Today is my birthday. In the world as we know it, birthdays and cake are synonymous. In the world of An Expected End, my novel manuscript, deathdays and cake are also synonymous. In fact, cake features pretty prominently throughout the story. Marshall learns his deathday at Shyndigz, a real bakery in Richmond, Virginia. And although he is eating their signature oatmeal cream pies, as opposed to cake, while he dials into the Hotline to get his official Date of Departure (DoD), Shyndigz is also known for one of my favorite menu items, their salted chocolate caramel cake.
Cake also features in the story when Marshall’s colleagues, much to his chagrin, surprise him with an office deathday party, complete with deathday cake.
Marshall is eating the last piece of his birthday cake when he realizes how knowing his deathday has changed his perspective on life and the way he lives it: Life is like a piece of cake; he savors each bite, but knows each bite moves him closer to the last bite, and ultimately, to no more cake.
Perhaps one of the most important roles cake plays in the manuscript is that of being the reason Marshall meets Penelope. He goes to her bakery, The Cakery, a fictional bakery in Richmond, to pick up a deathday cake for a colleague’s office deathday party. Later, on his thirtieth birthday, he revisits The Cakery to purchase himself a birthday cake, which is really just an excuse to see Penelope again. He is eating the last piece of that birthday cake when he realizes how knowing his deathday has changed his perspective on life and the way he lives it: Life is like a piece of cake; he savors each bite, but knows each bite moves him closer to the last bite, and ultimately, to no more cake.
In its final role in the manuscript, cake features again when (**spoiler alert**), after Penelope has died, Marshall bakes a birthday cake from one of her recipes for their daughter, Evergreen’s, birthday.
Recently, cake has also featured prominently in my own, actual life.
Sunday, my husband came home from mountain biking in Richmond with our nephew. “I stopped at Shyndigz on my way home,” he told me.
“What did you get?” I asked.
“Oatmeal cream pies.”
“What else did you get?” I asked, taking for granted that he also brought back a piece of salted chocolate caramel cake for me.
Surely, he was pulling my leg.
“No, seriously. What else?”
“No, seriously. Nothing.”
I waited for him to break down, and admit, cackling, that a piece of cake waited for me on the kitchen counter. When he didn’t, “What?” I said.
“I didn’t get anything else.”
On New Year’s Eve, the fifth day after The Day I Did Not Get Cake, the doorbell rang just as it was getting dark outside. When I answered it, my husband was standing on the front porch, holding out a plastic container in which rested the perfect piece of Shyndigz salted chocolate caramel cake.
“You didn’t get me any chocolate cake?” I was incredulous, still sure he must be kidding, dragging the joke out as long as he could.
“No. Really. I’m not lying to you. I was in a hurry and I just didn’t think to get any cake.”
“Are you serious? You went to Shyndigz and didn’t get me any cake?”
He laughed at the utter shock that must’ve been on my face. “Sorry?” He was still laughing.
For the course of the the week, I lost no opportunity to remind him of the fact that he had gone to one of my favorite bakeries where they make one of my favorite cakes, and neglected to bring a piece home to me. I must’ve found a way to work his negligence into every single day at least twice.
On New Year’s Eve, the fifth day after The Day I Did Not Get Cake, the doorbell rang just as it was getting dark outside. When I answered it, my husband was standing on the front porch, holding out a plastic container in which rested the perfect piece of Shyndigz salted chocolate caramel cake, complete with a to-go cup of extra salted caramel spread. During his lunch break, he had driven downtown to get me my long-awaited piece of cake. He has been forgiven.
I let him in and set the cake down on the counter, every intention of savoring it after the Chinese takeout we’d ordered for dinner with a couple friends. As we finished our lo mein and rice and pot stickers and egg drop soup, I eyed the piece of cake on the counter. But before I could eat that: New Year’s Eve fortune cookies. We each cracked open our fortune cookie and shared the fortune within with the rest of the table. Mine? “A piece of cake is awaiting for you.” Forgiving the misuse of “awaiting,” never has there been a truer fortune. Just a moment later, I was sinking my fork into the moist chocolate cake, savoring the thick chocolate icing and salty caramel goodness of the slice.
Today, being my birthday, is also likely to involve cake in some capacity, at some point.
And I’m hoping my New Year’s Eve fortune holds a longer-range, figurative meaning in addition to its immediate, literal one. I’m hoping it’s prophetic, foreshadowing that my manuscript, rife with pieces of cake, will achieve publication this year–will become a real book, one I can hold in my hands, flipping through its pages, savoring its existence the way I do a piece of chocolate cake.