The basket weave butter cream frosting was exactly what Amanda had asked for, as were the piles of roses and butterflies that made the cake look more like a floral arrangement than something edible.
But the color was all wrong.
“Excuse me, are you sure this my cake? This cake is pink. Mine is supposed to be white.”
The bakery clerk gave her a withering stare from above her eyeglasses, waiting a beat before snatching from Amanda’s outstretched hand the order form bearing the description of Amanda’s daughter’s fourth birthday cake.
“This here says the cake should be white,” the clerk sniffed triumphantly, thrusting the order form back towards Amanda.
“Yes, I know it says the cake should be white. That is what I ordered. A white cake. But as you can see,” she said lifting the lid on the cake box “this cake is pink.”
The clerk peered into the box as if looking down a well from which a bad smell was emanating.
“Yes, you’ve got yourself a pink cake alright.”
She stared at Amanda as if to dare her to say something else. Amanda stared back, her eyes narrowing.
“Okay. I don’t suppose you can get me a white cake in the next ten minutes? With butter cream and roses and Happy Birthday Delilah written on it?”
“Okay then, that solves that.”
Amanda slung her enormous purse over her shoulder and wrapped both arms around the cake box, making her way to the front door, kicking it open with her booted foot.
As she emerged into rare LA rain, she realized she had not gotten her keys out of her bag.
She struggled to set the cake down on the drenched hood of her car, and as she searched the depths of her purse for her wad of keys, she recalled throwing them at her husband over coffee earlier this morning.
“You have no idea what this does to me,” he’d yelled.
“I wasn’t talking to her. I wasn’t! I promise, David. What am I supposed to do?” she’d cried, hands in her hair.
“I don’t believe you. You have to knock this shit off!”
“Why? I can talk to her if I want. You can’t tell me what to do after what you did, you shit!”
She’d snatched the keys off the kitchen table and hurled them at David like a pitcher in the World Series.
Now they were in her hands again, unlocking the car, and as she carefully placed the heavy cake onto the passenger seat, rain soaked through her jacket.
She slid into the driver’s seat, sealed into the silence of her car, the smell of leather mixing with the sweet sugar smell of the birthday cake, rain pattering the roof.
Just get through today, she thought. Tomorrow you can go.
She wiped rain from her cheeks, started the car and jerked onto Fairfax into heavy traffic. A passing car honked.
Today was Delilah’s birthday. At noon twelve four year olds and their parents had invitations to be at Amanda and David’s house on Arden for a party.
“What kind of cake do want this year, D?” Amanda had asked her daughter who was dressed in one of Amanda’s old nightgowns with a Mardi Gras crown tucked into her tousled brown hair.
“Can I ask the Blue Girl?” D had said, sucking on the end of her yellow blanket, absently banging her bare feet against the couch.
“Sure, sweetie. Ask her if you want.”
Delilah had run upstairs into her bedroom and whispered through the closet door to the Blue Girl who lived inside.
After some consultation, D announced, “Ummmmmm, I want a big cake with white frosting and white flowers all over it, like a mountain.”
“White cake with flowers it is.”
“White flowers,” Delilah had corrected.
Driving home with the pink cake in the seat next to her, she could barely see out the front windshield. David said he’d change the wipers.
“Damn it,” she whispered, gripping the steering wheel, her neck tightening.
The silver rain blended with the slick silver of the street and the silver paint on Amanda’s car.
Just keep driving, she thought. Just never go back.
Last night, she’d dreamed of the ocean. She was lying on the beach under a broad orange colored umbrella. The sand was white; the beach was empty. Her head was hot under the big straw hat that shielded her face from the slight breeze blown toward her with each crashing wave. Her limbs felt heavy on her thick red towel, like a person who’s been drugged.
She peered off to one side, and through the tiny holes made in the weave of the hat she saw that she was alone.
“David?” she called.
Only the breeze.
David had left the beach without her, his voice drifting on the air.
She inhaled, attempting to fill her arms and legs with some kind of energy as salt and moisture danced around her nostrils.
The ocean’s waves pounded in time with her skull.
“Mommy, look at me.”
Amanda tried to raise her head.
“Delilah?” Amanda couldn’t see her.
