Let Him Eat Cake
by Charles C. Cole
My five-year old grandson, Vance, was sitting at the kitchen table with me, just the two of us, at almost seven at night. Outside, a once-per-hundred-years blizzard was making a mess of my driveway, but Vance seemed unconcerned.
He bit into his favorite (homemade) chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting then, mid-chew, with half the bite falling unnoticed to the floor, he looked me square in the eyes and asked, “Should we save some for Mommy?” The question was casual, without a hint of worry.
“For Mommy?” I echoed, stalling. “Your mother’s going to be a little late.”
“Why?” he persisted.
Because she’s in a monster blizzard. Because she stopped at Barney’s on a fool’s errand for her invalid father who can’t do a dang thing for himself any longer, not like he used to. “Your mommy had to stop at the store, kiddo,” I said. “Getting Papa some medicine. I’m sure she’s on her way. Cut her some slack. She’d be here if she could.”
“She stinks at night driving,” he said.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because she does. She says it all the time. We almost hit this car one time. And another time we bounced off the sidewalk. I spilled my soda, but she didn’t even yell because it wasn’t really my fault.”
“Good for her,” I said.
“When I get older, I’m going to drive us at night, so she doesn’t have to. She hates it.”
She most certainly does. But she’ll do anything for old Dad. She’d scrub my kitchen floor if I asked her.
“Yep,” I said, casually agreeing.
“This is really good. ” Vance commented on the cake, changing the subject to something more tangible, more immediate. “Are you sure this isn’t store-bought?”
Like that means “better.”
“Made fresh just before you got here. I laid the eggs myself.”
“Men don’t make cakes,” said Vance.
“Not all of us. I’m lucky to have Grammie’s secret recipe.”
“Secret recipe? Cool! I didn’t know recipes could be secret. Do you think I can have a second piece? Mommy wouldn’t mind.”
I guess it was a small sliver of a helping at that. I was just trying to protect him from diabetes, cavities, overindulgence. Or I’m a stingy old man.
“Of course, you can have a second piece,” I offered. “You can have a third piece if you want. Even a fourth.”
“Four pieces! I’ll explode!”
“Let’s hope not,” I said. “That would be messy.”
“Nobody can eat four pieces. Why would you even say that?”
I shrugged. That’s what grandfathers do, we capitulate. We overcompensate for having been poor parents.
“Can I really?” he asked, partly suspicious and partly bewildered. He’d never been offered a third helping before, not if Sigita was her father’s daughter. The child was downright confused. A life of therapy to follow if I wasn’t careful.
“Maybe later,” I said, back-pedaling toward a rational approach. “All that sugar at once, you’ll be bouncing off the walls and chasing the cats.”
“Where are the cats?”
“Sleeping. They’re old. They go to bed early, right after the news. You don’t want to bother them, do you?”
“I wouldn’t,” he said, indignant, as if he understood cause and effect better than the rest of us. A moment of thoughtful silence. “How old are you anyway?” he inquired.
Ancient, older than the Pyramids, living on borrowed time, if you must know, with a bad prostate to boot.
“Old,” I said. A simplistic answer, but the type I would have gotten at his age. Grown-ups, including me, are too busy outsmarting their kids to actually hold a conversation with them. “Let’s just say that I’m old enough to be your great-grandfather.”
“That’s pretty old. Are you really my mom’s Daddy?” he asked, like this was debatable, a classroom rumor to be confirmed or dismissed. Yes, after thirty-odd years, I was still my daughter’s one and only biological father. And she was still the delicate orchid made manifest from my love for her perfect mother.
“That’s exactly who I am,” I said. Then I turned the tables, pushing away the onrush of sentiment by teasing. “Who are you and what did you do with my daughter?” I demanded.
“I’m her son,” he said solemnly. “I’m Vance Joseph. You know me.”
“Nice to meet you, Vance,” I said, shaking his hand with grand formality.
“You’re funny,” he said, softening again. “Can I have more milk? I won’t spill it this time.”
“Or blow bubbles?”
“Or blow bubbles.”
Flesh and blood of my flesh and blood, you can have anything your heart desires, just you wait and see, at least if your mom and I have anything to say about it. And we will.
Just then car lights glowed beyond the lacy yellow curtains in the kitchen window: Sigita was home.
“Mommy!” he screamed cheerfully, overjoyed as much as a kid on Christmas morning.
Moments later, Sigita stood in the tiled front hall, stomping the sticky snow free from her tan furry boots. For some reason, Vance stopped a few feet away and just stared up at her. Maybe it was the effect of the massive hood covering her familiar face.
She pulled the hood back, shaking free her long wavy hair, like a spy coming in from the cold.
“Mommy!” He hugged her around the waist, socks seconds away from standing in puddles of melting snow.
“About time you got here,” I said. “The little monster—”
“Vance Joseph,” he corrected me, looking over his shoulder with his proud chin held high.
“The little monster known as Vance Joseph has been running me ragged.”
“Papa made a treat!”
“I’ve got one for him, too.” She placed a bag of industrial-strength pain killers on the counter, out of Vance’s reach. “How would you feel about spending the night here with Grandpa and me? Mommy’s done driving.”
Vance looked at me and nodded. “Good for you, Mom,” he said. “Admitting you have a problem is the first step.”
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole