When my husband gets home, he has the cake.
I can see it, as I watch him get out of the car and walk up the driveway. The pastry box is in a white plastic bag that his arm is threaded through. It's bouncing against his leg a little as he walks over the asphalt and my pulse starts to stutter. The dread makes itself known, rising in my throat like a bad meal returning. The taste of bile laps at the back of my mouth as if it has a pulse of its own.
I shut the blinds and take my seat at the dining room table.
We don't speak when he walks in. I watch, my heart shaking with small eruptions, volcanoes of anxiety bursting under my skin, as he slides the white plastic bag off of the box. It sits squarely on the table between us. He is slow when he unties the bakery strings, methodical.
Once the strings have fallen, he walks into the kitchen and leaves me sitting alone at the table. The box is quietly humming, naked now. It is dangerous, a naked woman with a sparkling gown strewn at her feet, her pale pealing up out of the satin and tulle.
He comes back and sits a long silver fork in front of me. It's the good silver, the silver I save for fancy dinners, the kind that cannot be washed in the dishwasher. At the bottom of the fork, there are curling waves and decorative flowers. We picked this silverware out together, years ago. It's his favorite kind to use for this. The first time, we used one of the cheap, scratched forks, the dull kind used for eating casseroles on Wednesday nights. He said it wasn't nice enough for this, and so it's been the good silver ever since. I'd never have predicted it would be used now, for this.
He doesn't look at me as he opens the lid on the box. He lifts out the cake, and my only consolation is that it is not a German chocolate cake or a cheesecake. Those cakes are too heavy; they make my stomach turn for days, a constant punishment lingering in my intestines, slowly crawling around inside of me. The heavy cakes make it last for days.
The cake is covered in white icing, frozen into sculpted waves, scalloping themselves around the edges. It is a double-layer cake. I know there is more icing lurking, hiding itself inside.
On the top of the cake, there is a smattering of confetti-colored sprinkles reminiscent of a child's birthday party. Not too many sprinkles though, just enough. I know he has gone to the fanciest bakery in town again. The other cake makers overdo the sprinkles, covering every square inch with the sugar rainbow dots. They catch in my teeth.
It's vanilla, he says.
I nod and look down. I trace the strands of wood straining across the top of the table.
He places the cake in front of me and the scent of vanilla and sugar and something else, something hidden deep within the layers. Scents as familiar as my mother slide over my face, dance up into my nose.
He takes the seat next to me and watches me.
The fork, he says, his voice even-keeled.
I pick it up slowly, the silver metal heavy between my fingers. My hand shakes slightly. This fork weighs more than any other fork in the world, I'm sure of it, and the terror makes it heavier, my limbs and joints seem to have rusted, I move slowly through a quiet fog he cannot see.
Now, he says.
By the time I've brought the fork to the surface of the cake, the panic has seized my veins, pushing my blood to my temples and chest, my lungs banging against my ribs in revolt.
I push the prongs into the icing, watch the flat white sugar surface slide toward my fork. There is always a moment when I feel pity for the cake, after I've taken the first hunk away from it, the perfection spoiled by my hand, my actions. I was right about the center; the hidden icing is exposed after I've broken into the fold.
The first time we did this, I didn't understand. He'd brought a cake home in a similar fashion, but he left it waiting in the kitchen for a few hours. Then, after dinner, he asked if I'd like something sweet. I said yes, because I'd snuck my fingers into the box, lifted it up and seen it was a carrot cake, my favorite. He went into the kitchen to get the cake and my mouth had already started watering, I could already feel the sugar working through my veins and clinging to my thighs and belly and the places all the women's magazines warn me about.
That night, our first, I waited for a generous slice, a triangle of cream cheese icing and carrot, a fork placed neatly next to it on a white plate. But when he returned, he was carrying the cake with one hand and a single fork with the other.
Let me watch you eat it, he said.
Cut me a slice, goofball, I teased.
No, he said, staring at the cake. I want to watch you eat the whole thing.
I let out a laugh, a hearty chuckle, the kind people in TV studio audiences make.
This isn't funny, he said quietly. He looked up.
There was a shining desperation in his eyes. It was the same look he used to give me, so many years ago, in the backseat of his Buick. Eyes that said please. Eyes that wanted a small sacrifice for their pleasure.
In the Buick, those eyes had me duck my head down into his lap. That night, those eyes had me pick up the fork.
With the kindness of a person donating to charity or scratching a child's itching back, I ate that carrot cake on the living room sofa, bite by bite. His eyes never left me, trailing my hand and the fork from the cake back to my mouth, the sugar traveling from the platter to my lips. He hadn't watched me like that for years.
That night, the carrot cake swelled in my stomach. I could feel it living there, a growing child, and I twisted and turned in bed, the ache rising from my belly and out into my limbs.
Since that, there has been one cake every two weeks. We never speak of them, these Friday night rituals. I have had the German chocolates, the Boston crèmes, the strawberry shortcakes. I wear pants two sizes bigger now, all these months later. Two cakes a month, two whole cakes, two cakes better suited for when company comes over, for Thanksgiving desserts. Now all the cakes are for me.
And now the fork is heaped with fleshy cake, tiny moist bits of vanilla breaking off and falling like snow onto my lap and the table. I bring the fork to my mouth and wrap my lips around it slowly, how he likes it. A gag pushes up to the back of my throat and I struggle to maintain composure as the sugar and vanilla dissolve against my tongue, the icing hitting the heat of my mouth and turning into a calm wave that slides into the back of my throat.
His eyes burn hot on my mouth. There's an excitement I haven't seen since the red velvet cake two months back. That was his favorite, I think, to watch.
Yes, he says. His voice is just above a moan.
I chew softly, the rich butter exploding up out of the vanilla and sugar, the density of this cake surprising me.
As I swallow the cake, his eyes travel down my neck. Heat flushes from my body up to my face and I do not look at him. I never look at him when we do this. I take a breath and move the fork towards the cake again. I take a bigger hunk this time, and the frosting and flesh begin to slide off the fork, so I rush this piece to my mouth, widening my lips as far as I can to fit the bite in.
smaller pieces, he murmurs.
I lower my head further and chew, making each clench of my jaw a distinct, separate motion. I plunge the silver back into the cake, taking a smaller piece this time.
that's better, he says. He moves his chair closer to me, the legs making a harsh scraping sound against the floor. His hand is under the table, rubbing my leg slowly, lingering on my thigh.
The sugar creeps into my blood stream, soaks into my body.
Another, he says, nodding at the cake, his hand squeezing right above my knee.
I dig the fork back into the cake and the expanse of confection causes a sense of dread to rise up inside of me. I cannot guess how many bites I have left, how many uncut slices I have yet to devour, a chore that will surely rot my teeth.
This bite makes my mouth water with sickness. A swell of dizziness overcomes me and my head dips down.
He slides his hand under my leg and squeezes the back of my thigh. He doesn't have to ask for the next bite. It is already buried into the icing again.
Good girl, he whispers. I slip the fork back into my mouth.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Sarah Rose Etter. All rights reserved.