I’ve always been a little grumpy. When I was a baby, I puked and cried no matter my mood. Nowadays I swallow my puke. It’s a concession I make to get along.
The rites of youth bored me. I didn’t care for school. Never had friends or hobbies. Neither climb of the career ladder nor walk of the wedding aisle stopped my tummy gurgling.
My beloved blocked the television.
“Aren’t you getting a cake? It’s your daughter’s fourth birthday. Remember? Hello?”
“What kind of cake are you getting? We need mustard, too.”
“I want a cookie cake,” Arlanda said.
“You don’t have a choice,” yelled Yolanda. “Will you tell her?”
I shoved away the couch and headed for the door. My wife followed me, arms akimbo.
“I suppose I’ll get an ice cream cake,” I said to the wall.
“I don’t even like cake.”
What? I didn’t know that. Who doesn’t like cake? My high school sweetheart, the mother of my child, doesn’t like cake. I took the knowledge on the chin and stumbled backwards out the door.
“Don’t walk on the grass, that’s where people piss and shit!”
The door slammed shut.
Tears flooded the streets as I taxied toward the supermarket. Flashing halos zigzagged across my vision. I went blind in my left eye and blew a stop sign. Though I couldn’t see the road, I couldn’t turn back without cake. The thought of frosting tickled my teeth. I snapped the blinker and swung into a gas station. I sat there a minute, dreaming of zebra cakes.
Someone tapped my window. I almost jumped out of my skin. The man looked like trouble. His bandana was red and his nose was red and his eyes were so big behind his glasses that I was sure he could see my heart slamming out my chest. A cigarette glowed between his muddy fingers. I cracked the window a little. He slurred through his yellow smile like a deaf man.
“Don’t I know you?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What?” The deaf man shrugged. “It’s your daughter’s big day, right?”
“How did you know?”
“There’re only so many days in a year.”
The deaf man flicked his half-eaten cigarette in the sewer and immediately bit into another. I suppose I should’ve been upset that this stranger knew anything about my family, but I didn’t blame him. My wife is somehow responsible.
“You need cake?”
“Cake, cake, do you need any cake? Here, come here.”
The deaf man turned toward a piebald pickup parked at the pump opposite. I smeared my face against its cool window. My migraine miraculously vanished as I beheld stacks and stacks of plump cakes in windowed boxes. The lock pin sprang. I immediately tore open the door and swallowed the sweet stink of buttercream.
“Take your pick. I’ll be right back.”
Watching the deaf man waddle across the parking lot, the most unpleasant impulse seized mind and muscle. My migraine returned, my vision checkered, and I about broke a canine grinding my teeth. I acted on the impulse and shoveled every last cake into my trunk while the man fumbled for change at the register.
He doesn’t need the sweets. He’s very out of shape. Maybe the deaf man secretly meant to humiliate me. Surely the deaf man, having so much cake to throw around, thinks he’s my superior. He’s showing off. But that’s not why I’m robbing this deaf man blind. It’s because he belongs to a lesser socioeconomic caste and doesn’t deserve the common courtesies afforded productive members of polite society. That’s right. Clay pots ought not to keep company with metal pots.
I peeled out and over the curb. Though I popped a tire on a fire hydrant, I didn’t have time to stop. I was almost home. Watching my rearview for the pickup, I turned up the radio, picked my scalp and screamed.
The screen door whapped shut behind me. I danced into the kitchen and slammed a cake on the table. My girls immediately materialized. I slurped the slobber surrounding my smile and faced them.
“What have you done?” She stammered.
Arlanda peeked around her mother’s spanx.
“Is daddy crazy?”
I had devoured an entire cake during a long red light. Chocolate frosting masked my face. Marshmallow fluff pleated my seersucker. Sugar jangled in my blood and lightning burned at the ends of my fingers. My jaw locked.
“Happy birthday,” I whispered through black teeth.
I lurched toward my daughter, sticky fingers curled into claws at the ends of my meathook arms. Arlanda whimpered as I hoisted her onto my shoulders.
“Here’s your cake, sweetie.”
