short based on a reader's digest prompt
The particular sadness of lemon cake sits heavy on my tongue.
I had looked at it for days after her demise; it winked at me from its place inside the fridge, daring me to eat the final slice. No one had touched it; my father had stared at it sadly for days, and my brother had simply refused to touch the fridge. Not wanting to throw away my mother's last creation because we all were too scared to eat it, I had made up my mind exactly two weeks later, accompanied by supportive smiles from my brother. Now, I felt like puking.
The melancholic sweetness seems more and more like sand in my mouth as time passes, yet I can't bring myself to swallow it. It is the last bite, and it's more precious to me than anything in the world, yet I loathe it with every fiber of my body. They say dead men tell no tales, but this cake she'd crafted with her skilled hands speaks in hushed, soft tones, right into my ear; it's her voice, that gentle voice that coaxed me into sleeping on stormy, windy nights with sweet lullabies. A gentle whisper and a flood of memories carry me with it on a journey I'm not sure I wish to embark on.
The first time I tasted her lemon cake, I barely reached the counter. I was never a tall child, and so, even at ten, I struggled to look at my mother's activities, curiously.
There was that ever-present smile on her face as she mixed the ingredients, the wonderful smell of lemon and vanilla filling the air. She smiled at me when she got the cake out of the oven, seeming more excited than I could ever be. I didn't have it in me. She said I got it from my father, emotional bricks are what she called us. Always calm, always stoic. She was the source of all the brightness in our house, glowing brighter than any star ever could. Oh, so exuberant. The smell of life poured out of her.
That day, I watched with wide eyes, the way she iced the cake with chocolate, her tongue sticking out in pure concentration. I was in awe, even at that point in our relationship, when we were everything but close, of how steady mother's hands were, a detail that went unappreciated by a lot but was one of the many things I admired about her later in life. Her hands.
They were warm, caring, and steady. She cut straight stars from glitter paper effortlessly for me, sticking them on my cheek as a badge. How else would the world find out what a good girl I was? I've won many accolades, but the lone, crumpled paper star that is pinned up on my little notice boards is more valuable than all of them combined.
The memory of that hot day makes my skin feel sticky even now, but perhaps it's just the lump of cake that is making it hard for me to breathe. It is still clear as day in my head. She sat down beside me, wiping the beads of sweat from her forehead. One glance at me, though, and all the tiredness had dissolved into the radiant smile.
"You don't need to work this much," I muttered, and her eyebrows furrowed slightly. The smile remained though. The smile rarely left.
"I don't understand," she said, and I glanced down at my feet. "You don't have to act like everything you do is out of love; you don't have to please me. My father is happy enough with you. I didn't have anything to do with you coming in our lives- barging into our lives- and I'm sure I won't have any say in you going either." I gritted out.
I'd expected her to slap me, or at least stand-up and walk away. Instead, she laughed and reached out to poke me in the tummy. She remained unfazed as I sat back and pushed her hand far from myself, shaking her head through the remaining giggles.
"You really are like your father, aren't you! A tiny head filled with such outrageously serious thoughts. You're like a sixty-year-old woman in a ten-year-old girl's body!" she exclaimed, and I stomped my foot with a huff.
"I don't do it because I have to," she added after a long pause, softly. "I do it because I want to. I know you're bitter because of everything that had happened, and if I were you, I'd be angry too. You stood with me as I made the cake, and I appreciate it, even though you perhaps did that to make sure I wouldn't poison you. That was it, wasn't it?"
She looked at me, and her eyes asked a question I didn't want to answer. I turned away, fiddling with the hem of my summer dress. It was. She smiled, and stood up, cradling her belly carefully and sat down on the grass beneath me.
"I don't want to kill you, Danielle. I'm not the evil queen from Snow White. All I want is for you to love and accept me. I know you feel that you didn't have a say in what happened, but-"
"Don't you dare say that everything happens for a reason!" I lashed out before she could finish her sentence, standing up and tipping back the lawn chair I'd been seated on. My eyes had felt raw from holding back tears, and I clutched the soft fabric of my cotton dress. "We'd been happy before you came along! The both of us were happy! You ruined it! You ruin everything!" I whined, stomped and screamed the same words again and again and again. She listened, quietly, till I collapsed, and put a gentle arm around me. Her shoulder was soft and inviting, and my head was tired. I didn't realize when I rested my head on it, or when she had placed a plate of the inviting cake in front of me.
The entire place smelled like lemon and vanilla, and her warm voice cut through the silence, soft and slow. "I'm here," she whispered.
"I don't want you."
"I know. I'm still here."
I huffed, reached for the cake, and took a bite. My lips curled up a little before I hid it, but not quickly enough, for she was beaming as if she'd won the lottery. Teary eyed, and tired of fighting, I let me own smile shine through.
Now, she's gone, and even though the cake is in my mouth, choking me, it's sweetness more overpowering than ever, I can't find my smile. Looking to my left, I see a picture. She's grinning, holding me and my brother. I close my eyes.
Let go, whispered the cake. I swallow. From beside me, my brother looks at me with a proud smile, identical to hers. I smile back.
"Let's go, Dane."
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