Ganache Girl

Pink Frosting
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

We eat the cake and then I fuck my sister’s boyfriend like it’s my last day on earth. It’s a pattern. I make the cake Sundays, frost it on Mondays, and Rodrigo slips into our house on Tuesdays after my sister Maribel has gone to work. Rodrigo has sharp blue eyes and looks mean, but when he opens his mouth all he says are sweet romantic things. I know it’s the cake. I know it’s what I want him to say, what I will him to say, and so he says it every single time.

Sometimes, I want him to be mean to me in bed. Treat me like you hate me! Very unpleasant things if someone else were to hear it. I imagine my sister Maribel listening to me. She would cover her ears and get that sad puppy-dog look she always gets. “Don’t be vulgar, Maria.” I mix the cake batter, dip my finger into it to taste it, then push the finger back in and swirl it throughout. Vanilla cake with a caramel sea-salt ganache. It hurts your teeth if you eat too much.

***

When we’re finished around the usual time on Tuesday, Rodrigo puts his clothes back on and sits in the living room until my sister comes home. Maribel lights up when she sees him. “I didn’t think you’d be here today!” She says that every Tuesday. Whatever. I stand in the kitchen and hear them whisper to each other while I prepare tonight’s dinner. Roasted chicken and vegetables. I spit into the broth before I throw in the peeled carrots and potatoes, trying not to focus on the conversation in the other room.

All three of us sit at the table and they tell me how good the food is. Of course it is. In no time, Rodrigo explodes at Maribel. “Don’t think I haven’t heard about the guy who works across the room from you! The way he looks at your legs when you walk to the printer! You like that, don’t you?”

“You’re such a dumbass!” Maribel pushes her plate back and it tilts backward on the table, spilling chicken and vegetables onto the ground. She stands up. I watch them, sliding another piece of chicken into my mouth and letting it sit on my tongue as they argue. Rodrigo leaves in a huff, and Maribel runs to her room. I finish what’s left of my dinner. I watch television and listen to Maribel sniffle. Our house is old, and the walls are thin.

“You should come and fix the walls, Dad.” I speak to the father in the film I’m watching. He's a tall man who wears plaid shirts. Our dad doesn’t wear plaid shirts. I wonder if I pick up the phone and call Dad if he will actually answer and entertain what I say. Usually, he will ask to speak to Maribel. She's the responsible one, the one with a good head on her shoulders. “You should come over for lunch, Dad.” I watch the father sitting down with his children, tucking into a beautiful roast dinner.

The next day, I make a breakfast that comforts Maribel. I stick the orange rind into my mouth before I crush it into the jam and spread it on thick buttery bread for Maribel. She is in a good mood after, her bag swinging against her hip as she gets ready for work. “Will you pick up some milk on the way back? Or I could go!” I perch by the door while I watch her stick her little feet into her loafers. Maribel is the oldest, but everything about her is so tiny.

“You shouldn’t go outside alone. I can stop before I come home.” Maribel smiles a big dumb smile. “I don’t want you getting lost again.” It was one time. The sweat on my forehead had plastered my hair back when Maribel found me a few blocks from our house, sweaty hand still gripping the coupons I’d taken while trying to find the grocery store near us. I barely leave the house; it should be no surprise that sometimes there are too many streets and turns to memorize when I do.

***

Rodrigo breaks our pattern this week. After Maribel leaves, he’s already knocking on the door. It’s Wednesday. “Give me some more cake, please.” His voice is groggy, and his eyes are red.

“There’s no more. You ate it all.” I regret letting him into the house as I eat my own jam and butter toast, seeing his face become the color of the strawberries I simmered earlier this morning.

Rodrigo begins to cry. I watch him, unsure of what to do. His hand finds mine. I feel sweat build up on my wrists. “Please. Give me more cake. I don’t feel good.” My eyes go to the window. His black truck sits at the front of the house. I need him to leave quickly.