She stopped pulling my hair and cooed.
“It looks yummy. What flavor is it?”
“Let’s find out.”
I unsheathed my hunting knife and took aim, but a muffled scream repelled me. I glanced at my wife, who pointed at the cake, a hand over her mouth. As the scream intensified, the cake bubbled and swelled, taking the appearance of moldy bread. The spidery eyelashes I had neglected to pluck parted for a beady pair of blood blisters. Jagged whiskers sprouted upon droopy jowls.
Finally, the middle of the cake tore into two rows of rotten teeth. A taffy tongue wagged between them like a fat serpent. The stench of coffee and cigarettes soured the air. A bubble of acid burst in the back of my throat. I belched.
“Excuse you,” my wife snapped.
The scream tapered into a coughing fit. The cake looked so feeble, so miserable. I wanted to hug the cake, but I had to pretend to protect my family.
“I don’t do birthdays,” the cake grumbled between gasps.
“You have to, it’s the law,” I said, trying to be firm.
“To hell with the laws of man and God. It’s my dying wish not to suffer another goddamn birthday.”
My wife crossed her arms.
“You bought a dying cake?”
“I thought it was already dead.”
“Actually, your husband abducted me at a gas station.”
My girls crinkled their noses and bore their teeth.
“No! Don’t listen to him! You wouldn’t feed a turkey on Thanksgiving or unhand a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, would you? No. No, you wouldn’t! That’s just ridiculous.”
I sneered at the cake.
“Your pathetic charade won’t save your life.”
I raised my knife. But my wife shielded the cake.
“I’ll cut the cake when you’re dead,” she screamed. “I hate liars.”
“Don’t kill my talking cake, daddy!”
The cake, I knew, was capable of more than talk. The cake was disturbed. The cake was grumpy.
“I’m taking you all hostage,” wheezed the grumpy cake.
Arlanda hugged the grumpy cake. It tousled her hair with its tongue, drooling pungent yellow batter all over her head.
“Yuck! You got your hair in my mouth!”
“Sorry, Mister Cake!”
My wife beamed as Arlanda dug strands of her hair out of the cake’s goopy mouth. Arlanda giggled.
“Don’t you tickle my daughter you goddamn psycho.”
“Where the hell are your manners, Tangier? We have a guest! Is this how you’re going to behave at the party?”
“You don’t even like cake!”
“Liar, liar, pants on fire!”
The cake cleared its throat. Snotty sprinkles splattered everywhere.
“I’m going to kill you all if my wish goes unfulfilled. As a matter of fact, I have another wish.”
Yolanda lit a candle and cuddled the cake.
“Make your wish.”
The cake glared at me.
“You leave. I’d like to be alone with the ladies.”
“Yeah, dad, girls only.”
Arlanda giggled and stuck out her tongue.
I did what was asked of me. In fact, I did one better and locked myself in the powder room.
I faced the vanity. The layer of frosting on my face couldn’t smooth the purple lumps under my colorless eyes, the caves and trenches of my pocked skin. I tried to smile, but I couldn’t work my face. I think I’m colorblind, asthmatic, too. My scaly scalp shined between frog fine hairs.
My twelfth birthday was a disaster. Ask most of my friends, they can show you their disfigurements. But they didn’t have it nearly as bad as me. A wasp stung my palm. My blood has been poisonous ever since. I figure that’s what made the cake so grumpy. It can smell my poisonous blood.
I dangled my head over the toilet. Puke still speckled the woodwork from the last time I got sick. I’d missed the toilet by a mile. Spit dribbled down my chin and I shuddered.
“Why doesn’t that stupid cake like me?”
I caught my reflection in the toilet water and breathed a whiff of shit. Then I jumped upon the toilet and violently evacuated my bowels. I twitched like a squashed bug as my throbbing rectum surpassed my buttocks and blackened the water. The blowback soaked my thighs. After the deluge, I slouched like a gargoyle and cried.
