I put the aluminum brownie pan on the burner, on low, and dropped in three tablespoons of margarine. By lifting the edges of the pan every few seconds, I managed not to burn the pain or the margarine and also not to mess up a pot, and consume more space, in which to heat it. When only a slender sliver of yellow remained in the glistening gold, I dropped in the package of graham cracker crumbs, tossed till damp, then pressed the moistened crumbs into the bottom and sides of the cleverly-pre-greased pan to make the crust. When I put the completed cheesecake into the fridge to chill, I had added only four more utensils to be washed: The fork for the crust, the small mixing bowl (brother to the larger bowl), the wire whisk, and the measuring cup with its translucent film of white milk.
As I washed the dishes and wiped the counter, I pictured how Sharon would smile when I brought out dessert. Her smile always engaged her whole face, beginning with expressive eyes containing a full and spilling over measure of the genuine goodwill that graces childhood, and ending with a hint of dimples and a mouth and chin shaped like my own.
I frowned. I could create many opportunities to see that smile I loved so much or I could make it seldom and only fleetingly seen. I could let her think about the many good things in our life, like cheesecake when she didn’t expect it and picking her up after school. Or. . . I could make her listen to me complain every night about how hot the kitchen was and how sick I was of living in a crowded apartment. I could let her childish heart be utterly and completely enthralled with staying up late on Friday night to watch a movie with me . . . or I could complain that we couldn’t watch movies whenever we wanted because we didn’t have cable or a videocassette recorder, like “everyone else” did. I could let her savor each bite of tater tots and ground beef hamburger or . . . I could make it turn to sawdust in her mouth because it wasn’t steak and hearts of palm salad like the Wexel girls had already learned to enjoy.
I could give her a happy childhood or . . . I could weigh her exceptionally tender heart down with adult-size worries until her sweet little face assumed that haunted look of despair seen on posters for Feed the Children. My attitude, not the actual circumstances of our life, would determine the emotional atmosphere that molded her heart and set the course of her future.
The sound of the shower stopped. Quickly, I stepped to the front door and picked four of the lazy susans growing by the fence bordering our apartment complex. By the time Sharon sat down, the flowers were in a juice glass, in the center of the table, the lights were out, and candles flickered next to the flowers.
“Oh, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “It’s just like the movies!”