sense to know that when bread is left out, unpackaged, unprotected, unpreserved it goes bad. Yet it appears to be fresh as ever. So she allows herself to be illusioned.
She buys the day old coffee cake.
She takes a bite.
Immediately, the illusion is shattered. She can no longer pretend that the pastry is fresh, that is as delectable as ever, because it is not. The bite of day old coffee cake that she struggles to chew tells the truth. At this point, aesthetic means nothing. She knew how the pastries would taste. She knew that they would feel like sand to her tongue, that they would crumble at the touch and that the edges were hard. She knew that it was no longer what it should be. But she lied to herself. She lied to herself and she let herself believe that the coffee cake was just as it should be. It looked flawless so it must have been.
Relationships are a lot like pastries.
Cut off from the outside world, in a perfect cellophane reality, love can prosper, it can flourish, it is delectable, it is flawless. But when the walls are broken down and this love is forced to face the realities of life, the pressures, the drama, the hardship, the trials, it crumbles and loses its taste. It eventually becomes stale. It is inevitable. Just like the coffee cake, it is a victim of time.
She never realized a bite of day old coffee cake would bring her back to him and that it would explain to her all of the things with which she struggled for so long. For years, she blamed herself. She blamed herself for his dishonesty, for the fights, for the betrayals and for nights spent on the couch. She blamed herself for his leaving.
Her friends told her she was so lucky, that they were jealous of her, that she should thank the heavens for him. They paused their conversations, paused their lives to admire, to crave. If they had only taken a bite they would know, they too would understand.
Nothing stays perfect. There is no glass separating any one person from the rest of the world. The realities of life can only be denied for so long. You can only pretend that the pastry as fresh as it appears until you take that fateful bite.
Spitting the bite out doesn’t help. Once you have uncovered the truth, there’s no denying it. As much as you try to believe that it was just as it should be, try as you might to ignore the taste and just chew as your eyes water and you force a smile, you know the truth. Maybe it’s a good thing. You can stop blaming yourself for the bad taste, for the dryness, for the rough edges. It’s not you. It’s time. It’s inevitability. It’s life.
Yes, there was a time when everything was new and fresh and perfect, but now it’s 2:00pm.