Baked in the Cake
German chocolate cake mix
1 cup water
1 bottle (1
oz) red food color
granulated rat poison
tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
“Happy birthday, Momma,” I said in
saccharine tones as I placed the sheet cake on the kitchen table before her. “I
made your favorite,” I added, carving out a generous slice for her, and slid it
onto a balloon-themed paper plate. She clapped her hands with glee. She speared
a big chunk with her fork, and shoved it greedily into her mouth. “Aren’t you
gonna have some?” She mumbled through a mouthful of cake, dropping crumbs form
the corners of her lips.
“Nah, you know I don’t like the taste of
red food coloring.”
“This was your Daddy’s favorite, too,”
she informed me, as if I didn’t already know. “I always brought him a home-made
red velvet cake when I’d go visit.”
“How’d you get it past the guards?”
“Well, of course, they’d get a slice
first, to be sure I hadn’t included any ‘contraband’ like drugs or—“
“Or a giant file like they use is old
cartoons,” I added. She laughed at that.
“So you brought a cake every time you
visited, what, like once a month?”
“Uh huh.” She cut off another big chunk
of cake. “And he ate it up like it was the best thing in the world.” She looked
off into an undefined distance. “Well, almost the best thing.” She chuckled,
remembering some private joke between her and Dad.
“Like conjugal visits?”
“Oh, hon, we weren’t allowed those!” She
put the cake in her mouth. “But your Daddy was smart, oh! so smart—” she
giggled like a wicked schoolgirl. “He figured out a way for us to—” Her eyes
glistened with the memory. Glistened! I had to bite my lip to hide my
“And thus, I was conceived.”
She laughed out loud at that,
open-mouthed, showing all the world a wet mouthful of blood-brown red velvet
cake. She slapped the table and began to cough. Guess a bit of cake went down
the wrong pipe. I walked over to the fridge to get her a glass of milk.
“He was smart, I’ll grant you that,” I
said putting the cold glass down in front of her. “But not so smart as to evade
* * *
Later that night, I heard her gagging
and retching in our bathroom. We lived in a tiny, two-bedroom, one-bathroom house
in a seedy part of town. So much for Dad’s notoriety bringing us fame and
fortune. Not even any offers for book deals.
I watched from the doorway until finally
she noticed me out of the corner of her eye. “Oh, honey, help me. I feel so awful.”
She looked so pathetic, slumped on the dirty tile floor by the toilet. So thin
and pale. Cadaverous. No wonder Dad thought she was hot.
“You likely picked up a bug doing your
‘good Samaritan’ gig teaching those felons how to read,” I suggested, helping
“But those poor young men need
attention, and to feel like someone cares about them—” she countered,
defensively. My God! She was a prison groupie. I always suspected Dad
wasn’t her first. Or her last. I walked her back to her bed and tucked her in.
“I’ll open up a can of chicken soup,” I said looking at her frail, helpless
form—a predator’s dream.
* * *
1 can chicken noodle soup
1 can water
2 heaping tablespoons granulated rat
1 teaspoon garlic salt
* * *
“Here, now drink this all up, Momma,” I
encouraged, handing her a mug of the chicken soup. “You need to stay hydrated.”
I watched her take a sip. “I added garlic salt to give it some flavor. Plus,
the salt will make you more thirsty, so you’ll drink more.” I pushed her elbow,
so as to move the mug of soup closer to her mouth.
She looked at me with adoration.
“Sometimes,” Momma whispered hoarsely, “when I look at you, at your eyes, I
swear I see your Daddy staring back at me.”
“Drink up, Ma.” She slurped the broth
and noodles. I stood beside her bed, arms crossed, until she was done. “Now,
you get some sleep,” I said, taking the empty mug from her. I slapped off the
bedroom's light-switch. “Go to sleep.”
* * *
Next morning I went into check on Momma,
like any dutiful daughter would. And there she lay, cold and gray and not
moving, not an inch.
Now it was my turn to clap my hands with
glee. I skipped out to the ratty old storage shed, grabbed the can of gasoline
I kept in there, just waiting for the day. For today.
I splashed that pungent accelerant all
through our shoddy shack of a house, starting with Ma’s bedroom. From the top
drawer of my dresser—my underwear drawer, where I keep my trinkets, like my
collection of men’s wedding rings (Mom calls them my ‘souvenirs’)—I pulled out
a stale pack of 20 year-old cigarettes. A brand they don’t even make anymore,
but it was my Dad’s favorite. This pack, in particular, was my Dad’s last pack;
the one the prison warden gave him, so he could have one final earthly pleasure
before he was marched off to meet Old Sparky.
I pulled out a cigarette, lit it with a
match from the box of kitchen matches, and took a deep, nauseating drag. Nasty
things, cigarettes; they’ll kill ya. I laughed out loud at that, and tossed the
lit cigarette onto Mom’s gasoline-soaked bed.
Whoosh! I was out of there like a
jackrabbit. Gear packed and already in the car, I was a block away when in my
rear-view mirror, I saw the whole place go up in flames like a glorious funeral
pyre. Our lousy wood-frame house turned out to be good for something, at last.
the first stoplight, I dug
through my coat pocket for the long list I’d spent years composing. The Internet
is a wonderful thing, if you know how to use it. I’d collected the names and
addresses of cops, detectives, witnesses, judges, jurors—a whole small town’s
worth of complicit folks, folks who needed to be punished for what they did to
my Dad, and by extension, to me. I had my work cut out for me, but that was
okay, I love a challenge, and—I was my father’s daughter, after all.