“I’m in the water. Watch me swim!”
Amanda’s skin began to sweat and burn, the sun a pulsating orange ball overhead. The umbrella was no longer there. Her limbs were searing and leaden.
“No, D, don’t go near the water without me.”
“Watch me, Mommy. I’m going in the waves.”
“Delilah, stop right now! Wait for me!”
“I’m going, Mommy. Watch me. I’m a big girl. ”
Wait for me.
Startled, Amanda had opened her eyes, her bedroom full of blue morning light, David’s sleeping, breathing form beside her.
“Mommy, are you awake?”
Delilah stood next to the bed, giant eyes staring straight into Amanda’s face.
Amanda blinked to focus, taking in a deep breath.
“Mommy, are you getting up? It’s my birthday.” D touched Amanda’s cheek with her tiny hand. It was cold.
“Yes, baby. Climb in here with me. Get warm and cozy.”
She threw the covers open and Delilah slipped into bed, molding her body close to her mother’s. Amanda wrapped her arms around her daughter, breathing in the salty, puppy scent of her skin.
“Happy birthday, D.”
A car horn blared. Amanda stopped abruptly at a red light, her right hand on the cake, her front tires well over the white lines. The seat belt pulled tight across Amanda’s chest and neck, causing the skin to slightly burn.
They’d been in Hawaii just three weeks ago. She’d gotten burned there, too. And so had D. Usually Amanda was so careful about protecting her skin from the sun and especially Delilah’s. But they’d been having so much fun playing in the water, Amanda had lost track of time.
That night at the hotel, Amanda had given D a cool bath and rubbed her red skin with Noxema cream, cool and soothing.
“No sheet!” D cried at bedtime. “It’s too scratchy.”
As she closed the door to Delilah’s room, David said, “Couldn’t you have paid a little more attention?”
“Couldn’t you?” she snapped back.
The red light was long and Amanda focused on the shimmering raindrops. It had been raining that day as well. All morning, they had stayed in because of the rain.
“Mommy, when can we go swim?” begged Delilah, pale skin striped with red stretched out on the floor, dressed in her bathing suit and shorts, tropical rain heavy and falling out the big window behind her.
“Not right now, Lovebug, we have to wait for some sunshine.”
“Why can’t we swim in the rain?”
“It’s just not a good idea, D,” David had answered.
“We’ll go later. I promise,” said Amanda.
Delilah had rolled onto her belly and put her thumb in her mouth.
It rained all day.
That night, they’d gotten a sitter for D and gone dancing.
When the rain stopped, it had been warm and humid. Amanda put her hair up and wore her black silk dress with the halter top and silver leather sandals. David took her hand as they walked to have dinner in the hotel restaurant.
“Do you want some champagne?” he’d asked.
“You know champagne makes me sick.” Amanda smiled across the table.
“I know how much you love it.”
Amanda rolled her eyes to the ceiling and let out a sigh. “You devil.”
“One glass,” David teased. “We’re on vacation.”
“Alright, one glass. One.”
A bottle later, they’d gone to the club down the beach, laughing and kissing all the way there.
David pulled Amanda to his chest as they danced.
“You always smell so good,” she’d murmured.
She let her head, dizzy and heavy, fall onto his shoulder, breathing in the scent of him, her husband, her lover.
They hurried back to their room. David paid the sitter while Amanda kissed a sleeping Delilah tucked into her bed.
“Goodnight, Angel,” she’d whispered into D’s dreaming ear, wiping a sweaty dark curl from her daughter’s forehead as the front door closing followed David’s goodnights in the other room.
Then his hands were on her shoulders, softy undoing the tie of the halter. The dress fell to the floor and as she fumbled with the button on David’s pants, he closed the door to D’s room.
The light was green.
Amanda stepped on the gas too quickly causing the car to lurch forward on the wet street. She drove past LACMA and made a right onto Third, heading home.
The sugar sweet smell of the pink cake was filling the car like a vapor and the windshield fogged. Raindrops pounded down, the wipers helplessly trying to wash them away.
Amanda couldn’t see.
She couldn’t see but she could hear.
From far away.
“Mommy, are you awake?”
