March 14

Pi Day

 

You cling to old traditions, as reminders of what life used to be.  Of what you used to be.

In most instances, you can only approximate.

For example, March 14 is Pi Day, since the month and date have the first numbers represented by the famous mathematical symbol: 3.14.  When you were in school, your math teacher provided store-bought apple and cherry pies to commemorate the occasion; as an adult, you always made it a point to eat the right kind of dessert on that day.

As if anybody ever needed the excuse to eat a slice of pie.

Now, it was hard to eat much of anything.  Food was either scarce or long-since spoiled.  Luckily, you’ve stockpiled your basement shelves with freeze-dried meats and powdered mixes; canned and vacuum-sealed foods with long lists of chemical preservatives.

You lacked fresh flour and sugar and fruit slices to make your own pie…if you’d had a functioning electric oven to cook it in.  But, as with many things, you’d improvised a substitute.

Instead of a bakery pie, or a frozen pie, or even one of those pie pockets you got at fast food restaurants, you’d settled for a generic brand envelope of toaster pastry.  It wasn’t really a pastry, it wouldn’t be toasted, but the envelope was still sealed, so at least it would be fresh.

You never forgot a childhood friend’s story about taking a box of raspberry toaster tarts from the kitchen cabinet, and finding a double-sleeve opened with one of the tarts already eaten.  She took the remaining tart into the den, without bothering to toast it, and nibbled at it cold while watching cartoons from the sofa.  Her attention was mainly on the stuttering mouse and his drooling nemesis cat, but she remembered thinking there were a lot of seeds in the raspberry jam filling.  The tart was sweet, though, so she continued nibbling.  As cartoon cat paws landed in snap traps, your friend felt a strange itching on her hand, but she took another bite of the crunchy tart, with the odd seedy texture to the jam filling.  For once the cat got the upper-paw, trapping the mouse beneath a trash can and banging the side with a metal spoon, and as your friend laughed she glanced down at her hand to see the small black seeds there…crawling, because they weren’t actually seeds, but ants that had infested the cabinet and found their way inside her afternoon snack.

You never much cared for toaster pastries after that anecdote, but you were in a beggers-can’t-be-choosers situation, now and forever.

By basement candlelight, you inspected the envelope, and reassured yourself it hadn’t been opened.  Perfectly airtight.  You tore off the top.  Other than a slightly broken corner, the food item itself was undamaged.  A pattern of pock marks along the frosted surface gave breathing room to the filling inside.

You broke the tart in half, inspecting the contents.  Blueberry, which wasn’t your favorite type of pie filling — but again, that beggars-can’t saying rose to your mind.

No oven, no toaster.  You held the smaller half over the candle flame, briefly, hoping to warm it slightly, bring out the flavor.  Dark blueberry jam glistened between the thin layers of crust, and a clump of gray-white icing dribbled off the top of the tart.

Now was time to celebrate Pi Day, taking your first bite of the warmed “pie.”  This bite was mostly from the side, so you tasted the crust, and some sweetness from the icing.  The second bite brought a burst of flavor from the jam, a juicy popping that spread nicely in your mouth.  It actually seemed fresher than you expected.

You tried not to recall your friend’s story about the ants as you took another bite, imagined a fresh blueberry in your mouth, the skin resisting slightly as you bit down, a pulpiness to the texture, almost like a piece of string or fuzzed cloth.

You tried not to recall when you’d ransacked the grocery shelves during the final panic, months and months earlier, when you’d swept food into your bag, but still took time to select your favorite foods.  You’d left the full package of blueberry toaster tarts on the shelf, taking a single envelope from the open box of a flavor you’d enjoy better:  cherry.