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She is made of cake
This was written for the birthday celebration of Blank Street Writers, a writing community in Sheffield, UK. We’ve been running Blank Street for five years now, with hundreds of members and five anthologies of writing published in that time. Aside from our annual Short Story Slam, we run all kind of social events for local writers, including parties like this one.
The theme of this party was ‘cake’.
This is what I wrote in response to that prompt. I hope you enjoy it
She is made of cake.
The duvet is tucked beneath her, sealing her away from him but he finds his way through.
"I need you to help me," she says. "Stop bringing things home from work. The house is full of sugar. If it's there, I'll eat it."
"I've got my hiding places."
"I found your stash."
"Chocolate covered pretzels."
Another kiss. The same shoulder. Teeth touch skin. Hands spreads across her like butter.
"I want you", he says, breathing mint toothpaste into her ear.
He is lying. Obviously. He is keeping himself awake, saying these things right now because he is a good person and because he wants her to know it and because she is a terrible person for wanting to him to stop.
A cry shivers across them from the other room. Baby is hungry.
"You can turn on the light," he says, hiding beneath the covers.
"It's OK," she says as she slips from the covers. "Go back to sleep."
In the morning, she tips thirty grams of cornflakes into a bowl and leaves them to wilt while she warms Baby's bottle. Her skin itches all over. She must have eaten something. Allergies creep across her like ivy. She scrolls through baby groups and marketplace offerings as she scratches at her leg. When did she start liking these pages? When did potties replace politics?
He tickles her behind as he breezes past, reaching for the protein powder.
"We need more milk," she says as he empties the bottle into the mixer. He will see other bums at the gym - arses wrapped in leggings that don't stretched thin at the hips.
"I'll pick some up on the way home," he says over the grind of the motor. Baby starts to cry. He empties the beaker into a glass and drains it in one go. She picks up Baby. As she does, he reaches for her. Fingers sink in like a foot into wet mud.
She is a slack bag of water.
She is a deflating balloon.
"Delicious," he says and pokes Baby goodbye.
She prepares a pot of finger food. Rusks. Grapes halved and peeled. She packs extra wipes and refreshes the nappy sacks. The bag was a Christmas present. Chloe Kids. Her first designer bag. When she opened it, her smile was full and honest and confident and surprised and glowing and pleased with him and excited by the prospect of filling the bag with everything she had never carried before.
"It's got pockets on the inside," he said, pointing at the separate labels for talc and bum cream. "It's got a space for everything."
"It's brilliant. Thank you. I love it."
Her wallet sinks into dog-eared nappies and old receipts.
At the cafe, she eats pistachio sponge and checks her phone for distractions. WhatsApp is full of work messages. None of them make sense anymore. They are words without context; jokes consisting only of punchlines and she is expected to laugh cold turkey. There is a new name in the chat - her maternity leave cover: Graham. He is full of new ideas. Management are listening. It's very exciting times.
She puts her phone away and turns back to The Girls. Hattie is telling them she has bought herself a body pillow. It's like a giant cuddly bear. Lets her snuggle all night without bothering Michael. She gets so hot these days it's impossible for him to sleep. Nobody is listening. They are watching Amy pick snot out of Theo's nose. His podgy arms bat her away but tears will not stop her. They urge her on. This victory will belong to all of them.
Jackie is rooting desperately through her Mothercare rucksack while the brown patch on Timothy's baby grow continues to spread. Does anyone have spare wipes?
The itching is driving her mad by the time she gets home. Her fat trembles beneath her skin, burning in all the wrong ways. She drops Baby into the rocking chair and switches on the motor. He keeps screaming but the buzz softens the sound.
There has to be a cream in the cupboard - something to take the edge off. The Anthisan is empty. It is too late for Jungle Formula. Whatever is irritating her has already bitten. She downs a double dose of paracetamol and follows it with the final three ibuprofen in the packet.
Her thighs are on fire.
There are ants crawling beneath her skin.
She pulls down her leggings without checking to see if the kitchen blinds are drawn and lets her fingernails run free across her thigh. She is scratching burned food from the pan. She is rubbing the foil from the lottery card. She is peeling paper from the walls.
Something catches. A blackhead. A lump. An ingrowing hair.
Ah. That's the spot. Right there.
She flicks at the head with a nail: picking, plucking, hooking - trying to pry the foreign body free from her flesh. This is where the insect bit. This is where the bastard bled her, she thinks. She tries a new angle.
