Vanilla Cupcakes [2]

Submitted by Madeline on Tue, 03/21/2017 - 03:25

First fourth birthday parties. Edmund and Delilah. Triangular cheese sandwiches—two layers of white bread around neon-yellow American. Per request, of course. Our backyard, a canopy of gauze, strewn up in theme colors: pale, pale blue, and the palest green. Pastels. An Easter-time party. Said it was lucky, to be born around when Jesus was. The second time. There are plenty of Christmas babies, but a second coming—

“—is really something.” Delilah slid into the doctor’s hands—a slick, mucky effort. Light hair dotted her scalp. Tom’s hair. Tom. Tom. I felt his hand on my shoulder, felt him squeeze once.

“Oh, oh,” was all I could say in those few breathless moments between when she was out of me for the first time in nine months, and when she was in my care again. Tom continued to squeeze. I tiled my head toward the overhead fluorescent light and he was just a chin, just an Adam’s apple bobbing slightly each time he swallowed. I loved that skin right there on his throat, the softest, most secret place I knew.


“Sh, it’s okay.” Then his lips were at my ear, and I felt them curve into a smile as we watched a couple of nurses swarm around her, our Delilah, already named four months ago. “I’m here.”

“Yep,” the doctor said again, pulling his gloves off, turning away from watching the ladies at work. Well, there was a male nurse, too. Burnt sienna beard. Didn’t matter. “It’s really something. Having a baby born—”

“—on Jesus’ birthday.” The end of Delilah’s story tapered off as she entered the kitchen. She had my straight hair and Tom’s blonde, so fine and beautiful. I reached out to run my fingers through it. Edmund was with her, slight with a dark, curly head.

“That’s cool,” he said passively, which Delilah did not love. I watched her bristle, her little chin rise in indignation.

“It means you were, too.” She refrained from the name-calling, which was nice. New.

“Dee,” I said. She lolled her head back to look at me. Edmund’s eyes flicked up.

“Outside.” A simple word, almost always met with resistance. I raised the ziplock bag in my fist, filled with white frosting, the tip snipped off for piping. “Quick! I’m in the process of decorating.”

“Ugh.” She grabbed Edmund’s wrist and turned away. “Fine.”

“No complaining! Do you understand? I can cancel this party.” I waved the icing at her. Non-threateningly, of course, as if there was an alternative. She giggled. I waddled over to her, the icing brandished like a weapon, until one giggle was catching on another and bouncing them up, up, to the ceiling.

The tile was cool on my knees as I crouched and held the bag up in the air. “How’d you like a mustache?”

She tapped her upper lip, and I complied. I gave them handlebars that quickly puddled together against her skin. She’d licked it all off by the time I was finished with Edmund’s goatee.

“Now you guys,” I said, hoisting myself up, one hand on the table. “Go wait outside. Your friends are here. It’s not just Ed and Dee world anymore.”

That’s what we called it. Tom and I. His name, my employment of it.

“Fine.” And they linked hands again, and they were gone. I missed her terribly.

I was halfway through the cupcake bunnies. They were vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I’d whipped them up in the night before, from scratch. Dee had specified this. From scratch. Okay—scratch. Scratch. This foreign concept, followed my a wild hunt for a cookbook of some sort. I had to settle with Guy Ferrari’s. The guy with the frosted tips. Frosted tips. Such a lovely combination of words, so nice they inspired me to try to pump some icing into my own hair, until I realized that was a bad idea. But the bag had been halfway up, and it some had dribbled down, so I ran my fingers over the sticky spot, licking and licking, and—

—impulsive. That’s what he called me. Impulsive.

“Why? Because I asked for your number?”

“No. Because you bought Susan—” He was turning a pepper shaker side-to-side, side-to-irritating-side on a shelf, but here he allowed its first full rotation. Then stopped, rocking it once against the table. A lovely emphasis for his sentence. “—just to get to me.”

“Fish'll get to anybody. It's science.”

“No, probably just because I have a penchant for seafood.”

“Oh, no—” I groaned loudly, throwing my head back, not caring if the cashier looked over at us, or if the shoppers did, or if all the wheels in this Godforsaken health-nut store stopped squeaking as they turned and looked. “What’s wrong with her?” they would think. “What was in her Cheerios this morning?” Well nothing, ladies and gentlemen, except I am infatuated with this boy, in fact infatuated, and I might even—

“What? What’d I say?”