I mummified my hand in toilet paper and swiped delicately at my dark side. The tissue liquefied, wetting my fingers. Reaching for more, I struck cardboard. My eyes watered again. I tried to call for help, but my voice snagged somewhere in my belly. My puckered sphincter continued to spigot clumpy liquid in painful bursts that hurt my tailbone. I pounded on the door. Only ignorant laughter seeped through.
My cell phone jangled.
“Hey, it’s me,” said the deaf man.
“What do you want? I’m busy.”
“I’m in jail.”
“That’s not my problem.” I took a deep breath. “Listen, could you possibly bring me some toilet paper?”
“The cake doesn’t like you, huh.”
My thighs grew goose bumps.
“It yelled at me. I don’t know what I did.”
“Alright, I’ll send someone.”
The line died. Paper party napkins slipped under the door. They were so scratchy. I bled, and the toilet flooded.
I quick stuffed my rectum back inside my body and about broke down the bathroom door. The doorbell bleeped again, buried beneath the giggles bubbling from the kitchen. I tucked my shirt and turned the knob.
“You dropped your pocket.”
The visitor guffawed as I combed the doormat on all fours.
“I’m just kidding.”
I stood back up. My cheeks seared.
“You’re not funny.”
“I’m not a comedian. So, I understand you’re at odds with a cake.”
“Wrong! The cake hates me. I didn’t even do anything. I just wanted to be friends. I still want to be friends, but I think the cake ought to be disciplined for my trouble. It’s only fair.”
The visitor darkened.
“What did you have in mind?”
“That’s your job.”
“What’re your credentials?”
“I’m a friend of a friend.”
I balled my fists and stomped a foot. The visitor winced.
“You’re awfully quick to anger.”
“I’m just having a bad day,” I burped. “Please, make yourself at home. What’s mine is yours.” I swept the visitor into the foyer. “Sit there, on the newspapers. Can I interest you in some cake? There’s more. But this cake is dead. Wait here.”
I jogged to my car, popping the trunk by remote control. Cigarettes and coffee singed my nostrils as umpteen cakes screamed in my face. I should have known. Instead, I grabbed expired gelato from the freezer in the garage.
“I need a spoon,” my visitor whined, making a face at the gooey film topping his treat.
“Use your tongue,” I said, mounting a rocking horse.
“By the way, here’s a little something for kiddo.”
I tore open the envelope. Two dollars wrapped in a card. I pocketed the cash and crumpled the card.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked, chucking the wad of cardboard over my shoulder.
“Beats me. I think best in the shower.”
I smiled unconvincingly. The little plastic spoons shook in my remaining pocket. My tongue was orange, my hands spotted. Laughter soaked through the walls and boxed my ears. My visitor leaned forward menacingly.
“I’d like to use your bathroom.”
I thumbed my nose.
“Cross your legs, you lazy vegetable. I want results. I want that stupid cake to like me. Well? I’m waiting!”
My newspapers toppled over as the stranger stood. He took a long cold look at me as I rocked upon the wooden horse licking my gelato.
“It’s my opinion that the cake is mentally sound. You’re unlikeable.”
I snuck back into the kitchen. My wife cradled the sleeping cake in her lap. Arlanda lay on the floor, drawing a picture of her, mom, and the cake holding hands. I floated in the background, my eyes crossed out.
“He’s my new daddy,” Arlanda whispered.
“Shush,” Yolanda screeched.
The cake cracked its eyes.
“I’ve made up my mind,” the cake moaned. “I want a big party. I want piñatas and piggyback rides. And I want jellybeans for every guest. Invite all my friends; they’re in your trunk.”
“Excuse me, I just want to clarify something—what’s in your trunk?”
I sweat, I convulsed. I stank worse than a drunk.
“A brand new puppy, that’s what. For my one and only daughter.”
I tried to blow Arlanda a kiss, but I accidentally spit in her face. I can’t do anything right.
“You’re disgusting, daddy.”
A crash upstairs silenced everyone. My girls squeezed the cake and stared at the shivering chandelier. I quietly volunteered to investigate.
Who did I find but the deaf man bleeding out on my carpet? He waved.
“I’m on the lamb.”
My throat constricted.
“Can I stay here for a couple nights?”
