Let Them Have Cake
We were a healthily unhappy family, each with an equal share of responsibility for everyone’s unhappiness. But we were not willing to admit it, so each of us took turns being single-handedly blamed for the collective misfortune. It was Lindsay’s turn this time.
Mum and dad were sleeping in separate beds again. Although Lindsay swore she didn’t know the reason, they both looked at her as if she was somehow responsible for the crisis in their marriage. Even I was feeling angry at Lindsay lately. I didn’t know why. But when you’re a high school junior, your senior sister doesn’t have to do much to piss you off — just exist. She annoyed me with her good mood, her easy laughter, with the way her permanent mental peace contrasted with our constant dissatisfaction. And, of course, with her cake. I hated that stupid cake.
Mum and dad agreed. It looked out of place in the dull whiteness of our fridge, in between mum’s cottage cheese and my 1% milk. An exuberant chocolate cake. It didn’t fit — just like Lindsay’s smile didn’t belong in the breakfast table with our traditional Saturday morning frown.
—What? Are you a morning person now?— dad asked. Lindsay just kept smiling.
—Of course not, honey. If she was a morning person, she wouldn’t be late for breakfast again— mum remarked. Lindsay ignored her, too, and calmly poured my 1% milk in her cereal.
Two shots, two misses. It was my turn to try and take that stupid smile off her face, and I was not in the mood for small talk.
—You know what? This is bullshit.
—Language!— said mum, out of reflex. Dad also seemed displeased but allowed me to continue. I knew it was okay to break the rules of politeness if the intention was to take a shot at Lindsay. And, unlike mum and dad, I had managed to catch her attention.
—It’s bullshit. It really is. You taking all that space in the fridge with this stupid cake for your friend’s party. It’s not even your party.
Lindsay sighed. We couldn’t see that annoying little smile anymore. I had scored. Smelling blood, mum pounced with her biggest weapon, which we all knew and feared.
—I have done so much for this family, Lindsay. Do you remember how many cakes I have baked for you? Do you see how I cook and clean for you every day? And now you bake this stupid chocolate cake with your friends, leave it in our fridge, and you don’t even share it with your family. No! All you care about is that party of yours!
There were tears in mum’s eyes when she was finished. We had seen that scene enough times to know that she could cry on cue, but that didn’t make her performance any less effective. Lindsay was sulking now, staring at the bottom of her half-empty cereal bowl. She had lost her appetite — very unusual for her. Dad took advantage of her weakness to deal the final blow.
—Party? I don’t remember giving you permission to go to any party. Not a chance. You have upset your mother and your brother. You and your cake are staying home tonight.
That was the kind of moment when we felt most united as a family: a victory against a common opponent — which always happened to be one of us. Breakfast had been just an appetiser: Lindsay’s tears would be our main course. Knowing her, though, she wouldn’t give us that pleasure. Lindsay was great at disguising her anger as indifference. If tears were mum’s superpower, that was hers.
—Whatever. You can have the fucking cake. I’m not hungry anymore.
She went to her room before they could ground her. Dad and I exchanged annoyed looks. One step ahead of us, mum opened the fridge. Yes, we didn’t get the sweet, intoxicating taste of Lindsay’s tears, but why would we skip dessert? With her cake now on the kitchen table, we each took our share of the victory spoils.
Half an hour later, dad and mum went to their room before they could finish reading the paper. Weird. I thought they were separated. Maybe our triumph against Lindsay had rekindled their relationship. I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate it, though. I soon started feeling lightheaded, a little sick. I knew better than to disturb my parents when their door was locked, so I texted Lindsay.
—Do you know where they keep the paracetamol?
—You’ll be fine. Come up to my room. Bring some cake.
It took me an enormous effort to climb the stairs. I expected Lindsay to be angry at me, but there it was: the same silly smile on her face again. She laid some cushions on the floor for me, told me to relax and started showing me some of her favourite music. I didn’t know she was into Pink Floyd. We began with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and chronologically made our way up to The Dark Side of the Moon, which we played in sync with The Wizard of Oz on her laptop. It was crazy fun. Having an older sister wasn’t that bad, after all.
I confess I lost track of time, but it was getting dark when dad knocked on Lindsay’s door and told us to go to the kitchen. He and mum had ordered pizza — lunch and dinner. Lindsay didn’t seem upset with them at all. If anything, she was amused. Dad kept telling jokes. I don’t remember any of them. They must have been pretty good, though, because everybody was laughing. When there was no pizza left, mum took some leftover cake out of the fridge. I followed Lindsay’s advice and skipped dessert. Mum and dad had two slices each and went back to their room.
Lindsay only told me the truth about her cake a week later, when she came to me for help. Mum wanted her to bake another cake for all of us, but her allowance was not enough to buy the secret ingredient. Not for two weekends in a row; not for four people. I was happy to help. We weren’t even halfway through the Pink Floyd discography yet.
Our parents only found out several months later, after mum insisted on getting the recipe and preparing Lindsay’s chocolate cake for her friends from church. Lindsay ended up having to confess. I said I knew it, too. It was unfair for her to take the blame alone.
For someone as uptight as he used to be, dad was surprisingly cool with it.
—If it’s legal in this state, it’s legal in this house.
Mum had second thoughts and went to the reverend before she agreed to our new arrangement. With his blessing — “in moderation, and never before coming to mass” — the cake became our Saturday tradition. Lindsay and I loved to hear the news. We were a healthily happy family now, sure, but each should pay their share for the collective happiness. It was about time mum and dad started to chip in.