She sat me down to the cake. It was a frowning face. She said, “Daddy? Guess what? Birthday wishes to yoooooouuuuu!”
I could not speak. My jaw had been wired shut in the early AM.
“And—” She was very bouncy and bubbly. “There’s a little bomb in there. Bombs are killers. Don’t ask me what type. I only know it’s there and rigged and you should be careful. Did you see how careful I was! Don’t be mad.”
I was motioning, but she kept on.
“It’s really because Henry has a surplus. He thinks only of war. It infects our space and lives. If I crane my neck I can see these things from my spot on the couch. Peeking out. So I gave him an ultimatum, Dad. I ran the flag up that pole, like you always said. Finally, he gave in— God he loves these things! He just loves them. And, of course, you know that I hate you.” Then she curtsied and left without closing the door.
I sat awhile, looking around. I considered the cake. Its meaning. I thought to split the frown-face down the middle and be done. To be done would be nice. There has to be some distinction between being suicidal and feeling pangs at the thought of being done. But we don’t know it, and so we do not talk openly about these things. Soon I stood and got my jello squeeze tubes out of the fridge. I pressed one to the back of my molars, to that little byway. Lemon yellow was diminishing returns, yet I kept on with the squeeze. I endured. It went down.
I returned with a knife but decided to sidle past the cake and into the bedroom and the closet and play my drum for a while. This felt meaningful and good. I even cried. Life’s chips were down and the rudiments were coming off clean. If this was the end, it tasted fine. I smoked. I drank shitty stout through a straw. I washed my face and hands. I put my latest wood carving—a sad, sullen profile piece—in a duffle bag along with my autographed Robert Parish and a note card filled with some of my ideas and philosophies. I wrote JESS on the bag and set it on the table. Then I put on a heavy coat and a hockey mask and set my hands at the edges of the cake platter.
It lifted off well and did not blow. The house would save.
I heel-toed to the door. I used the wheelchair ramp. I approached the empty can in the street and thought how I ought to have first lined it with sofa cushions. Then I smiled a stupid smile— and dropped the cake in.
I closed the lid. A few neighbors gawked and I waved at them. Then I looked to that enormous bridge not too far off, our looming state monument. I thought of the men who built it. Their hearts. Not their will, but their actual beating hearts. Of how they fucked each other’s wives on the side. Finally, I recalled a few basic needs and got in my little blue Escort with its disintegrating dash and drove the ten blocks to Dennis’ place and got out.
Dennis was waiting in the carport in his stance. A confident, pear-shaped man who believed I was both authentic and shitty and could not decide what to feel toward me.
“She came by,” he said, about my daughter. “Don’t take it personal. She’s always come by to give me the rundown on her life, even in high school. She showed me your cake, Wade, but I tell you I wouldn’t pass judgement either way. I only said how I knew life was complicated and that she ought to regard her instinct, which is very middle-road advice.”
“You’re a good person,” I said.
“Instinct is gut. I’ve been reading how there’s a lot of power there. Even wisdom. The brain is total fear and trauma. With gut we write poems and survive the bush.”
Then he cradled his paunch and pitied me.
“Take heart. It’s no use drawing straight lines between your history with Jess and that murder cake. It’s not wise. Heck, my daughters love me and I’m a career pornographer.”
He motioned to the house. It looked wholesome and plain.
“I’ve got two poor souls in there right now just waiting. They’re new. And they’ve got to do it in this car of yours.”
“Will they make it through?”
“They always do. Everyone makes it. So to circle back, this flick gets shot one way or the other, and do you think my daughters are beaming over it? Do they say Hell yes, Dad. Killer porn! Of course they don’t. They recalibrate. How to teach a child to find other avenues toward love and acceptance— now that’s the trophy. That’s how you win your life.
Dennis produced cash and rifled through it.
“You said seven-fifty?”
“I’ve only got seven”
I took the cash and gave the car keys.
“Now tread lightly near that oak,” he said. “The last five to leave with cash have been horribly mugged there. It’s an epidemic and you’re already in bad shape. I’ve told the police chief, but he’s a fattening turd. Stands to reason the beatings will continue.”
We shook hands. Dennis went inside and began hollering. I could not decide what to feel toward him. Meanwhile, I passed the oak just fine.