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The Confectioner

This is Austin DeMarco's 4th appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

The secret is in how you cook the sugar. Too hot and the crystals will crack when removed from the pan. Too cool and all the delicate whorls and swirls will collapse like soft clay in a toddler's hands.
People think there's magic involved, but it's far more complicated than that. It takes concentration. Attention to detail. Love. You have to really care about what you do.
I learned to make the mourning blossom from Ellen--seven layers of sugar in the shape of a flower pleasant enough to pay the ferryman's fee. She taught me the secrets, the tricks of our trade. She taught me to have a keen eye and a steady hand at all times. A single lapsed moment can spell ruin.
The right tools are imperative. I use the spoon Ellen gave me, dipping it into the bowl of melted sugar and swirling it around the sides to make sure the confection has reached its proper consistency. I hold just a tiny amount on the spoon's pointed end, wave it over the hot pan and leave behind strands of glistening sugar that sizzle as they cook.
Ellen didn't just teach me. She raised me. Our father left for the war before I was born. He never returned. Before I had learned the meaning of grief, our mother followed him, claimed by a mixture of heartache and despair. Ellen crafted her mourning blossom through a sheen of tears, careful to wipe them away unshed. Saltwater spoils the sugar. I watched, my young hands not yet steady enough for this work.
Quickly now, layer after layer after layer until all seven have been stacked precisely upon each other. The blossom takes its shape slowly, in pieces too subtle to track until all have been laid. I place the spoon back in its bowl, a slight tremble touching the tips of my fingers before I clench my fist and regain control.
I wait. I've been waiting a long time--ever since mother died--for my chance to make a flower. The years I've spent practicing, training my hands, my eyes, my nose to detect the subtle change in scent that tells of the instant the sugar starts to burn. That is the moment, the knife's edge of transition, when the mourning blossom is ready.
Without hesitation, quick as a frog's tongue to the fly, I scrape my spatula along the bottom of the pan and lift the blossom from it. I hold my breath. Once a blossom has been made, it cannot be remade. Whatever the result, it is the person's only hope in the afterlife. On every blossom rests the burden of eternity for someone's loved one, someone's wife, husband, child. I bite my tongue, a sharp pain that draws me back to the present. The confectioner cannot dwell on such thoughts for long. The pressure is enough to kill.
Involuntarily, I close my eyes. I almost do not want to look at what I have wrought. But I must. I must look at my blossom, must see the fate I have set. I open one lid at a time and nearly weep at the crystalized sugar petals, sparkling in the light from my kitchen window.
My sister would be proud.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 25th, 2018
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