• Published 29th May 2020
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Mothering, Someday - Impossible Numbers



Mare's Day, a tribute to motherhood. Twilight Velvet is the ordinary mother of an extraordinary family; Derpy is the opposite. They normally wouldn't cross paths, but in a town where an outsider can become Princess of Friendship, anything's possible.

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Haute Cuisine: Why Night Light Never Cooks

*

“Time for dessert!” Night Light had cried out from the kitchen.

Velvet waited for him to attend to the long dinner table. She hated the thing. If one pony sat on one end and another on the far end, how on earth were they supposed to speak to each other? Admittedly, back in Vanhoover the earth ponies had owned long buffet tables too, but they had the families, friends, neighbours, and anyone who happened to be passing by to fill ‘em up with.

Night Light had bought the table anyway, because he was now a Royal Accountant, and one of the few flaws he had was a tendency to pick things up fast. Long tables were what his boss and colleagues were used to, so long tables it would be.

Where Velvet had put her foot down was with seating arrangements. The two of them would sit at one end of the table together. None of this rubbish about shouting across the room, “Dear, I say, dear, could you pass me the salt, please!?” “What? Speak up!”

Up till now, she’d been fine with his cooking. He’d insisted on doing as much of the household chores as she did (“It’s only fair, dear!”), and had immediately gone out and bought books to help him, which now cluttered his half of their room in organized chaos.

Currently, he was working his way through the cookbook. Every instruction on the page, even the optional suggestions in the little textboxes, metamorphosed under his scowling concentration into a sacrament.

Now Velvet watched as he balanced two steaming pie bowls on his head and brought them over to her like the world’s most cheerful maître d’.

“Home-baked Granny Smith Apple Pie, ma’am?” he said, winking.

It was the same line he’d used all year. The charm had long since worn off.

“It’s my first time baking this one.” Night Light sat opposite her, close enough to pat her hoof reassuringly. “Don’t hold back, Velvie. Sound constructive criticism is very important for the advancement of food science.”

Science. That was a good word. She could see him in a lab coat over a petri dish, dripping strange chemicals on an apple and jotting down the result on a clipboard.

Velvet tried to smile for his sake, took one bite, and realized taste was a waste of time.

She swallowed.

She looked up, into a face so eager for sound constructive criticism that he barely noticed the piece of pie slipping off his own fork.

“It’s good,” she said.

A little too flat. His ear twitched.

“Nothing else?” he said.

“I…” Velvet wished she could remember the taste. “I don’t think so?”

“Is the texture of the crust correctly crumbly? What about the temperature of the filling? I can only do so much with a custom-made pie thermometer, you see.”

“It’s not hard or cold or anything. It’s just… good.”

Velvet always had a bad tendency to look away. It was one of those things she’d learned early in life. Looking at things could be so powerful her eyes watered under the strain.

“Please tell me what’s wrong with it,” said Night Light, as if dreading an A- grade. “I thought you’d like a good meal.”

Velvet put her fork down and crossed her forelimbs, the better to fortify herself. If she didn’t say it now, she’d never say it at all.

She looked at his face. She almost never said anything.

A happy marriage, or an honest marriage? Could one survive if she didn’t confront the cooking issue, right here, right now? That’s what her schoolfriends had warned her about. The cracks always started small.

“Dear,” she said, to soften him up, “you know no matter what, I’ll always love you.”

“But…?”

“And I know you love cooking so much, and it’s sweet of you, it really is.”

“It’s a fascinating challenge, yes! The instructions, all neatly placed on each page just perfectly. And there are so many instructions. They’re numbered, too!” he added, his heart daringly confessing to non-matrimonial pleasures and his eyes pleading for her to forgive his mortal soul its moral failings.

She smiled, despite herself.

“But…?” Night Light prompted again.

“But… the food’s just right. That’s the problem. It’s not surprising or exciting or any of that stuff. It’s just… right. Good. Not great.”

She’d expected him to slump: proof that their marriage was early days.

She hadn’t expected him to stare at her in a sort of delighted horror.

“You don’t mean…” he said, licking his lips. “Improvise?”

“Well, sure. Do you have any of the ingredients left?”

“Of course! I took special care to buy twice as much as I’d need as an insurance policy. Can’t be too careful.”

Velvet got up, chair sliding back. “You won’t mind if I –?”

“No, no! Of course not! I’m always ready to learn by observation.”

“Only… I’m not as good as some of my friends back in Vanhoover.”

“I won’t pressure you into it if you don’t want to do it.”

“No, no. Just… I’ll give it a shot, OK?”

A little while later, the two of them bent over the kitchen sideboard, the pupil agog at the master’s hoofiwork.

“Just add a dash of cinnamon,” said Velvet.

“Cinnamon? The book doesn’t say anything about cinnamon.”

“Or cardamom. Lots of cardamom.”

Night Light gasped. “You’re not seriously…?”

“Nor did it say to put this much sugar in.”

“That’s fifty five percent over the recommended quantity! It’s too much!”

“Is it? Oh dear. Clearly not enough. Here we go.”

“Now it’s over ninety percent too much. One hundred. One hundred and ten.” Night Light took a deep breath. “One hundred and fifteen point six percent! How can you!?”

“Mwahaha, I’m not done yet. And now the custard…”

“Custard! This time you’ve gone too far!”

“Mmm hmm hmm, I know.”

Rhubarb too!?

“Can’t say custard without rhubarb, dear.”

While the oven hummed and the pan full of yellow bubbled, Night Light gazed as though wondering whether unleashing the wild animal had been such a great idea after all, and how long it would be before he heard the screaming.

“How can you be sure it’ll work now?” he said. “There aren’t any instructions. This is madness.”

“When I was in Vanhoover, the earth pony neighbours always put something new in their dishes.”

“They were… experimenting?

“Well, partly. Mostly it was because the other ponies kept pinching their recipes. It’s hard to stand out for long as a master chef when everyone’s mastering right behind you.”

Whereas Night Light had come from a family that was too rich to care much about master chefs beyond which was the most outrageously expensive. Besides, Velvet remembered, tastes in cuisine were just as much an iron-clad tradition for the upper crust as tastes in paintings and rich clothes. Precious things, like gold, never really sullied themselves with change.

A ping.

Sometime later, the two of them sat up to the table, Velvet mostly watching her husband shovel down portions.

“Now, it’s my first time baking this one,” she said, trying to mock his male baritone as deeply as she could. “Don’t hold back, Nightie. Sound constructive criticism is very important for the advancement of food science.”

“Forget food science, Velvie!” he said between mouthfuls. “You ought to be working miracles! Oh my word!”

“So it’s… good?”

“If I die and find myself eating this, I’ll know heaven is real after all.” He looked up pleadingly, and then put both hooves on his cheeks. “I am not worthy!”

“Oh, stop it, you.” Velvet didn’t say it too harshly.

“Where did you learn to cook like that?”

“When you grow up among earth pony farmers and cooks, Nightie, you soon learn to brush up your kitchen skills.”

“You must cook some more. I’d be honoured. In fact…” Night Light dropped his spoon in the custard and rushed around to kneel next to her. “Velvie, will you marry me? Again?”

Hm, Velvet had thought, an honest marriage or a happy one? Well, why not both?

“Get up, you,” she said, grin bursting out. “The fun’s just beginning. You haven’t even seen what else I can do yet…”

*

“And that’s how I ended up taking over cooking duties,” said Velvet, throwing an idle hay fry into her mouth.

“Wow. But what did you mean by that last bit?” said Derpy.

“Hm?”

“That ‘you haven’t seen what else I can do’ bit?”

Velvet scanned her face, and to her surprise found only complete dumbfounded innocence staring back.

“Well, you have a husband, don’t you?” she said.

Radio Derpy broadcast definite static.

Velvet blushed hot enough to bake the table. “Erm,” she said, reaching for some fries to stuff her mouth, “I’ll tell you another time.”

“Ooh, is it a juicy secret, then?”

“Er… sometimes.”

Derpy accepted this without issue. She probably thought it was something to do with drinks.

Just then, Savoir Fare materialized. “Ees everytheeng to your likeeng, lay-dees?”

As is traditional on these occasions, Velvet had just then stuffed her mouth. “Mwyesh!” she spluttered, trying to swallow and speak at once. “Danksh!”

“All set, garkon!” Derpy waved at him.

“Fantastique. Do let me know eef you evair need anytheeng.” He dematerialized.

“So…” Velvet choked, eyes streaming – Derpy came over to pat her back. “Thanks…” A cough. “So… um… who cooks in your house?”

“You’re sure you’re OK?”

“Peachy!” Velvet made a noise like a burst sewer pipe. “Went down… wrong way.”

“Yeah. My friend Doc’s always wondering about that,” said Derpy. “Ponies eat and breathe using the same bit of tube in their throats. He said any sensible pony would keep them separate, because then no one would choke.”

Velvet braved the sore throat. “Doc?”

“He’s an int-lectual!” said Derpy proudly. “He loves science. He’s always tinkering and making things and blowing things up.” She paused, apparently aware of how unintellectual that sounded. “But scientifically.

In an undertone, Velvet said, “Surprised Twilight never mentioned him, then.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said, I’m just surprised you never mentioned him, then! Before now, I mean.”

“Oh, he’s a good friend. I’ve got lots of good friends here. If I stopped and read a list of all my good friends, I wouldn’t have finished yet.”

“Like your Golden Harvest,” said Velvet, trying to make a contribution. “She’d be at the top, right?”

“Erm…” Derpy looked blank. “Only… Not because… Everyone else is good too… It’d just be… Well…”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” lied Velvet. Another fact about Derpy, which she was slowly learning, was that hierarchies didn’t sit well with her, and neither did Derpy whenever someone talked about them. More gently, she said, “Does Golden Harvest help you around the house too?”

“Not that often. She’s busy on her farm, poor thing. Usually, it’s Dinky and Ammy. Although that can be a problem sometimes too…”