By Alex Bisker
You wedge the spatula in slowly, feeling for purchase between the sponge and the pan, holding your breath. The crumb is wrong, you can feel it already. It’s dry, it’s cracking, it’s cracking, it’s cracked. It’s ruined. Dammit. Damn. It.
You smile into the phone.
People can hear that, can hear if you’re smiling. Something about the muscles of your face shifting the tone of your voice, you heard that somewhere. And it doesn’t even matter if it’s a real smile or not. That, the sincerity, that doesn’t translate, doesn’t present in just the voice. But people can see an insincere smile, can spot a fake one, one that’s all mouth and no feeling. Because a real smile involves the eyes. Everybody knows that.
So you smile into the phone and assure your mother that you’re fine, really, you’re fine, but that you do really need to go. The cake and all that.
It’s still several more minutes before she hangs up. You listen to her drone and imagine dragging your fingers through the ruin on the stovetop, nails scraping against the metal, an ear-wrenching screech. You can feel yourself ripping it from the pan, grinding fistfuls of dry chocolate crumb between your fingers, flinging it across the room, totally, utterly destroying this misshapen thing you created because you’re incapable of making anything, not one thing, not one goddamn thing that is right, that is good.
You grab the edge of the counter and let the blood stop sloshing in your head. When the kitchen comes back into focus, the line is dead and you’re panting. The cake… the cake is gone. In its place is a disaster strewn across the linoleum like spilled potting soil, like clumps of dirt tracked in from the rain. You sink to your knees and start to sob. Angry things break free and fall out of you.
The child watching from the doorway is terrified.
You swallow your tears. Had you forgotten? Oh, she must be scared. So scared. You try to smile for her but instead bare your teeth. You reach out your chocolate-mud-streaked hands, but the child doesn’t move, frozen by what she sees in your eyes.
So soft, this child. She sees that ugly thing inside, the gods demanding blood and chariots pulled by dragons and you understand and you wish you did not but you do, in your gut, in your marrow, and you yearn for blood or cake or just one perfect thing that you have not ruined with your touch.
You imagine grinding fistfuls of hair between your fingers. You can almost feel it… Soft.
But the feeling passes, as these things do, and the child sniffles and runs to your arms. And the kitchen gets swept and you always did prefer ice cream didn’t you, and when the guests arrive you pull your face into a smile and make sure it reaches your eyes.