SPECIAL INGREDIENTS

Mansi heard her father close his bedroom door. It was 11:30, his usual bedtime. She was having trouble sleeping. She wrapped the fluffy comforter over her bare shoulders and against her cold cheeks. It had been a long day, but not the exhausting type that lead you to falling asleep quickly. Thoughts and memories pounded in her head.
Mansi was wearing snuggly blue velvet pajamas that reminded her of the yellow ones with footsies she used to wear when she was little. She would eat baby carrots and pretend to be a bunny while her father read her Peter Rabbit. Cinnamon and vanilla would permeate the air as her mother baked in the next room. At night Mansi could still smell her mother's baking sometimes, even though her mother had been gone for three years now. Right now, in fact, the smell was so strong it seemed to Mansi like she had a bottle of vanilla extract right under her nose.
"I am much prettier than a bottle," a little voice said, huffily.
Mansi opened her eyes. At first all she saw was a faint glow of yellow light, but as she adjusted to the dark, she could start to make out a small girlish figure no bigger than her pinky hovering in front of her face.
"A fairy," Mansi said.
"Well, obviously."
The fairy crossed her tiny arms across her chest. She had curly tousled blue hair and a short pale yellow dress made of what looked like satin. Her wings were as thin as tissue paper, and couldn't be confined to one color. Whenever Mansi thought she could call them blue, or yellow, or purple, they'd shift again, depending on the way the moonlight fell on them.
"I'm Kissa," the fairy said in her little, yet strong, voice.
"You smell like my mother's baking," Mansi said, wanting to reach out and touch the little sleek dress.
"No, you're wrong," Kissa said, waving her tiny hands with their tiny, tiny blue fingernails. "Your mother's baking smelled like me. I helped her make the muffins and cookies you gobbled up like a fat little elf."
"You knew my mother?" Mansi asked, sitting up in bed. Kissa flew higher up so they would still be face-to-face.
"She made lovely sweets," Kissa said, sounding sweet herself for the first time. "Remember those sugar cubes she used to decorate? With the candy flowers on them? I used to eat half there in the kitchen, and save the other half for later."
"And you helped her make them?"
"Yes, I would give her the more special ingredients, like neethilla and paroflower."
Mansi didn't know what those were, but she didn't say anything so Kissa wouldn't think she was stupid.
"They're secret fairy ingredients," Kissa said, zipping up to the top of Mansi's dresser and standing in the music box she kept her jewelry in. Mansi watched as she examined a plain silver ring and pulled it up over her hips.
"That's a nice belt on you," Mansi said. "It's goes nicely with your dress."
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" Kissa admired herself in the jewelry box mirror, pushing aside the tiptoeing ballerina.
"My mom's. not here anymore."
"I know," the fairy said, pulling straight a curly strand of hair, then letting it boing back. "Your kitchen smells like TV dinners now."
"My dad doesn't know how to cook like she did," Mansi said, defending her father. "The microwave macaroni is really very good. It's creamy."
"Don't talk," Kissa said. "Come on, let's go to the kitchen."
Mansi glanced at her digital clock. "It's almost midnight."
"Well, of course! What better time is there to bake?"
Mansi grabbed the flashlight she kept by her bed. She padded her way out of her bedroom and down the carpeted stairs. When they passed the antique mirror in the hallway, Mansi got a glimpse of herself. Her wavy brown hair was tangled with knots and her pajamas hung awkwardly over her shoulders. Kissa flew half an arm's distance in front of her. She looked like a hummingbird, a little blur of green from her yellow dress and blue hair.
When Mansi felt her feet freeze on the floor of the kitchen, she flipped on the light switch. The marble countertops and warm wood paneling of the shelves and drawers became illuminated.
"First, we need cherries," the fairy cried, waving her arms in the air.
"We don't have any," Mansi said.
"I figured. That's why I brought my own." Kissa pulled out a cherry pit from in her dress pocket and set it on the marble counter. Then she put her palms in front of it. Mansi watched pink circles form, then they became red, with stems, and soon they were completely real maraschino cherries piled on top of each other.
"Slice them," Kissa instructed. "You're twelve years old and don't even know how to bake or cook yet, do you?" She clucked her tongue.
"I know a little bit. I know how to make cookies."
"Impressive," Kissa said, rolling her eyes. "When you're done slicing, we need one cup of egg whites, one-fourth a teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon of cream of tartar. And a glass bowl."
Mansi collected all the ingredients and found her mother's old mixing bowl in the cupboard.
"How exactly did you meet my mother?" Mansi asked tentatively.
"I smelled her muffins a mile away. Literally, of course. I flew in through the kitchen window. She certainly was surprised to see me, but she never was afraid. Now put everything in the bowl and beat until foamy."
"What are we making?" Mansi asked, pouring in the cream of tartar.
"Questions, questions!" Kissa was buzzing around the room frantically now. "Just wait and see what happens. We need some music. Your mother had an excellent taste in music."
"She loved Porter and Gershwin," Mansi remembered.
"I'll take care of that, you keep beating the batter." The fairy flew over to the boom box on the kitchen table that Mansi's mother had kept especially for when she felt like dancing while baking.
"I can get one of the CD's," Mansi offered, but didn't follow up on it when Kissa started to have a fit again.
"Add one and a fourth cups of white sugar now," Kissa said, tapping the boom box with her fingers. "Continue to beat, though. Ooh, I got it to work!"
Music trickled out; trumpets and piano keys being hit, a woman's syrupy voice. Mansi recognized the song instantly. It was one her mother had sung as she baked, while Mansi drew with crayons in coloring books at the table.
"Now add one-fourth a teaspoon of almond extract and three-fourths of vanilla extract."
Mansi opened the spices cupboard and took out the almond and vanilla extracts. As she poured the vanilla into the spoon, she breathed it in, got a flash of burying her pig-tailed head into her mother's chest, felt her thick, warm sweater against her own cheek.
The syrupy voice sang, "We may never, never meet again on that bumpy road to love. But I'll always, always keep the memory of..."
Mansi let the extracts fall into the bowl, two spoons full. She wiped her cheek with the ends of her pajama sleeve.
"I saw that," the fairy said.
"The way you hold your knife. The way we danced till three. The way you changed my life. No, they can't take that away from me."
"You can pour the batter into a pan now," Kissa said, getting close to Mansi's face, studying her like a difficult recipe.
"That's right, half the cherries. Pour in the rest of the batter. And now the rest of the cherries on top," Kissa said, sitting on the side of the bowl that was up in the air. "Now it's time to bake it!"
Mansi went to sit at the table and wait for the cake, or whatever it was, to bake. Head down, she watched her bare feet. After a few minutes, Kissa zipped over and held her palm by the boom box, and this time Cole Porter came on; "Heaven knows, anything goes!" Ella Fitzgerald sang brightly.
Kissa put her arms up over her head and flew twirling around the kitchen, grabbing handfuls of sugar as she went. She held her hand, palm up, in front of Mansi and blew the sugar off at her. Mansi laughed, surprised, and licked the sparkling sugar off her fingers. She got up and wiggled her hips, threw her arms around, and felt like an old-time movie star. Together the girl and the fairy paraded around the kitchen, throwing white sugar and flour and watching it fall like the snow Mansi's mother had loved to watch from the kitchen windows.
She remembered how her mother's chestnut brown hair had shone bright red in the sun coming in from the window. Mansi was seven and had gotten a snow day from school. She was eager to try out her new sled in the backyard. Her mother had helped her into her coat, snow pants, boots, mittens, scarf, and hat with much difficulty. Mansi had to be well protected from the cold. Standing there by the window, her mother said, "When you get back, you can tell me all about your snow adventures while we drink hot cocoa." It was a simple memory, but one that stood out, demanding to be known.
The timer went off fifty minutes later and Mansi scrambled to the oven. With two hands mittened by potholders, she pulled out the cake. It looked light and yellow-white. Like angel food cake.
They turned the pan upside down and waited for the cake to cool. By the time it was finally ready to eat, Kissa announced it still needed something. She moved her hand over the cake, like she was frosting it, and fluffy cream covered it.
"Whipped cream," Mansi said.
"No," said Kissa. "It's fairy whipped cream. Much better."
"I see," Mansi smiled.
She cut the light cake into two slices. Kissa's slice only went a third of the way into the cake. The cherries looked delectable. Rather than using forks, they held their slices with their hands, bringing them up to their lips. The cake was wonderful. Her mother had never made cherry angel food cake, but if she had, it would have tasted like that.
"I'm going to leave now," Kissa said, her blue hair bouncing as she stood up in the air.
"Wait! Just like that?"
"Yes," Kissa said. "I'll be back, though."
"The same day next year?" Mansi asked quietly.
"Sooner," Kissa promised.
"Thanks for helping me with the angel food cake. My dad will love it. He was so sad. It's like that every year on her birthday," Mansi said, wishing the tiny fairy was big enough to hug. "Next time can you teach me how to make blueberry muffins? My mother made the best blueberry muffins."
Kissa hesitated, then nodded. "I'll bring my secret fairy blueberries. That's why the muffins were so good, you know. Now goodbye, fat little elf!" Kissa called, dashing away out the window. Mansi could hear her humming Cole Porter even after she left.