Fiction The Wedding Cake

The Wedding Cake

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Edgar Hawkes stood on his back porch, frustrated rage enclosing him like the smoke from his cigarette.  Behind him in the tiny kitchen, noise of Laurie's puttering punctuated his anger.  She seemed oblivious to his mood, as she did to everything lately.  Already he could hear the tuneless humming that told him she had forgotten his angry outburst.  

To take his mind off the humming Edgar looked at the stars in the clear western sky.  He picked out constellations one by one.  During the day he would have gone to his rock collection and spent time labeling new acquisitions, but at night he depended on the stars to keep him sane.  He lit another cigarette and leaned against the porch rail.  Still over six feet at seventy-three, he took his body seriously in most ways.  Cigarettes were an indulgence he held onto, a small vice to balance his life a little.  

The kitchen light went out and Edgar checked his pocket for the key he always carried, in case Laurie remembered to lock the door but forgot he was outside.  Since the stroke she'd had a year ago, she was likely to do most anything.  Tonight he looked in to see if dinner was ready, and found her clearing away as if it was over.  He rescued the food but not his temper.  She was startled by his yelling but smiling and good natured as she laughed and agreed with him that she must be crazy.  

The constellations named and his cigarette finished, Edgar went inside.  The door was not locked and he chose to believe Laurie had remembered he was outside.  He undressed and lay down beside her.  Without seeming to wake she moved next to him, curling her body into his as he put his arm around her.  The anger eased out of him with the familiar warmth of her body against his.  

For a long time after the stroke, Edgar had expected Laurie to snap back to her old self at any moment.  The doctor had repeatedly told him how lucky they were that her vagueness was the only damage, and Edgar was grateful.  But God, how he missed her.  She was always so sharp, so interested in everything around her.  Now he felt like a monitor, watching for some sign of life in a robot.

Early the next day Edgar was at his rocks when he heard the front door open.  

"Gramma?  You in here? Grampa?"

Edgar called, "Out here, Sara.  How's my girl?"  

"Great!  What're you up to out here?"  His granddaughter Sara was smiling and lovely as always.  

"Oh, just my rocks,"  Edgar said.  "You know how I am."

"Yes, but I love you anyway.  Where's Gramma?"

As if in answer Laurie stepped out on the back porch.  She held up her arms and Sara hugged her.  Laurie's eyes were dancing and for a moment Edgar thought he saw a glimpse of the old Laurie.  He turned away before it was gone, not wanting to see the bland expression return.  

"I've got big news and I wanted to tell you myself."  Sara was fairly bubbling.

"What news, child?"

"Gramma, I'm not a child!"  Sara laughed as if at a secret joke.  "Really I guess that's the news.  I'm not a child anymore and I'm getting married!"

"Married!"  Edgar was startled.  He knew Sara had been serious about a young man for almost a year, and he liked the young man, but he hadn't expected this.  

"Come on, Grampa.  I'm twenty-three.  That's old enough and you like Jeff."

"Well yes, but -- married!"  Edgar tried to sound happy.

"I'll bake your cake!"  Laurie said.  

Sara and Edgar both turned toward Laurie in surprise.  Her expression was clear and lucid and she was smiling.  A real smile, not the usual affable, empty grin she wore like a sticker on the front of her face.  "Don't look so shocked.  I know it's been a long time, but I used to bake them for people all the time.  My cakes were highly prized as I recall!"

"Oh, Gramma!  I'd love to have one of your cakes!  But it's a lot of work, are you sure you can manage?"

"Mind you I wouldn't try for just anybody, but for you I'll manage.  When's the wedding?"

"Jeff was offered the job he wanted back east, but he has to be there on the first of next month.  If we want a honeymoon trip we need to be married right away, so we're shooting for Saturday after next.  That's ten days from tomorrow. "

"Ten days!  What about invitations and flowers and all the trimmings?"  Laurie asked.

"We're going to keep it simple.  I'll invite people over the phone and we'll have the wedding in our back yard.  It's spring and Mother's roses are beautiful."

"And if it rains?"  said Edgar.

"It won't.  I've got to run.  I'm giving notice at my job and I don't want to be late.  Bye."

A quick hug apiece and she was gone.  Edgar laughed at the infallibility of youth and wondered what to do about the cake.  Laurie went back in the house.  

Edgar had been labeling rocks for another hour when Laurie came out to join him.  "I have my list ready.  Let's go."

"What list?  Go where?"

"To the store, silly.  I want to have everything ready to start on the cake.  Some of the coloring I use is hard to find so let's get going."

Amazed, Edgar laid aside his gear and took her to the store.  Many stores in fact.  Laurie was alive again and very excited.  They shopped and picked and rejected and searched during the next several days until every single ingredient and decoration and coloring dye was lined up in the kitchen ready to go.  

Laurie was on the phone to Sara or her mother several times every day.  She fretted over what to wear and how to transport the cake and who would cut it.  Twice she baked a layer to taste and make sure it was delicious enough.  

For his part, Edgar was on the phone to the doctor.  He was afraid of what was happening, afraid it couldn't last.  The doctor said it was a very good sign.  Be grateful Laurie had found something to excite her brain back into gear again.  But Edgar was still afraid because Laurie wasn't just back in gear, she was in overdrive.  