Puke swelled my cheeks. Minding my manners, I swallowed and smiled, my eyes submerged in tears.
“I’ll have to ask my wife.”
“Okay,” he mumbled, distracted by his phone. “Could you dress my wounds, too? Thanks.”
“I’m kind of in the middle of something,” I muttered, one foot out the door.
“—but I gave you cake.”
“Alright, fine. I’ll be right back with some toilet paper.”
I slipped back downstairs. My girls were busy streaming streamers and sticking stickers. The cake groaned.
“What the fuck? Where’s the party at, bitches?”
“We’re decorating, darling,” my wife replied in a cute voice I’d never heard before.
“But I’m bored. Let’s open presents now, or else I’ll maim someone.”
“We can’t open presents until after sex!”
“Sex smells bad. Farts are funny. Won’t you fart in my face, little girl?”
Arlanda looked at me and my beloved with eyes full of hope.
“No, honey, you’re not allowed to fart on the cake,” I said.
Arlanda pouted. The grumpy cake growled.
“No one asked you, party pooper.”
“What’s the matter, Tangier? They’re just having fun.”
“I didn’t raise my daughter to fart on cakes for every Tom, Dick, and Harry who asks.”
“You’re right. You didn’t raise your daughter at all. You haven’t lifted a finger in years. You’re a deadbeat dad. It’s nothing to brag about.”
Arlanda started to cry.
“No, don’t! I hate it when you guys fight!”
“Hello? What about me? I’m not having FUN,” the cake shrieked. “I want to dance. I’ve never danced before. Teach me how to dance. Do the electric slide.”
No one moved.
“I SAID DO IT! FUCKING DO IT! DO THE FUCKING ELECTRIC SLIDE OR YOU’RE ALL FUCKING DEAD!”
We did the electric slide in silence. Four side steps to the right, four side steps to the left, two steps back, three step-touch, pivot and brush, ad nauseam. My wife wept, but they seemed tears of joy like those she cried on our wedding day, only harder, happier.
“FASTER FASTER I’LL KILL YOU ALL IF YOU DON’T DANCE FASTER, FASTER DAMN YOU FASTER!”
I tried, but I got dizzy. I began to step out of time, to flail and wobble. Finally, I stopped the electric slide in defiance.
“WHAT THE HELL’S WRONG WITH YOU! DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO LEAVE? THIS! THIS IS WHY! WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, YOU PATHETIC MAN?”
I swear I had the best comeback. It was right on the tip of my tongue. But as soon as I opened my mouth, I puked. I seemed to puke up every piece of cake I had ever eaten, every little cupcake, every lick of a frosted whisk, sarcastically resurrected as projectile vomit and launched through my nostrils. My wife gasped.
“Tangier! Tangier, STOP! Please, just STOP! Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”
“Eww, daddy, you’re so disgusting!”
The grumpy cake snorted.
“BORING. I’m bored. I want to play a goddamn game now!”
“I know a game we can play,” I said. I summoned the last of my strength and swallowed back a wave of bile. “Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker’s man . . .”
The grumpy cake splattered under my palms. Cutting a finger on a tooth, I clapped harder. I balled my fists and punched the screaming cake. Soggy cigarette butts and coffee grounds splashed everywhere as the screams dwindled and died.
My muscles cramped. I teetered backwards and collapsed onto a chair. Arlanda burst into tears and bolted for the bathroom. My wife tilted her head and gave me a funny look.
“What’s the matter with you today, Tangier?”
“I need my medicine,” I whined, snapping my teeth.
“Silly me. I totally forgot.”
Standing on her tippy toes, she opened the cupboard above the fridge and retrieved the cure for grumpiness. The skull on the bottle mirrored my smile. My wife plopped a hairy blob of cake onto a paper plate and drizzled a spoonful of silvery syrup over the top.
I offered her the first bite, but she wagged her head. I shrugged. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Everyone loves cake, especially me. I think I love cake more than anyone. I dunked my face into the slop and squealed.
“Yummy in my tummy!
<em>”there’s no such thing as twitter in christmas town” – hermey the elf</em>