A Piece of Cake
On the morning of my tenth birthday, I woke before the sun rose because even then I had difficulty sleeping. Hungry, I plodded through the darkened house to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Inside, I found the birthday cake my mother had stayed up late making the night before. Being the creative type, she had decorated it by constructing an exact replica of my beloved Barbie Dream Camper. I imagine she had spent many days planning just how she would build this magnificent cake and how happy it would make me.
At the time my ten year old mind was equally lacking in thoughtfulness and impulse control, and I could not fully appreciate her effort. Not bothering with a knife, I cut an approximate square with my fingers. It left behind an obvious crater and I turned it around so the hole did not show. I went back to bed.
By the time I woke up again the rest of the family, minus my father who had already left for work, was up and about. My mother stood at the stove making pancakes and when she heard me come in she smiled at me and shouted “Happy Birthday, Lisa!” I thought of the birthday cake and sat down at the kitchen table next to my sister Kelly. Apparently unaware of the brutal defacement of her masterpiece, my mother brought me a plate of pancakes. She set it in front of me and kissed the top of my head. I looked down to see Mickey Mouse, complete with chocolate chip eyes, staring up at me.
“No fair,” Kelly whined like the six-year old she was. “She gets Mickey!”
“It’s Lisa’s special day,” mother said. “When it’s your birthday you’ll get one too.”
Kelly said nothing but glared at me, and when I got up from the the table a few minutes later, she kicked me as if by accident.
I received a lot of attention at school that day and I stepped off the bus filled with self-importance and the expectation of further accolades. “I’m home,” I called as I opened the front door but only silence greeted me, which was odd since my mother always made an effort to be home when my sister and I returned from school. My euphoria diminished further as I recalled the cake. I went to the empty kitchen, and with a thumping heart, opened the refrigerator. The cake was gone.
Unsure what to do, I stood there staring until I remembered we weren’t allowed to keep the refrigerator door open too long because it wasted electricity. I closed it and inspected the garbage bin but found it empty. Then I noticed a note on the counter, scrawled in green crayon on a piece of scratch paper:
“At Michelle’s house.” Michelle, aged eight and a playmate for both Kelly and I, lived next door. We were allowed to go over there by ourselves if we came home before dinner.
I went down the hall toward the bedrooms and found the door to my parent’s room slightly ajar. My mother’s voice came from inside: “Lisa, is that you?”
I stood at the door feeling a mixture of relief and dread and tentatively peeked inside. My mother lay on the bed, shoes off, with a cloth over her eyes. She had one of her migraines.
“It’s me, mom,” I whispered.
“Play in your room for awhile while I rest.”
Let down, I kicked off my shoes and settled on my bed to read the latest issue of Dynamite. The ringing phone interrupted me, and I ran to answer it but my mother got there first.
“Your father wants to talk to you,” she said, handing me the receiver.
“Hi Daddy,” I said, hoping he didn’t know about the cake.
“Hi Sweetheart. Having a good birthday?”
“I’m glad to hear that. Listen, I’m really sorry, but I have to work late again tonight. I won’t be able to make it home for your birthday dinner.”
“That’s okay, Daddy.”
“I’ll be sure to come in and kiss you when I get home though, all right?”
“Love you, Sweetheart.”
“Love you too,” I said. Click.
That evening, my mother fixed my favorite dinner, spaghetti with meatballs. We sat in the dining room eating off the good china and drinking sparkling apple cider out of crystal wine glasses. I felt very grown up, but I could not enjoy it because I was so anxious over the cake. No one had said a word about it.
We finished and my mother took the dinner dishes into the kitchen. My stomach was filled with spaghetti and butterflies, and I felt sick. A few moments later, she emerged with her fancy silver cake stand. Atop it was a small round cake, pretty but plain, and obviously store bought. She’d placed ten candles on top and now lit them.
“Make a wish, Lisa!”
I closed my eyes tightly, made my wish, then blew out all the candles. Kelly and my mother clapped their hands.
I had school the next day so I had to go to bed at the regular hour. I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, climbed into bed, and waited for my mother to come say my prayers with me.
When she leaned over to kiss me goodnight, I burst into tears. “I’m sorry, mom!”
“Whatever for, darling?”
“It was me who took a piece of the cake you made.”
She was quiet for a moment, then said: “Well, that’s all right. It was just a cake, wasn’t it?”
I nodded, wiping my tears. She tucked the covers under my chin, kissed the top of my head, and left the room.