On the Thursday before the wedding it was time to begin the baking.  Edgar was enlisted as chief assistant and in spite of his misgivings he enjoyed every minute of it.  They baked all day long, spreading the finished layers out on racks all over the house.  The cake was to have seven layers and be covered in pastel flowers, a different color for each type of flower.  

Early Friday morning they assembled and frosted the cake with creamy off-white frosting.  It looked beautiful plain.  Edgar took shelves out of the refrigerator so it could stand inside to chill and be ready for decorating later that evening.  They rested awhile in the warm afternoon and then Laurie dyed frosting and made flowers on waxed paper for practice.  

Edgar was seated out of the way, lost in the evening paper, when the tuneless humming began.  At first, he felt paralyzed by the sound, then he slowly walked around the corner into the kitchen.  Laurie had already scraped all the dyed frosting into the trash and was standing in front of the open refrigerator, a puzzled expression on her face.  

"Laurie!  Laurie!"

She turned and looked blankly at him.  "Oh, Edgar.  There you are.  Would you like some cake?"

"Laurie, don't you remember? That's Sara's wedding cake!  Think Laurie.  Think!"  He was shaking her and shouting the words.  When she started to cry he let her go, unable to hold his anger down enough to put his arms around her.  

She sank onto a chair and sobbed into her hands.  "Oh God Edgar, what's happened to me?  I can't even tell if I'm thinking or not."  Edgar laid his hand on her head.

They stayed as they were for what seemed a long time before Edgar realized he was too tired to stand anymore.  Gently he reached down and took Laurie's hands and pulled her to her feet.  "Let's go to bed.  We'll worry about this in the morning."

At daylight they were both awake.  "The wedding's this afternoon,"  Laurie said. 

"Yes, at four o'clock."

"How can I face Sara?  She'll never forgive me."

"It's my fault.  I should have known better."  Edgar felt defeated.

"Better than what?  Better than to think you still have a wife?  Look Edgar, I feel pretty good this morning and I've got an idea.  Just stay with me, in case my train slips off the track again."

Surprised by the strength of her tone, Edgar rose on one elbow to see her face.

"Yes, Edgar,  I know what's happening.  I just don't always know it at the time.  Will you help me?  I want this day to be perfect for Sara."

Edgar smiled and Laurie reached over and hugged him, and for a moment he thought he would cry the way she had, last night.  But he didn't and she was up before he knew it, pulling on her clothes.  "Come on.  Let's go.  This will take awhile.  And bring the checkbook.  We're going to spend some money."

They drove downtown to the warehouse district and found the flower mart.  Inside were bundles and bundles of flowers tightly packed into buckets.  Laurie moved among the buckets, selecting baby roses, daisies and stalks of snap dragons in soft pastel shades.  She picked greenery and lacy filler flowers in a soft off white to match the cake.  Edgar paid the substantial bill without complaint.

The next stop was a fabric store.  Pressed into service, Edgar held the bundles of flowers for Laurie while she picked yards of narrow, delicate silk ribbon to match the flowers.   

Back at home Laurie began the tedious job of cleaning the flowers while Edgar carefully removed the chilled cake from the refrigerator.  He watched her constantly for signs of slipping but she held her own all morning as she carefully trimmed the flowers and placed each gentle blossom with infinite care, directly into the frosting.  The ribbon she fashioned into puffy bows with long streaming ends.  At last she set the china bride and groom on top.  The result was stunning, and Laurie's face was radiant as she accepted Edgar's congratulations.  

  "Tell them to be sure to cut from the back, and to lay the flowers around the bottom edge as they're removed.  That way the cake will look lovely to the very last."  Laurie didn't need to explain why she was passing these instructions to Edgar, instead of issuing them herself at the proper time.  Sadness consumed Edgar's excitement as he followed her into their bedroom to dress for the wedding.  

All afternoon Edgar watched Laurie.  More than a few times he had to take her arm and guide her, but once in a while he caught her eye and knew she was with him completely.  At those moments they shared something special and private.  

The ceremony had a quiet power that touched Edgar as no wedding, including his own, ever had.  He kept thinking of how little he and Laurie had known about each other and about marriage when they had said those words.  He supposed these young people knew more, but he hoped not too much more.  They had a right to discovery.  

The one of a kind cake was an enormous hit and Laurie was showered with compliments.  She was gracious, but distant until Sara slipped up behind her to whisper in her ear.  "Gramma,  you aren't supposed to make the cake prettier than the bride."  

"No chance of that!"  Laurie's tinkling laugh of pleasure brought tears to Edgar's eyes.

Late that night, the festivities safely behind them, Edgar slipped into bed beside Laurie.  She curled into the curve of him.  "You awake?" he asked.

"Yes, love and thanks for today.  It couldn't have been so wonderful without you."  

Before Edgar could say anything, Laurie spoke again.  "I know it's hard, not knowing minute to minute if I'll remember my way home.  It's bad enough for me; it must drive you crazy."

"Oh, I don't know."  Edgar spoke softly, his face against her hair.  "It's kind of like I have a secret lover.  We don't have much chance to be together, but when we are it's sure sweet."

Laurie turned in his arms and kissed him.  "We're together now," she said.   

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