I’d stopped groaning. “Nothing. I had a vision of you eating Susan.” I’d dropped the Lazy, gone with just Susan. A perfect name, if you asked me.

“Here.” Tom reached up, grabbed a miniature bag of eight-dollar granola. He snagged my palm, spread it open with a probing thumb. My spine tingled. Actually tingled, as our eyes met and his skin was on my skin, and then was replaced with the thick plastic of the nasty elitist granola.

“For you,” he said. “On me. I'm buying. A sign of my affection.”

I tore it open right there, popped a piece into my mouth. It actually wasn’t bad. “This isn’t worth eight dollars, but—“

“—need anything else?”

I glanced up from the second-to-last doorway. There he leaned, through the archway, the sun shining through his hair. The angle was perfect. I wanted a picture.

“No, thank you.” I popped my thumb into my mouth.

“How’s it coming?” He wandered in, one-step, two step. Brown shoes, lace-ups. Fake leather, I hoped. I should have known.

“Are those fake leather?”

“What?” He glanced around.

I bent over, tapped the section where his toes should reside. “Those.”

“Oh. Gosh.” Holding onto the counter, he lifted one leg and pulled up the tongue, scanning quickly. “They were forty bucks, so they should be, and—yeah. Yes. Faux.”

“Good.” I turned back to my rabbits. “Poor cows.”

“Yeah.” And then he was behind me, his breath blowing the loose hairs from my ponytail. My spine tingled. Actually tinged, my whole spine. His hand was at the base of it, splaying out, anchoring me to this place. I dared not move.

“Hey—” It was scarcely more than an exhale. “Don't do this. Here. Any of it.”

“Any of it?”

“Any.” I stepped out from under his hand. Much as I wanted his touch, a simple touch on a simple, warm day like today, I couldn’t. It was Delilah’s day. Jesus’ return. Easter Sunday. All that good stuff. Plus Edmund—Edmund, I’d promised him a cupcake with a blue hat.

The cabinet paint was flaking. I wrenched it open—staccato, a popping crescendo—grabbed the blue, shook a couple drops into the bag, and kneaded it into the icing. Some oozed out the top, so I licked it, not even offering it to him. He just watched as I added a hat, and then a bow to another, and then some glasses to another, until nearly all the bunnies were outfitted with some funny accessory and the icing was very nearly gone.

“It’s a pretty day,” I allowed, bracing my hands under the tray that bore the cupcakes. “So follow me.”

Outside, the wind rustled the trees. The piñata hanging from our little Mulberry was dangling by a thread, its seam burst, candy and wrappers everywhere. I stopped at an untouched packet of Whoppers and stopped to pick it up, pop one out and into my mouth, balancing the cupcakes on one palm. Precarious. Malted chocolate.

“Delilah!” I called. “Edmund!”

His mother flocked over. Single parent. “Ed!”

Then they appeared, our children. I smiled at Dee, with her cute little birthday outfit and her sunshine hair. They were a vision, walking toward us in the vibrant grass, nearer to the haven of parents and shade. I set the cupcakes down on the table we’d set up. By now, a gaggle of children had gathered.

I waved some of them back, as delicately as possible. “Make way, here come the birthday angels.” And then they’d arrived. I pulled out my lighter, and felt a brush from behind.

“Got it.”

He lit their candles quickly, and then kicked off the singing. I loved his baritone. I felt it in my chest, the way it resonated. The rest of the party joined in, almost all children and hardly any adults.

“Happy birthday to you—”

Just me. Edmund’s mother. Him.

“—birthday to—”

And—oh, God. Where was Tom?

“—birthday, dear Edmund and Delilah—”

Each syllable enunciated. Dee. Lie. Luh.

That last note was held out impossibly long. A bunch of showoffs, preschoolers and their overeager parents. I kept waiting to see him here. To know he was here and listening, but he wasn’t, and—

“birthday to you.”

Also impossibly long. His hand was cupped around my shoulder, but I was enraptured. Watching, scanning the backyard for any sign of him. Then, from the house all the ways across the yard—there. There he came. Blonde hair, long legs, wide smile.