Baby is crying again. Damn it. She crouches by the rocking chair, leggings around her ankles, still scratching.
Goochi gucci gu. Prada radah rah.
The free edge of her nail finds purchase and levers up a plug of skin. It is like popping a cork. It is like a sigh after the deepest of yawns.
She strokes Baby's head with one hand, fingers the lump loose from the hole with the other.
Hush now, Baby. Hush now, little one. Mama's here. Mama's here.
It feels big. Really big. It feels big as a marble between finger and thumb as she rolls it back and forth. No. That's ridiculous. She is imagining it. It's the over-the-counter painkillers interacting with something she had at Yummy Mummies.
She looks down.
The plug of skin is a half inch across. It is a half inch deep: a pristine circle the size and shape of the cap from a bottle of vanilla essence.
She rolls it between her fingers like a lump of playdough. How did it find its way into her leggings.
But it is not a lump of playdough.
Half way down her thigh there is a matching hole, just right of centre. A half inch across. A half inch deep. There is no blood. The skin drops down crisply like it has been cut by a tiny cookie cutter, right down to the subcutaneous fat. The hole is clean. The hole is dry.
Right down to the subcutaneous fat.
There is no subcutaneous fat.
She covers it with a hand.
She must be seeing things.
Her underflesh is a delicate golden brown. It has the pockmarked texture of sponge cake.
She pokes a finger inside, sliding it beneath the skin, pulling it away from the numbness underneath.
She pushes down her panic and tries to refit the plug but the skin has shrunk back from the opening like water from the shore. The puck of flesh rattles around the rim with room to spare, swirling like a spirograph. She loses her grip, drops it and it skitters out of sight.
Her leg is nothing but cake and loose skin.
She needs something to fill the hole. Infection could set in any moment. She stands, relieved that her leg still works fine. She claws at the medicine cupboard and discovers they are all out of bandages or they never had any bandages. She could rip up an old shirt like they do on TV and use that to bind the wound. Would that work? Would it last until she reached the hospital? Would it be enough to soak up all the blood?
There is no blood, she reminds herself.
I’m made of cake, she says as if by articulating the ridiculous she could banish it.
At least Baby is quiet.
Her leggings are still around her ankles and she does not care. She waddles to the larder. Cling film? Out. Tin foil? It slips from her leg with nothing to stick to.
I’m made of cake. I’m made of cake. I’m made of cake.
She needs something sterile. She needs something now. Who knows what would happen if she leaves it uncovered.
There is a sealed slab of marzipan on the top shelf, left over from Christmas. At least it’s sterile.
She rips open the packet.
I am made of cake.
She rolls out a ball and flattens it in the palm of her hand and squashes it in. It fits like a puzzle piece. She presses down at the edges, insuring a good seal.
It only has to last until she gets to hospital, she tells herself.
She pulls up her leggings, hauls her bag onto her shoulder and picks up Baby. She is still holding the packet of marzipan when she gets to the door. It opens before she can reach for the handle.
He steps inside before she can escape.
He starts talking before she can explain what has happened.
"You would not believe the day I have had," as he drops down his bag. "It's been non-stop," as he takes off his jacket. "Absolute chaos," as he pries off his shoes. He reaches for the packet in her hand and pulls himself off a nub to pop it into his mouth. Chews. "Delicious," kissing Baby.
He strolls through to the other room and lands himself on the couch with a sigh.
She holds the door in her hand, Baby in the other arm.
"I’m made of cake," she says.
He has turned on the television.
She holds the door with one arm.
Baby in the other.
The door in one arm.
Baby in the other.
She shuts the door.
It is a long and slow evening. The TV is on downstairs. Baby is fed and finally asleep. The nursery smells of white chocolate.
She sits in the feeding chair and strokes her leg. The patch feels beautifully smooth beneath her leggings.
There is a chance she imagined it. There is a chance she is not imagining it. She is not sure which one is worse.
Baby takes short, sharp breaths. There is a staggered inhale and then a gentle sigh.
She is under a lot of stress. These things are normal. It’s just her imagination resisting the atrophy of motherhood. But still, she has to check.
She makes her way into the bathroom and blinds herself with the light. She locks the door and sits on the throne. In the harsh brightness of LED spotlights she can see where the marzipan has fused with her skin. There are tiny pores in its pinky fleshness. It looks just like real skin but she can still make out the edges. She picks at them and they peel upward. She pulls and the plug comes loose. She presses it back immediately and smoothes it down.
