‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Cakes’ by SJI Holliday
Using both hands, Jenny carefully positions the plate in the centre of the table. It’s one of her best ones, a Cath Kidston ‘spotty’ design that works because you can still see the design even with the cakes piled up on top. It’s a big pile, a mish-mash of things. She made the brownies from scratch but she’s pretty sure she overcooked them by five minutes. Nora won’t be shy in telling her if that’s the case. She’s the brownie freak.
Jenny decided to buy the cupcakes from the bakery down the street. Not because she can’t make cupcakes herself – of course she can – but she hasn’t quite got a steady enough hand to get the swirly icing right on the top – and that’s something that Belinda will have a keen eye on. Belinda works in a bank. She’s anal about everything being exactly to the correct specifications. Nothing passes her by.
The slabs of coconut flapjack came courtesy of Anna, who dropped them off last night with a pink-faced apology about missing their little gathering because her new puppy, Boris, needed de-fleaing and it wasn’t something she could put off. She’d looked uncomfortable on the doorstep, like her whole body was itching; desperate to get away. She handed over the flapjacks in a yellow Tupperware box and Jenny had decided on the spot that she wasn’t going to be handing that back any time soon.
Jenny turns the plate around, so that the cupcakes are the first thing that they will see when they arrive. Red velvet, with that creamy-cheese top and little bits of red glitter sprinkled on top. She smiles. The cakes look delicious. The cups and saucers – in the same spotty design – are set at each of the three places. A little side-plate and a knife for each of them. The teapot is on the kitchen counter. She’s warmed it with hot water twice now. Nora must’ve missed her bus. She’s done it before. Where’s Belinda though? Belinda’s never late.
Jenny boils the kettle again, just as her phone beeps. Belinda: I’m so sorry, Jen. Something’s come up. Jenny frowns, clears away one of the place settings. Just the two of them now. Nora, Nora. If she ever gets the bus…
Jenny takes the bottle of white wine from the fridge and stares at it, surprised that so much of it has gone. She pours the dregs into her teacup and sits down at the table. This is the last time I arrange one of these things, she mutters, quietly. She takes one last swig, draining the cup. It tinkles gently against the saucer as she places it back down. No one ever comes round. Not any more.