“Wait here.” I jerk away from his hand and walk into the kitchen. I grab an apple and run my tongue over it, walking back and handing it to Rodrigo. He holds it like a dead dog and finally bites down on it.

His eyes widen. He brushes a hand against his forehead and then shakes his head for a full minute. “Sorry. I should get to work.”

I watch him go, and I lean against the couch, feeling the breath escape from my lungs painfully. I push out another breath. Another one.

I chew and spit out the rest of the apple, throwing the core against the television. I can’t be in this house. Ever since I moved here with Maribel, all I do is cook and watch television and wait for Rodrigo to show up. It wasn’t supposed to be a long-term thing. I was just supposed to stay with Maribel for a few months while Dad adjusted to his new job. At least that’s what he’d used as an excuse. “I can’t have you here eating your way to trouble, all right?” Like I was some ravenous beast on a rampage. “And don’t pull anything on your sister.”

Yet he didn’t tell Maribel about my problem, and so I’m here doing whatever I want. Well, not whatever I want because I can’t even leave the house! I’m under lock and key like a prisoner.

***

Maribel finds me as I sit outside on the porch, sliding my bare feet against the wooden steps. One two one two one two. Maribel looks around, finally sliding her eyes over mine. “Why are you sitting out here like a crazy?”

“I needed some air.”

I need some air. I had to crunch the numbers for our yearly reports or...” I listen to Maribel feel sorry for herself. I wish I could put her to sleep just for a moment, just so I could have a little more time to myself. But I don’t have any food to offer her. “Is dinner ready?”

“Not yet.” I try and ignore the way she puffs her cheeks. The agreement is that I cook and clean and Maribel works. I am so sick of the agreement. “How about we order out?”

“You’re a great cook. And we don’t have much money left until I get paid next week.” Maribel begins to take off her jacket before stepping into the house. “Why does it smell like men’s cologne in here?”

“I don’t know.” I follow her inside. Maribel falls onto the living room couch Rodrigo was having a breakdown on a few hours before.

“Did you have a man over?”

I look her in the eyes. “Who would I have over? I never leave the house.”

Maribel smiles. “Maybe you’ve met someone while I wasn’t looking.”

“Hard to do that. Unless you mean I’m fucking the dining room table.”

“Don’t be vulgar right now Maria, I’m begging you.” Maribel slumps onto the couch. “Dad’s coming to fix the air conditioning. We won’t have to sweat at night anymore!”

“Is he really? Should I make something?” My voice teeters on sarcasm. That’s if he even makes it here. Dad has a habit of saying one thing and doing the complete opposite. He’s been saying he’s going to fix the air conditioning for two months already.

Maribel doesn’t answer. I make a salad with ripe heirloom tomatoes and salty olives that I pluck into my mouth before spitting them into the bowl. Maribel eats the salad hungrily. She barely leaves me any. When she’s done, she goes into her room and wails. I hear it, I feel it. I am afraid that I don’t want to make it better.

Maybe she should feel what I feel. Just a little.

***

When Maribel appears again, her face is puffy and red. She sniffs as she brushes past me in the kitchen. I hear her pushing plates and bowls around, finally bringing out the last slice of cake I’d made for Rodrigo. It’s perched on a plate, neatly glistening under the saran wrap. The airy buttercream screams to be eaten. Maribel tears the saran wrap, not bothering to get a fork. “Wait, Maribel—”

She sticks her finger into the icing and into her mouth. Her face flushes. I see her start to fan herself. “I’m gonna go upstairs.”

“Ok.” I pretend not to hear her call Rodrigo, but her voice comes in through the ceiling.

“Please come see me, I need you so bad. I want you to...”

I cover my ears and look outside the window. I keep looking out for Dad’s blue truck, and I rub my eyes when I see it idling by the driveway. Am I dreaming?

I spot Dad making his way up the driveway and finally knock on the door. He is wearing a plaid shirt. When I open the door, Dad blinks like I’m an apparition. “Maribel is upstairs,” I say.

“How’ve you been?” Dad leans against the doorway, still not making his way in.

“How have I been? Let’s see...I sit here, and I cook, and I watch TV. I don’t leave the house.”

“Sounds like a very calm and pleasant existence to me. Have you been cooking a lot?”

“Yes Dad, I’ve been cooking a lot.”

“For Maribel?”

“Yes Dad, for Maribel.”

Dad looks past me. “You’re not doing any of that... what you used to do?”

“You should stay for dinner and see for yourself.” I stare at my Dad. He fidgets, but his face remains neutral.

“Dad!” Maribel is back downstairs, her face no longer red. Dad walks in finally, and I notice he is carrying his handy toolbox. “How’ve you been, Mare?”

“Good. The air conditioner is this way.” And just like that, Maribel and Dad disappear toward the back of the house while I go into the kitchen and start to savor dinner. Beef chopped over white rice with a spicy honey glaze. I spit into the honey, and yet my stomach hurts to do so. Looking out the window, I see Dad and Maribel standing over the air conditioning. Maribel is waving her hands while she speaks, Dad nodding and finally breaking into a laugh. I put everything away and go to my room.

***

“What happened to dinner?” Maribel is standing at my door later.

“I’m not cooking.” I’m sitting cross-legged against my bed. “Is Dad still here?”

“No, he’s left.” Maribel leans against the doorway. “It wouldn’t have been a bad idea if you’d made him something. I was telling him how good of a cook you are.”

“Dad doesn’t like my cooking.” I tap my feet against the floor, leaning forward and putting my chin on my knees.

“Well, I love your cooking.”

“Maybe I never want to cook again. What would you do then? No more free labor.” I look at my sister.

Maribel rolls her eyes. “Don’t be dramatic. You love to cook.” I get up, feeling my joints ache in protest. I crack my knuckles, wiggling my fingers before following my sister down the stairs. “Dad told me to tell you to have a good night.”

“How kind of him.” I resolve to cook without letting the food anywhere near my saliva. Maribel leans against the counter while I chop onions.

“You know if it weren’t for Dad, we wouldn’t be able to live on our own.”

“I wouldn’t be able to live on my own. You would still be at your apartment.”

“With roommates I couldn’t stand.” Maribel makes a face. She watches me pour oil into the pan on the stovetop. “You can’t be mad at Dad forever.”

“I’m not mad.”

“Ok,” Maribel swipes a piece of bell pepper from my chopping board. “Then you can’t be irritated at Dad forever. Is that better?”

I laugh. “No wonder you failed English in high school.” Maribel laughs. I keep chopping. “Besides, I’ve always accepted Dad likes you more than me.”

“Maria.”

“I’m not saying it to gain your sympathy. It’s just a fact of life. Remember when we used to go to that church fair?”

***

I blink fast and rub my eyes. I throw the onion into the oiled pan, the sizzle becoming the only sound in the room.

Maribel looks at the pan of vegetables. “Dad’s not perfect.”

“He’s not.” I rub my eyes and look down at the sizzling mess in front of me, hoping Maribel will say something else.

She disappears into the dining room, leaving me to finish cooking.

When I plate the food, Maribel and I sit across from each other in the dining room. Maribel's fork scrapes against the plate as she collects the first bite. Her chewing is slow. She puts the fork down and pushes her chair back. I take my own bite while she acts like this, and the rice and meat become a mush of dirt and something vile. We shove each other to get to the bathroom. Maribel wins, and so I go to the kitchen sink and spit out the food.

“What was that?” Maribel comes out minutes later, her breath minty from mouthwash.

“Must have been spoiled.”

I pick up the whole pan of food and throw it out. The rice wiggles over the beef like maggots. We both go to bed and don’t say anything else.

