Fiction by Courtney McLean

      It’s not his birthday but she’s making him a cake.  She’s making him a cake
because he needs it; because on days like this, if she doesn’t stop it before it
starts he’ll keep spiraling down and it takes weeks for him to resurface.  He’s
not okay but when she makes him cakes, cooks him dinner, kisses his forehead,
he forgets everything and he becomes okay.
      She’s making him a cake but she’s out of butter for the frosting and she
needs to go to the grocery store.  On the couch, a shapeless mass breathes
under gray blankets.
      “I’m going to the store, okay?  I’m coming back.”
      A dismissive claw finds its way from underneath the blankets and waves her
      “Really quick, I promise.”
      The claw retreats and the mass resumes its silent rhythm.
      She walks to the store because as much as she knows he needs her there,
she also knows that she can’t go back too soon.  There isn’t anyone who makes
cakes for her.
      Her footsteps are deliberate; she isn’t hurrying.  She finds the butter.  She
gets confectioner’s sugar too because she can’t remember if they’re out or not.  
As she’s about to check out, she passes the pastry section.
      There are dozens of cakes, too many cakes.  The sheet cakes are
airbrushed with garish colors; lopsided balloons float limply to the borders.  She
thinks of what would happen if she brought him one of these store-bought
monstrosities.  It’s not a compelling image.
      She doesn’t buy a cake.
      She buys her butter and sugar and walks back to the one-bedroom
apartment she shares with him.  It’s not big but it’s cozy and the window
overlooks the left bank of the river.
      She walks in to see him standing at the window, wrapped in his blankets,
staring out at the river.  The way his blankets envelop him completely, he looks
like an oversized cocoon.  A cocoon watching the water.
      She clears her throat. “I’m back.”
      He turns to look at her, his movements slow and surreal.  He doesn’t blink.  
Instead, he shuffles over to his couch and curls up again, nestling his head under
the covers.
      She stands in the doorway holding her grocery bag, thinking of a time
when it might have been different.  She walks to the kitchen and imagines him
following her, still wrapped in blankets but maybe they’re not as tight.
      “Can I help?” he would say.  He’d sift the sugar and beat the butter for
her.  They would talk about their days.  He would listen to hers.  He’d set the
blankets down on the kitchen table so he could stir better.
      “You look nice tonight,” he would say.  He’d touch her cheek and smile
at her.  She would tell a joke and they would laugh together.  The radio would
be on.
      But the radio’s not on and nobody tells her that she looks nice.  She
finishes his frosting and looks into the living room, where he’s lying on the couch,
sheltered by gray blankets.  They’re wrapped around him so tightly she
wonders if he can breathe underneath them.  She wonders if he wants to.
      “Do you want to frost the cake with me?” she says.  She’s trying.  She
extends the spatula as if it’s an olive branch, glazed in white paste.
      The cocoon shifts and sighs but he does not emerge.          


Courtney McLean is currently working on her MFA in writing from
Emerson College.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Contemporary Literature

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 5, Number 1
(Spring 2010)

Copyright © 2010
by Leah Browning, Editor.

All future rights to
material published
in the
Apple Valley
are retained by
the individual authors
and artists.