No note was left to explain the white cake sitting on the kitchen counter. The house was dark, empty, and silent, my mother at the bakery; my younger brother at his dad’s for the weekend. I checked the lotería-themed calendar next to the front door. It was the month of La Pera.
There wasn’t a birthday marked on the calendar. In fact, we didn’t have anything to attend until my cousin’s wedding in two months.
I pulled out my phone and texted my mom: “What’s the cake for?”
Three little chat bubbles appeared in the bottom left screen. “Por tu prima. To taste test for the wedding.”
I looked back at the cake and then my phone buzzed again.
“Don’t touch it. You don’t need the sugar.” Followed by a heart-faced emoji. My face grew warm as I stared at the cake in front of me.
The cake portrayed a side of my mom I never got to see. She was very traditional, strict, and stubborn, but everything she baked was soft and delicate. The purple icing looked fluffy and mouth-melting. Edible lilacs were placed delicately around the cake emulating a pure garden. But most importantly, the cake looked sweet. Really sweet.
My cousin Rosa was the family-favorite. She had a good job as an accountant and was getting married to a nice white man named John. She was Magna Cum Laude in college and worked several internships during school. And according to my family, the most important factor despite all of those achievements was that she had the perfect body: long legs, flat stomach, and curves. At birthday celebrations, my grandma always kissed her on the cheek saying, “you look b-oo-ti-ful.” Rosa would smile big in return, while later telling me that she and John had been fighting lately and she didn’t enjoy her job. No one even thought to ask.
Then when I went in for a hug, I could feel my abuela’s eyes examining my body, my face, and internally analyzing all of my life decisions. I had even lost five pounds the last time I saw her.
“You are eating good, mija,” she said smiling.
I smiled back and said yes.
The comments used to get to me, but then I’d look at my family and noticed we were all similar shapes and sizes, standing in line to be told the same things. I’d watch my aunts go in for a hug and hear the hushed “you are eating good” or “you don’t eat enough.” I often wondered what it would take for someone to eat the perfect, right amount. And when my mom went up, she was told the same as me. Her brow would twitch almost unnoticeably as she hid behind a plastered smile. Ever since then I realized we were all the same, me and my mom, my aunties, my abuela. We would all spend the rest of day sucking in our bodies trying to take up the least amount of space as if we could become as light as air itself. When in reality, all we needed was to just let go.
I couldn’t remember the last time my mother baked a creation for me. Maybe for my birthday last year. I could still taste the milky chocolate tres leches on my tongue. What flavor had she used for my cousin?
I stroked the bottom layer with my index finger and tasted the icing. Pure sugar with hints of lavender. I did it again, the hint of lavender was stronger this time. Memories of past times she baked me cakes came to mind in each bite. When I graduated high school. When I barely passed college. When my first poem was published. When Elena broke my heart.
My mother once said that sweets were the best way to show a person you loved them because they could taste if it were true. Each bite of cake traveled down my throat and collected in the pit of my stomach. My body filled and swelled with lavender frosting, milky crumbles, and plain sugar. Even though the cake wasn’t intended for me, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was mine. A way to digest my mother’s love as each piece traveled down my throat, moving throughout the entirety of my body, filling my insides with sugar and cream.
I hadn’t realized my eyes were closed. I opened them to find the cake halfway eaten, chocolate crumbles and white icing painted the counter. As soon as I was about to panic, the sugar high took over, and all I could feel was the rush.
A warm, shining sun poured into the kitchen. Giddiness wiggled my fingertips. The laughter from the neighborhood kids playing outside filled the house. I unbuttoned my jeans and sat back in the kitchen chair, smiling as sugar-induced endorphins pumped through my body.
I knew I still needed to confess what I’d done. I snapped a picture of the destroyed cake and sent it to my cousin with a text saying, “I’m so sorry.”
It didn’t take long for her to respond.
If you loved it that much then that’s what we’re going with. <3
Her nonchalant response surprised me. I did a terrible thing but she shrugged it off as if it was nothing. I realized that when it came to Rosa, people only saw her on the surface, but not the goodness underneath. She was just a sweet girl. Body didn’t have anything to do with it.
Another text. I need a break from John and this boring football game. I’m coming over right now to have a taste. Espérame.
I set aside a piece of cake from the untouched corner for my mother and placed it in the fridge. Outside my kitchen window, I saw bright orange leaves taking up my neighbors’ lawns and the sunshine filling up the outdoors. As I waited for Rosa, I took a deep breath and felt my body expand, taking up the space around me. I sat like that for a good while, feeling my body fully form. Acknowledging and embracing its existence. Like the moon taking its rightful place in the sky.
—Diamond Braxton (The Hellebore)