***

Everything I cook that I don’t spit in comes out disgusting. It tastes like dirt. I tried a few more times after the beef and rice without fail. The last time Maribel got horrendously sick, her face pale as she lay on the couch, only able to stomach electrolyte drinks. I decide it’s me. It's my hands at least. I pluck the food and let it sit into my mouth before I cook it, and this does the trick. I wish Dad could see what happens. With the AC working, he hasn’t come back.

Maribel doesn’t notice anything wrong once I am back to cooking like usual. The food is delicious. How can it depend on me for it to go good or bad? I’m trying to start my own garden in the small backyard. It is something to occupy my time besides the television. “I’m going to meet up with Rodrigo to go watch a movie. Something about vampires.” Maribel is putting on beautiful red lipstick an hour later, while I am sitting in front of the television.

I say I need some air all the time and complain about Maribel, but when Maribel isn’t here, it’s just me, and I’d rather she be here with me instead. I hate how small my voice gets because the truth is that Maribel can leave whenever she wants, but then it would just be me in this tiny house waiting for Dad to say he’s going to come by and not doing so. “What about me?” I kick my feet up on the coffee table because Maribel always has something to say about it, but she doesn’t. Instead, she clicks her lipstick closed and smiles a bright red smile.

“Have some fun! Watch a movie. Check on your garden. Make a cake. Do all your favorite things.” I watch the door shut behind her and peek through the window. Rodrigo’s black truck is waiting at the end of the driveway. I never ask Maribel why she won’t invite me to watch a film. Is she embarrassed of me? Whatever.

I spy through the window. Rodrigo gets out of the truck to open the door for Maribel. His eyes turn to the door, and they meet mine. I wave, feeling heat come to my face. He ignores me, closing the truck door and walking back to the driver’s seat. If I wanted to, I could give him a piece of candy covered in my spit and he’d be on his knees in front of me, Maribel to the side with her bright red lipstick. She’d be completely ignored.

The truck disappears down the street. I turn on the television and there’s nothing new. I stare at the wall. I step outside to the porch and let the air hit my face.

Crickets chirp. A car drives down the street. I have never walked farther than a few streets from the house. I can’t drive. I’m useless.

Back inside the house, I do the only thing I can think to do. I eat. There are leftovers from yesterday. They turn to mush in my mouth. I don’t taste a thing. I hear a car zoom past the house with music so loud the walls shake. I take my plate and go stand on the front porch. When the plate’s empty, I set it down on the ground and walk toward the gate. I step out into the sidewalk.

The air is cool. My stomach hurts, either because of the food or because I've never walked very far from home. I blame Maribel, but maybe it has always been me. When I lived with Dad, I was comfortable and never thought about how I lived in confinement. And yet it really is. My arms swing as I walk. The houses are all empty and dark. I run across the crosswalks, feeling the air hit my face in a way that feels better than eating cake. There is a man on a bicycle. He’s waiting for the signal to cross. I stand a few feet away, feeling the sweat of exerting myself the last few minutes dotting my forehead.

The man shifts on his bicycle, clearing his throat. I look at him. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a stick of gum. He holds it toward me, and I take one. The mint sugar specks melt on my tongue. I chew as we both cross together.

“You live around here?”

“Sure.” I take out the gum and hold it in my hand.

He watches. He looks like Rodrigo but with darker hair and a kinder face. Although it is strange to offer strangers gum, maybe that’s just the kind of person he is.

“Wanna see something weird?” I ask him.

We are stopped on the street in front of a closed shopping center. I recognize the grocery store from the coupons we get in the mail. Besides that, I am beginning to feel very lost.

The man leans against his handlebars. “What is it?”

“Put this in your mouth.”

He laughs, but then sees that I'm not joking. “What?”

“Put the gum in your mouth.”

The man laughs again. “Is that a kink or something?”

“Or something,” I laugh to try to appear less awkward.

The man holds the gum in his hand and then looks around. “You don’t have anything, do you?”

“Like what?” I frown.

