Her fingers—pink and soft from the humidity in her kitchen—grip the edges of her nonstick muffin pan as she slides it into the bottom rack of the oven, listening for the familiar clink of her wedding ring against the pan’s metal. She shuts the oven door slowly and presses the On button, streaking the handle with a combination of cooking oil and powdered sugar.
The pan consists of twelve identical cups arranged in four rows. The first row is full of vanilla muffin batter mixed with fat blueberries—swelling and popping in the oven’s heat, releasing purple juices that bleed into the white batter like a child’s broken scab into the cotton pad of a band-aid. The second row consists of layered 2-by-4-inch strips of puff pastry with chopped pieces of chocolate nestled in the pan’s hollows. The pastry rises quickly, forming flaky croissant-shells around the chocolate. The third row holds millions of baby tardigrades. Each cup contains countless squirming bodies—fat and orange with long fingers and swollen abdomens. Their curved bodies stick together, the folded stomach of one pressing against the thick legs of another, forming a semi-solid mass of microorganisms. The fourth row is chocolate—dark chocolate batter for chocolate cupcakes, each lined in a purple baking cup.
She knows full well that each row requires a different baking time. Fifteen minutes for the chocolate cupcakes. Twenty for the muffins. Ten for the croissants. Eighteen for the tardigrades. She leaves them all in the oven for twenty minutes. Charred cupcakes, dark brown edges on crunchy croissants, crispy baby tardigrades. The muffins should be perfect.