We’d sung without him. Without Tom.

I felt the hand lift off my shoulder.

Author's age when written

A continuation of the previous story!


I meant to read only the beginning, because I was out the door, but I sat transfixed and read it all, which shows how delicious your writing is. At this part:

“Fish'll get to anybody. It's science.”

“No, probably just because I have a penchant for seafood.”

-- I actually got shivers over my body, because:


I loved it. And now I'm craving icing. And I totally felt his hand on her (my) lower back, and felt the shivers again, too.


I could see this being published....

Again, my hat is off to you, and I just admire this so, so much. You are so talented and so experimental and so GOOD at your brush-strokes. It's all very accurate and physical and wonderful and tasty.

Thank you both, so much!

Sarah--what a lovely compliment! I'm glad you were happy with it. <3 My only thing is that the end is not quite what you think it is...and I'm slightly concerned I ended up trying to write it too subtly/ambiguously. I don't know if you feel up to it, but if you could go back and reassess the scene in the kitchen and afterwards, out at the party--I don't want to give anything away, and perhaps it's best if people don't catch on initially, but I changed one pronoun (lol) to see if it makes a difference. Anyway! LOL! Thank you thank you thank you! This means so much to meeeeee!

Erin--Yay! Thank you! <3 Always love comments from you!

Okay, "I missed her terribly" -- was that the addition?? When I got to the end of this piece, the first time I read it, I had a creepy back-of-the-neck prickle that something was wrong, like maybe there was a ghost or someone dead here. Was that a crazy thought? I'll keep reading. In the middle.
Also was confused about the birthday parties. I thought they were twins, born on Chrsitmas, but this is an Easter party?
I also thought Edmund was her child....but then "his mother flocked over"? Maybe I read that wrong?
Ugh, the birthday angels...wait, am I right about the ghost-thought?
I also need to re-read the first paragraph and see if I've gotten mixed up about the birthdays...
Wait, wait, GAHHH. The whole "brush from behind" and not naming who it was who lit the candles definitely caught me off guard (and it's so beautful, her feeling his baritone in her, whoever this is) - though I assumed it was Tom the first time. And now of course, it's not. It's just "him". And Tom is coming around the corner. Which TOTALLY gave me chills (actually physically) when "he" took his hand off her shoulder, because now I'm either thinking -- affair, or ghost.
Okay, wait, no, is Edmund a friend? I totally just fabricated the twin idea hahahaha.

All right, I don't think I helped at all. I think I fuddled everything. But something's totally happening and I need to keep reading to find this out. Now I'm freaked out that Tom has died and is a ghost.

Also, you had some gorgeous lines in here and PERFECT moments -- moments where you're just in your writer's flow and gold comes out. Like this:

"Tom continued to squeeze. I tiled my head toward the overhead fluorescent light and he was just a chin, just an Adam’s apple bobbing slightly each time he swallowed. I loved that skin right there on his throat, the softest, most secret place I knew." (actually, this whole paragraph)

And I, again, love the physicality. Like the mucky birth and dotted hair. Love <3

Okay, I think I'll need to rework this a little! Haha. The problem is I can have something in my head and be swept up, and then I forget to include certain details--I skimp, basically, which doesn't always work.

Edmund is a boy who's friends with Delilah! So yes, that part is right. Both of them have the same birthday, so they're celebrating together. No, the children aren't ghosts, altho that'd be kind of a cool twist (albeit sad...), and you got it right the second time! You caught that it was a different guy than Tom! I just wanted to make sure that people were noticing that!

Thank you for reading!! Seriously, so much! And for helping me to make this better, because you really do! <3

okay yes I was going to say something about that but I wasn't sure if I was right--I felt that either Tom was a ghost, or she was having some sort of affair with Tom while married to someone else?? Or she was having an affair with someone else while married to Tom?? I wasn't 100\% sure.

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

.......Erin, can I just say how relieved I am that you had the ghost idea, too? I was about to think my imagination ran wild with that one... :P (However, we could play with that metaphysically, and say that having an affair is like rendering one person a ghost, because it's almost impossible to keep both men "alive" in your life --??)

I love it, and I love their dynamic in the petstore. Looking forward to more!

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

I love it, and I love their dynamic in the petstore. Looking forward to more!

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond