The thing is, it was a really good chocolate cake: Three thick, dense layers with just the right amount of sponginess. Perfectly cooked. One more minute in the oven and the cake would have been dry. One minute less and it would have had the slightest film of sticky undoneness on the top. Plus, of course, there was that dreamy cocoa frosting. Sweet, yes, but not overpoweringly, hurt-your-teeth sweet. No. This frosting was perfectly sweet. One might even say that the sweetness rested on the tongue like a kiss, with just the smallest, slightest, most subtly delicious salty aftertaste. Then there was that barely brittle crust that developed on the top millimeter of the frosting so that your fork met with the slightest resistance as it sank through this miracle, this little piece of heaven on earth, this cake that Heidi called hers.
Until Bob ate it.
“You ate my cake,” said Heidi. “I waited all day for it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I told Kelly in human resources all about how I was going to eat that cake after dinner.”
“No,” said Bob. “You said you didn’t want it.”
“Last night. During Leno. I said, ‘do you want some cake.’ You said, ‘no.’”
“I didn’t want it then. That didn’t mean I didn’t want it ever.”
“Hey. All I know is that you said, ‘no.’”
“I made that cake.”
“You said, ‘no.’”
Heidi stepped in close to Bob. The top of her head grazed his stubbly chin. She thrust an index finger into his chest and whispered to his Adam’s apple: “That was my cake. You’ll be sorry. One day, you’ll be sorry.”
A week passed. Heidi said no more about the cake. Bob, being Bob, said no more about the cake. Then, one day, Bob opened the front door and his body quivered. Wafting across the room, ensnaring him like a lasso was the tantalizing scent of apples, vanilla, cinnamon, butter. “Oh my God!” he said. “Is that apple pie?”
“Yes,” said Heidi. She was standing at the kitchen door in a starched white apron. It was made of eyelet and had frilly lace around the skirt. It was new, but Bob didn’t notice. With leaden zombie feet, he followed his nose to the kitchen, where his eyes fell upon the most beautiful tall and golden apple pie. He said. “I love apple pie.”
Heidi smiled. “I made it for you. Go ahead. Dig in.”
“But…what about dinner?”
“Dinner is overrated. Besides, this has apples. That’s a fruit.”
Well, who could argue with that logic?
Bob cut himself a big slice of pie and sat down next to Heidi, who had a salad.
“You don’t want any?” he asked.
“No,” said Heidi.
“You don’t want any now…?”
“No. I don’t want any ever.”
“Don’t think. Eat.”
So Bob ate.
Years went by. Heidi baked. Weekly. Sometimes daily. She baked pies, cakes, tortes, tarts, cookies. She stood over scalding pots of fudge, pudding, candy. She made ice cream, mousse, milkshakes.
Bob and Heidi bought a house in Monrovia. Bob became a successful CPA, Heidi a respected computer programmer. The couple had a son. They named him Matthew. Alas, he was allergic to chocolate, eggs, and dairy—or so said Heidi. At dessert, she let him stomach sherbet. A boy of little imagination, he grew up to sell insurance in Pasadena, where his wife, a vegan, had a small business selling canine outerwear.
And, still, Heidi baked, and Bob ate, and Bob got bigger and bigger, until one day, at the age of fifty-eight, he swallowed a spoonful of tiramisu, had a massive heart attack and died.
As Matthew and his vegan wife cried at the funeral, Heidi walked up to the open casket. She looked at Bob, all 300 pounds of him, and she said, “That was my cake, you big jerk. Eat worms.”
© Copyright 2009 Margaret Finnegan. All rights reserved.
Margaret Finnegan does bake—and well—and her husband is alive—and well. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The L.A. Times, FamilyFun, the literary journal WordRiver and the book Life As We Know It (Washington Square Press). She is also the author of Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (Columbia University Press). She blogs about wise women, demanding goddesses, and whatever she darn well feels like at Finnegan Begin Again.