A Husband Should Be Eaten and Not Heard
Aileen sits across from a brown butter cake with strawberry jam filling and strawberry buttercream frosting. The savory plus the soft make it the perfect potential spouse; all she has to do is cut in.
A pink and brown slice framed on a round, white dish. Cold metal fork in her hand. I do. The first bite would be washed down with milk. She had bought her future spouse from the high-end bakery across town: fifty-six dollars and ninety-seven cents.
I think, Aileen says to the cake, hoping it will find her charming, that every person has special taste buds which are activated very rarely in our lives. It’s like this concept in cat training. You must find their superfood. Most cats have a certain thing that once they get a taste, they’ll do anything to get it—even listen to a person. And people are the same way.
She won’t wear a ring, but she keeps touching the spot where a wedding band would be.
Time distorts, Aileen continues, when you’re eating your extra delicious thing. Crumb and cream, strawberry and ginger jam, six layers with excellent cake posture. Two minutes is an hour is two minutes.
There were other spouses: a happy marriage with a grandfather clock that ended when her apartment was robbed. The police officers refused to listen to her describe the hourly chimes, the perfect wood, the gears in such “uncomfortable detail.” Aileen loved rubbing oil into its mahogany frame. Re-winding it to keep perfect time.
A body pillow known as Diane. An affair with a silver plate covered in briny oysters. Aileen thought she had never been more attractive than when she saw herself, lips parted, reflected in its surface. Her third spouse: a covered bridge she caught cheating on her, not once, but three different times. The hours Aileen had spent sitting on that bridge, listening to its creaks and groans, taking photos of its beams. Agreeing over time that the secret to love wasn’t a general fidelity, but a specific, generous attention when you’re together. She could still imitate the bridge’s moans when the wind was twenty miles per hour from the southwest. It had become exhilarating to hear that much pleasure and not be jealous.
She tells the cake only about her two most recent romances. A polaroid camera that only worked indoors because of light leaks. It died. An exercise bike who went by Phil and had a digital computer that encouraged Aileen to keep her heart rate up. Add some tension. You have burned this many calories. You have ridden Phil for three miles. The relationship ended when she began to prefer running outside instead.
Aileen holds the fork in her hands. She leans forward, smells butter, sugar, is that maybe a hint of orange peel?
Oh, Aileen says low and soft, I was once close to marrying a giant plush otter holding a soft, fake fish. The fish’s eyes were made of teal marbles. The kind as a child I liked to roll in my mouth. Sometimes I would try to pick them up with my toes. And the fur was soft on the fish, rough on the otter. I liked holding the otter’s hand. Hearing the rough shuffle of his feet on sidewalk. He was a good listener, too. Insisted on being the big spoon. I had never been held by a lover before. It can be lonely, Aileen emphasizes, to always be the holder, never the held. The cake seems to understand. Its pink frosting almost shimmers.
Aileen trails off. She drums her hands on the table in front of her. She looks around her kitchen as if she has never seen it before. Rubs her eyes. When she opens them, they are bloodshot. Some eyelashes are on her cheeks.
Inside the otter was a man, she says. And there is nothing to love about them. You want a partner who is reliable, will stand by you, will value you, and I have seen nothing in my time on Earth that has made me want to commit my entire life to one of them. A few dates here and there. A conversation over a phone or a computer. But a life?
Aileen looks at her chipped garnet polish manicure, the roses on the fork’s handle. She cuts in.
Strawberry buttercream. Vanilla. Jam. Butter. A good moist texture. A surprise of crystal ginger on the top. She eats a third of the cake. Walks around after with pink on her lips and chin. Brown crumbs on her shirt.
Tell me how it felt, she says.
Like I was meant to be a part of you, she might hear the cake say.
Aileen sinks down onto the hardwood floor. She curls herself into a ball, replete.
–Megan Giddings (from Split Lip Magazine)