First, a little history. The house across the street has sat empty for approximately twelve months, perhaps fifteen. An old man and his second wife built it in the 1960s. Last year in the winter, the old man died after a long illness. Oddly, the woman and her adult daughter who had been living there abruptly moved out. We discovered from the daughter, named Princess, that as it turns out, the old man was something of a scoundrel and had taken out a second mortgage without telling his wife. Further, they had little equity left in it and suddenly the clan of the old man, quite uninterested in his well-being in life, showed back up in death to contest the house.
And so it sat, a small house, around 1700 square feet all summer and fall and winter again until spring. Still it sits there actually, in the name of the estate of Mr so and so. However, I now have a mobile near two year old who I once took across the street to race cars in the drive way and who then assumed we would go over there every day to do the same as well as climb on the higher steps and bang on the door that no one ever answers.
Today, we wandered across the street, me holding Wobbles hand according to our rules and our custom. She immediately ran up the steps and I noticed there amongst the flyers that fall off the door and accumulate on the porch, a red package. Odd, I thought, a package on the door step of an empty house left weatherized and sullen through a Dallas summer and a Dallas winter. Wobbles ran up and down the steps a few times before noticing the package which she then picked up. Curiosity got the best of me and I mounted the steps to find out what misguided company had placed a package on a porch that had seen no steps in over twelve months. I thought perhaps that it was wrongly delivered and being somewhat human, I assumed I could find its rightful owner.
The package was from The Swiss Colony which is not some pacifist terrorist organization as one might expect but instead a company in Wisconsin that sells a variety of baked goods, meats and cheeses, nuts and snacks, all through the convenience of mail order catalogs. It’s like Schwann’s but without the trucks driving around the neighborhoods. Three of my four readers have no idea what I’m talking about when I say Schwann’s. That’s ok.
Anyway, so here is this red package from The Swiss Colony which I hold in my hands. The addressee is the very woman that was mistreated by the dead scoundrel which is somewhat surprising given her non-existence at this residence of over twelve months. The package has a big sticker on it saying PERISHABLE – REFRIGERATE AT ONCE 23 OZ LEMON BUNDT CAKE. Enquiring minds want to know who sends a perishable item to a house no one has lived in for over twelve months. Then I notice that on the label, the gifter is listed: We love you Mom, Anne and Kirk. We don’t apparently love you enough to remember twelve months later that you no longer live at this address but still. I made that last part up.
So immediately the imagination begins to run amok. I try to think of simple reasons why something so crazy might happen. Perhaps they have an account with The Swiss Colony, this loving daughter and son-in-law or son and daughter-in-law and they just forgot to update the fact that their mother no longer lives at this particular address before they sent the yearly birthday gift from The Swiss Colony. But seriously, who in this day has an account with The Swiss Colony besides landlocked and bored Midwesterners? Perhaps these people are exactly that.
Or maybe it’s a son and daughter-in-law and it’s always the son who doesn’t remember these things because he’s busy doing man things and can’t be bothered to remember even call much less remember where his mom lives. Just last week, she probably called him to nag that “you never call me” and he felt momentarily guilty and sent her a cake unironically to the wrong address.
Perhaps they are estranged and just got news through the telegram service that their father-in-law is dead and they are trying to snuggle up to the estate. Pardon the telegram service thing, been reading a lot of mid twentieth century Southern Lit lately. Probably not the answer.
Then things get darker. Maybe they’ve got some reason for sending a cake twelve months after their mom moved out of the house she never really owned. Maybe they have a beef with the sister who has constant access to Mom and they are trying to poison her. Or worse, give her diabetes. Maybe no one told them she had moved because the daughter, Princess, wants to cut them out of the will, leaving aside the fact there can’t be much will since the house was reverse mortgaged and they left when they didn’t have any equity in it. The nefarious possibilities seem endless.
In the end, I have no idea. But my thoughts then turn to the fact that I have a lemon bundt cake in my hands that, based on Wobbles and my trips across the street, has sat outside for up to two days. Still, I’m a human being and go inside to ask the wife if she has the contact information of Princess. She does and texts her asking if she wants this waylaid cake or even knows that it exists. A reply text says that they realized their mistake and sent another. Convenient cover story but my interests are now with the cake
So what exactly is the statute of limitations on a lemon bundt cake, one of my favorites, that has possibly sat on a forlorn porch for up to two days in the late spring heat of Dallas Texas? I put in the fridge and upon putting Wobbles to bed and eating left over Buca di Beppo, decide that the statue of limitations for something with as many preservatives as this cake must have in it is probably a week at least. I open the package and cut a generous slice. It is moist and tasty, exactly what I would expect from a mail order bundt cake. My aunt Jan Cook makes a far superior cake but then it would be surprising if she did not. Still, free cake makes the trip across the street with Wobbles completely justified.
The cake has gone back into the freezer, questions largely unanswered about Anne and Kirk. I wonder if they sit in their quiet Midwestern home tonight, believing they have delivered a fitting Mother’s Day gift to their wonderful mom. Or perhaps, they are in their car at the bottom of some lake and the murderer has sent the gift as an alibi, not realizing that by delivering it to an address no longer in use, he has doomed himself to discovery by the intrepid hero of this story, the detective who recovers from alcoholism to solve the case.
I probably shouldn’t be reading much more Eudora Welty.