The last thing Aurora wanted to serve Broderick was stale cake for his birthday. She had intentions of greeting him with a fluffy chocolate mousse confection that would make his eyes wide and his mouth water. He loved sweet things, like all men who could be bought with aesthetics. Aurora had secretly gotten two liposuctions and five injection procedures alone during their two and a half year stint together. She knew he was susceptible to wander (more mentally than physically, which is often worse) if things weren’t a certain way–not perfect, but close to it.
That he assumed Aurora naturally looked as thin, plucked and stuffed as she had become over their time together was a testament to just how in denial he was about reality. The only time he ever remarked on her appearance was if he disliked something about it. “Is that dress from a thrift store–or just, like, old?”
“It looks threadbare, are you really going into work like that?”
“It’s a linen cotton blend, it’s just thin,” Aurora would defend. She worked as a florist’s assistant in Sunset Park, and walked there each day while Broderick worked on a graphic novel tentatively titled The Raging Narcissist. He had been “finishing up” on it since before Aurora even met him. But still, Broderick was not without his charming points. He could cook an orgasm-inducing Bolognese pasta and, more importantly, he could induce an orgasm with his mouth that was unlike any Aurora had ever experienced. Funny how food and sex can be so influential in our decision-making processes. In any case, it was in these moments of ecstasy that Aurora felt it was worth it to endure some of Broderick’s more unfavorable characteristics: surliness, ingratitude, etc.
For the second time Aurora would be celebrating his birthday since knowing him, she wanted to exceed what she had done last year, which was shlep all the way to the Coney Island Carvel to pick up a custom image cake with a childhood photo of him on it because, for some reason, the Financial District location was closed for renovations that particular mid-June week. She carefully secured a “hot bag” a.k.a. the thing pizza delivery men (rarely women) use to transport the goods without showing up to present a cold pie. Because of its insularity, it would keep Aurora’s prized ice cream cake cold for the long Q train journey back. But alas, it turned out to be a stalled N train journey that left Aurora panicked over the East Coast delicacy’s potential melting from so much time spent out of the freezer.
When the train finally arrived at 36th Street, Aurora sprinted with the careful control of a cheetah back to their apartment. She knew Broderick would be out with his mother, Pauline, in the city, who relished taking him shopping in SoHo for “special occasions” that tended to include just about any event: Labor Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July–whenever she made the trek from South Jersey to visit. It was in this and many other ways that Broderick was never permitted full access to adulthood. He couldn’t even buy his own clothes; and it wasn’t just because he didn’t want to spend his money on them, but because he had no concrete style with which to express a sartorial opinion. But for now, Aurora was grateful for Pauline’s overzealous mothering as it meant she could safely stash the cake.
Glancing at the inside of the box to make sure everything was still intact, Aurora looked at Broderick’s eyes as reflected in the image of the cake. They seemed colder to her than she remembered; though she had seen many a childhood photo of Broderick in the past, this particular one harbored an essence that suddenly came across as altogether sinister. The sound of the door unlocking shocked her out of her contemplation, and she slammed the freezer door shut just as Pauline entered the room with two handfuls of shopping bags. Mercifully, her bombast was distracting enough to keep Broderick from suspecting any “funny business” on Aurora’s part. Or maybe he was too wrapped up in himself to notice either way.
“Aurora, can you take these and put them in Broderick’s closet?” She handed Aurora the shopping bags and then discretely slipped her a small box, whispering, “This is for you to give to Broderick.”
Pauline had often made Aurora feel uncomfortable about the way she treated her only son, as though she should be doing more to cater to him. Aurora assumed this present Pauline had bought so that Aurora could give it to him under the pretense of having purchased it herself was just another successful attempt at a subtle undermine. Ignoring the pressures of overbearing matriarchy as best as she could, Aurora retreated into the bedroom to stash the supply. All the while, Broderick had barely said a word to her. Had they always been this passionless toward one another?
She arranged his shirts in their proper place in the closet, bristling when she heard Broderick come up behind her. He slid his hands up her shirt and squeezed her breasts. “Is everything ready for tonight?”
“Of course. You think I’m a novice at party-throwing?”
He removed his hands from her and pecked her on the cheek. “You’re the best, Aurora.”
It was these brief instances of encouragement and appreciation that always reeled Aurora back in, kept her latent doubts about Broderick at bay. But before she could fully wash in the moment, Broderick had flitted back to his mother like a hummingbird to another flower.
The events of that night went off without a hitch, though Broderick would later complain that Aurora had gotten too drunk and everyone could tell. Other than that, however, there was no other stain Broderick, or even Pauline, could besmirch the party with.
This year, with Pauline detained in New Jersey after dealing with the details relating to the death of her half-sister, Aurora was determined to make Broderick’s birthday better and more memorable than the last through an unapologetic dose of intimacy. She had planned a night “in” for them. He was turning thirty-one, a “quiet year” in terms of celebration. Broderick, who had been frustrated by the challenges of his “work,” of late, had agreed to do whatever Aurora suggested. As Aurora cleaned up the apartment, she thumbed through the pages of The Maniacal Egoist, the latest title of his graphic novel. From what she could tell, no new illustrations or plot points had been added since the last time she had glanced at it months ago. What had he been doing all this time, she wondered. Ruminating? Masturbating? Both simultaneously?
Before she could over examine it, the timer in the kitchen dinged. Her cake was ready. Or rather, his. She opened the door to the oven to find that the cake was as fluffily pristine as she had envisioned it to be while going through the motions of the recipe. She put on an oven mitt, one of the only ones they had designed to look like a gingerbread man, and pulled the rectangular pan out.
With the delicate dent of a fork, Aurora watched the steam rise out of the center of the cake like some sort of sensual volcano. This was going to be Broderick’s kryptonite, the taste that would melt the icy barrier that had recently formed around his heart. Though she secretly hated herself for continuing to believe in the 50s proverb, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” she knew it was true.
Broderick entered the room and brought with him the black cloud he had been carrying around outside. He sat down at the table and said in a surly tone, “So what’s for my birthday dinner?”
It was then Aurora knew she would not serve him the cake. This cake was what the gods would want to feast from when they asked for a sacrifice. This cake could cure cancer. This cake, in short, was too wonderful to be consumed by someone who loved his mother with Norman Bates-esque creepiness, made derisive comments about her wardrobe and painted narcissists as superheros. She would instead endure the river of criticism that would come her way upon telling him that she burned the cake, it was inedible.
It takes but one millisecond to have an epiphany, and about a day to revert back to remembering why a pre-enlightened state was preferable. Thus, in the morning, when Aurora went to the kitchen to make coffee, she couldn’t help but fish through the depths of the trash where she had shoved and hidden the cake at the bottom. Pulling it out in fragments and feeling its ruined texture, she assembled it back together and set one piece on the fanciest plate they had, a white earthenware one with ornate floral-inspired designs along the rim. She placed it on the table and poured two cups of coffee, picking up her own and taking a sip from it as she leaned against the counter and waited for Broderick to emerge.
Groggily, and within minutes, he did.
“I wanted to apologize and make up for not having a dessert for you last night. It was your birthday and I should have made it perfect.”
For the first time since she could remember, Broderick smiled. “That’s so sweet Aurora.”
He took his seat in front of the cake and excitedly delved into it with the fork Aurora had provided next to the plate. His brief enthusiasm melted into manic depression after biting into it.
“Just like this relationship.”