The man doesn’t say anything else, instead tossing the gum into his mouth. I watch his eyes dilate. He looks at me, chewing on his bottom lip. “Do you want to go somewhere?”

“Can I ride on your bike?”

He moves forward and I sit behind him. “I’m Jeremy.”

“Ok.”

***

When I’m done with Jeremy, I ask him to drop me off at the corner of my street. “Will I see you again? Can I see you again?”

“Meet me here tomorrow,” I say, even though I won’t go through with it. He pedals away, and I watch his calves flex under the streetlights as he moves. My little yellow house sits where it always has.

“Where were you?” Maribel is sitting at the dining room table, chin resting on her arms. I go into the kitchen, grabbing an apple.

“Just went out for some air.” The fruit melts in my mouth.

Maribel stares me down. “I was worried! I get home and you’re not here. And you know you’re not supposed to go out on your own.”

“I’m not a baby.” I bite the apple, crunching away while I walk toward the stairs. Maribel doesn’t say anything.  In my bedroom, I hear her creaks and footsteps as she goes to her room. Her voice filters in through my walls. She came home. I don’t know where she was. Rodrigo...alright. Goodnight. I love you. I imagine I am waiting for my own boyfriend to come home and close my eyes.

I don’t go through with meeting Jeremy again. I picture his eyes dilating and the way his breath seemed to change after savoring my gum. Maribel comes downstairs while I’m baking two cakes. Strawberries and cream.

My arms are sore. I make fresh whip cream and spit into it before the final whisking. Maribel comes and stands by the entryway, watching me chop strawberries.

“I’m sure the cakes will be gorgeous, Maria.”

“Yes.” I smile at my sister. Her hand reaches for a sliver of a strawberry before leaving. “They’ll be ready in a little while.”

***

Rodrigo doesn’t want to eat the cake the next day. “I love your sister.” He pushes his cake slice away. Powdered sugar dusts the tablecloth. “I don’t want to eat this. I just... I love your sister, Maria. Whatever this was, it’s over. It's done.”

I squeeze my hands together. Bright pink crumbs pile up on the plate as I grab the fork and drive it into his rejected slice. Rodrigo doesn’t move. I eat a piece. “This is delicious.” The frosting melts on my tongue and I can see Rodrigo starting to stand up from the corner of my eye.

He walks out the front door and I keep eating. When I'm done, I go up to my room and throw the window open. Air cools my room while I lie in bed. I hear the door slam shut to announce Maribel’s arrival.

She’s kicking off her shoes when I come downstairs. “What’s up?” Maribel throws her bag on the couch and moves toward the kitchen. “I’m starving. What are we having?”

“I’m not cooking.”

“You always say that.”

“Well, I mean it this time. If you’re hungry, you can have cake.”

“I don’t want cake.” Maribel looks at me and then disappears up the stairs. I go upstairs, too. I hear her talking on the phone with Rodrigo. “Sometimes I just want to get out of here.” Rodrigo tells her something and she laughs. Her voice drops to something soft and full of love. I don’t need to eat anything to taste it behind my teeth, feel it settle in my stomach even if I don’t swallow.

I go downstairs and grab the other landline. After dialing the number, I count each ring.

“Hello?”

“Dad?”

“What’s wrong, Maria?”

“Why don’t you like me?”

Silence. “Let me talk to your sister.”

“I’ve been trying really hard to understand.”

“Maria, just let me speak to—” I hang up the landline and go to the kitchen. I pick up the cakes I've made, set them down on the sink, and dig my hands into both. The cakes disintegrate quickly. Cream and strawberries muddle around the drain. I bring up my hands to my mouth and taste the cake.

“What are you doing?” Maribel crosses her arms. She’s in her pajamas.

I slide down against the sink, feeling salt tears cutting across the sweetness of the cream. Maribel comes closer, dropping to her knees in front of me. She doesn’t taste the cake, and yet she weeps with me anyway.

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