Soft baby’s breath tickling her leaden eyelashes.
She willed them to open, the brightness of the hotel room hacking into her head. Delilah’s giant eyes stared into her bloodshot ones.
“I want to swim,” D whispered. “Are you awake now?”
Champagne bubbles heavy as cannon balls had settled onto Amanda’s forehead.
“Honey, what time is it,” she said, putting her hand on David’s shoulder.
He mumbled and rolled onto his belly, the down pillow obscuring his face.
“Daddy, wake up. We’re going to swim.”
Delilah crawled over Amanda and onto to David’s back, tickling his ears with her miniature fingers.
“Okay! Anything you say! Just don’t tickle my ears!” David feigned being tortured while D’s laughter broke open the day.
On the nearly empty beach, the sand was hot under their feet, warm under their unfurled red towels. Beneath the big orange umbrella, Amanda watched from under the brim of her straw hat the playing forms of her small daughter and lanky husband. Love coursed through her like adrenaline in time with the pounding of her aching head. The tide rushed in and out like gentle breath mixing with Delilah’s laughter and her eyelids closed on the image before her.
She didn’t dream at all.
She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep.
It was so hot. The sun had shifted.
She couldn’t remember a thing.
From underwater, David’s voice was surfacing, “Amanda! Amanda! Where’s D?”
He was shaking her shoulders.
“Wake up! Where is Delilah?”
She rubbed her forehead.
“No. Not with me. I left her with you. What’s the matter with you?”
Panic seeped into her deadened limbs and Amanda was suddenly and totally awake.
“Delilah!” she screamed. She leapt up, tearing the straw hat from her head; eyes round as she scanned the empty beach. “Delilah!”
People began to gather, to call, to search.
“D,” shouted David, hands cupped around his mouth, his voice sailing onto the water.
It was bare. The ocean was a choppy, barren blue.
Something glimpsed. Something sinking down, swept out.
Amanda almost drove past her street.
Startled, she made a hard right turn onto Arden, the back end of the car fishtailing, the cake sliding across the front seat. Inside the box, the cake smashed against the side, pink flowers and frosting now a jagged mountain peak.
She reached her hand out too late.
Another hard turn left, going too fast, into the driveway of her house, the one she shared with David, the one she shared with Delilah. She slammed on the brakes and the cake lurched off the seat and onto the floor.
Amanda didn’t care.
People are coming today.
It’s D’s birthday and people are coming.
Amanda flung open her car door, oblivious to the falling rain. She ran around to the passenger side and scooped the cake box from the floor, her oversized purse dangling from her elbow.
Leaving the car doors open, she strode to the backdoor, hands full, and kicked until David let her in.
“Thanks for nothing,” she spat.
“I could’ve used a little help.”
She dropped the cake box onto the kitchen counter and her purse on the floor.
“I’ve done nothing but try to help.”
“Sure…now. We have all these people coming over for D’s birthday.”
David looked at the cake box.
He looked at Amanda.
“What is this?” he asked.
“What is what?”
David’s face pinched.
“Is that a cake for D?”
“Of course, David. What do you think? And the fucking bakery fucked it all up. All she wanted was a white cake with white flowers. This is a fucking…pink…cake.”
David moved toward Amanda.
“Don’t! ” she screamed.
He wrapped his arms around hers, pinning them to her sides, and pulled her to his chest. They swayed back and forth in a dance that kept time with her sobs.
Upstairs is Delilah’s room.
A wind from the open window down the hall gently blows the creaky door wide.
On D’s bed wrapped presents wait, the doll she wanted with the crown, and a copy of Alice in Wonderland that Amanda wanted to read to her.
Through the looking glass.
There is a scratching at her closet door.
A pool of salty tears seeps beneath the door, stretching across the hardwood.
Behind the door, the Blue Girl sits and waits, one hand on the door, curling fingernails softly stroking the wood. Her forehead rests there, seaweed hair falling around her face decorated with seashells and starfish.
About the Author:
Megan has been a writer all her life but only recently started writing her stories down; an apparent requirement of the Antioch University B.A. in Creative Writing. A Los Angeles native, Megan enjoys staying home, the drive-through car wash and avoiding the sun.