That night he wants to make love.
She is too scared to let him; too scared to disappoint him. She finishes him with her hands and he falls asleep. Later she will touch herself in the hours between feeds, one hand between her legs and the other stroking the patch on her thigh.
Baby doesn’t wake until late the next morning. She stays in bed while the husband clatters in the kitchen, only emerging after she hears the front door click shut.
Baby hasn’t woken since its feed last night. Slept right through. There’s a first time for everything. She listens to its breathing in the doorway and wonders how long can a baby sleep before you should start to get worried? How much sleep is too much sleep?
She goes downstairs and tips yesterday’s cornflakes into the bin. She takes out the Baby’s bottles from the sterilizer, rinses them under the tap and leaves them to dry on the draining board. She sits at the kitchen table and her dressing gown falls away from her thigh. It’s still there: the patch of pristine marzipan skin. She was not dreaming. When she picks at it this time, it tears a strip two inches wide and it still doesn’t hurt. She pulls it until a six inch strip comes away, skin on one side, almond paste the other. There are flecks of sponge on the underside where it has been pulled from the flesh. She picks at it; squeezes the crumb between two fingers and pops it in her mouth.
Baby is awake. She leaves the skin on the kitchen table and heads upstairs.
"I am made of cake," she thinks as she lifts Baby from the cot and goes downstairs.
There is a strip of ordinary marzipan on the kitchen table. She checks the wound on her leg. It is still there. Golden brown insides glow in the morning light.
She warms Baby’s bottle and when she comes back to the table, the marzipan is gone. There are crumbs caught on Baby’s sticky fingers.
She swears. She swears again. Expletives spill like flour.
Baby giggles and speaks: "Mama."
She stops swearing.
It is a first taste of language, soft and gentle as vanilla sponge.
"Yes," she says, lifting him up. "It’s Mama. Mama. Good boy."
Before lunch she takes the stroller to the shops and fills its carrier with goods from the baking section. It’s a struggle to push the thing back up the hill. Baby gurgles the whole way. Mamamama.
When they get home, the skin comes away easily. A knife carves away the flesh in layers. She thins her legs, hauls huge chunks from her belly and skims her arms like skimming cream from milk. As She covers herself with fresh marzipan rolled flat on the kitchen table. A healthy portion of apricot jam helps it stick.
She eats as she goes, sharing the offcuts with Baby. Before she got pregnant, she promised herself she would never feed her children sugar. Now his belly is distended with her own discarded body parts. He dozes in his chair as she works, rewarding her with dulcet murmurs and half-formed pseudo-words whenever he wakes, sticky and delicious. They giggle and gurn at each other, mouths full.
When her husband arrives home from work, she wastes no time. She drags him upstairs and pulls the clothes from him like peel from an orange. His work-weary scent fills the room but she does not care. She has something to show him.
After he asks her where that come from and she smiles.
"I’ve had a good day."
His hand slips over her new curves. He nibbles at her shoulder and murmurs: "You smell wonderful."
The next morning she kisses him goodbye at the doo, long and lingering. She throws away yesterday’s cornflakes and pours herself a new bowl. Leaves it on the side. Baby is awake, giggling in his high chair. They are laughing again on WhatsApp. She flicks through the feeds instead. Someone is the street across is selling a Fisher Price Activity Desk. She doesn’t need it. She’ll buy one new. She scrolls past and forgets.
The machine beeps, letting her know his bottle is warm but he won’t take it this morning.
"Open up silly one," she urges as he rasps away the rubber nipple. It isn't long before she gives up. A gentle stroke to his cheek. "What am I going to do with you now," she says. "You’ve got to eat something."
He catches her hand with his fat little fingers. Tiny nails pinch into her skin.
The marzipan comes away in clumps.
She smiles. She has become Mama. His Mama.
"Good boy," she says. His hand mushes against his mouth. Her love is on his lips, glistening sweet. Her name is on his tongue. “Good boy.”
I hope you had fun with this.
If you enjoyed it, you might also like my newsletter novel Kingdom,:an epic eco-fantasy re
ased chapter by chapter.
Find archived chapters, short fictions and more at www.olliefrancis.co.uk.
Series one of Kingdom was originally released as a podcast in 2022, found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and wherever else you can listen.
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