It was midday in Rome. The air smelled sweet like maple or nectar. I was convinced that someone had left a plate of pancakes by their window for all the tenants to sniff. Music played from another apartment, low and distant. I imagined the people listening, using the music as background noise while they cooked or cleaned. Aside from the sun’s heat, the courtyard was empty. A marble bench collected sunlight in the corner. I flipped through an anthology of literature mindlessly. The pages were thin and packed with words from the Victorian era. A faucet turned on behind me. I heard the clanking of pots against a steel sink. And with more clarity than a glass coffee table, I can remember the next inhale. The next stream of air flowing down my windpipe. The fragrance was sweeter than before. More potent than pancakes or waffles. More tempting than honey or syrup. I looked around, hoping to find some evidence of its origin. But still, I could only detect a window for the music and the dishwashing. I left the courtyard.
The kitchen was narrow with a black and white tiled backsplash. The oven stuck out too much. Every time we had a visitor they would try to push it in place but it never budged. The cabinets were sticky. The floor collected crumbs like a plate. I opened the windows and the sweetness poured in, following me like I were its mother. I thought about making myself something sweet. I was stunned at how long it had been since I ate pancakes or waffles for breakfast. How long has sweetness been a secondary thought? Near a jar of balsamic, I noticed a pile of sand colored crumbs. I swept them off the counter with the side of my hand (the side that gathers ink or lead when I write). Before pushing the crumbs into a dustpan, I felt a memory emerge: of my mother’s sweeping habits. How thorough she moved the broom. Her focused eyes on the linoleum floor. And when we needed a glass of water she’d warn us not walk through the pile of our lives debris she had just created. Worried that our bare feet would scatter the crumbs.
The memory passed. I swept the bits of granola and crackers into the dustpan. Three weeks, I thought to myself. It had been three weeks since I’ve let myself taste sweetness like a child. Yes, there was chocolate in the cupboard and brown sugar packets near the sink but I give myself these things mindfully, aware that I am indulging. Aware that I am being kind to myself. But I want to be childlike again. I want to eat crêpes for breakfast because I love the way Nutella pulls itself down my throat. Not because I’ve earned it or because it’s the weekend. I want crêpes because it’s Tuesday morning and my roommate makes them better than any gelateria in Trastevere. And I owe it to myself. For all the times I cut meals in half or omitted coffee creamer or swayed my mom to make salad instead of pizza for dinner. For all the times I cried before ballet or ridiculed my thighs. For all the times my body didn’t have energy. For the protruding hips and sunken face. For the time I finally confronted myself. This is not your body, I thought. This is not what a woman looks like.
With my gaze through the kitchen window, I decided to make something sweet. I gathered flour, two eggs, and sugar from the pantry. I cracked the eggs on the rim of a wooden bowl. The yoke stretched down toward the flour, plopping into white dust. The cookies baked for eleven minutes. Through the oven’s tinted door, I observed the dough spread and thicken, forming into something I would have denied myself years ago. I poured a glass of milk and sat on the kitchen floor still watching the formation of an enemy no longer.
Another memory emerged. It was from being a child in my mother’s house. Mornings, in particular, were delightful. I’d wake up slowly knowing that no matter how long I took to uncurl my body from the sheets she would be on the couch with her legs folded beneath a blanket and a book open in her lap. There would be less space between the coffee table and couch. Closer, for her to reach the mug without leaning so much. She kept the television on a low volume. Holding the mug, she kept her lips pressed on the rim. She sipped the coffee slowly, almost meditatively. And her coffee was the color of a skinless almond, lightened from coffee creamer. This is what a woman looks like, I thought. A strong, beautiful woman.
I want to thank the sweet air for conjuring these memories. The sweet, Roman air.