Monday, September 3

The Case of the Missing Cake

And she tip-toed from the sofa to where I was stood. A fresh cup of coffee because the coffee was hot and being blown. She was upset and she gesticulated when she was upset, turning her hands in circles from the wrist. She began to speak—
As she grows, she recognises me more; not as a threat or a stranger, she recognises that I am family although I live far away, I live far away and I see her but not as often as everyone else sees her. I cannot afford to see her every few days or every week but once every month or so. ‘Uncle’ but, somehow (and strangely) the word is not spelled in the same way as my own ‘uncles’, or perhaps not pronounced the same; the British version (latter) and American (former). Most of the time she is, to me, my ‘Niece’, and only with family does she become named. Of course my sister-in-law says she always mentions me but I never believe her.
An embrace that she clung on to. An embrace I clung on to! She did it with no one else and I felt special. Me! glad at the affection of a child who remembers me!
She began to speak—
‘It’s your birthday,’ she said—‘And we didn’t make you a cake!’ She gesticulated. My sister-in-law explained how upset she was that they had not made me cake, but I assured her that it was fine and I kissed the top of her head. ‘But you should have cake on your birthday!’ My understanding of the situation seemed to her decidedly lacking, as though I had not quite grasped the severity and insult of the missing cake. She stood right next to me and looked up, so I bent down and assured her once more that it was fine. ‘No lemon cake!’ she said.
‘Do you want breakfast?’ my father asked her, and she went rifling through some bowls until she found the one with the Star Wars character on.
That was that. That’s that.
When I went back to work ten days later, my brother contacted me and said that he had some lemon drizzle cake for me, and I was to make my way to his building site so I could pick it up. I was busy and took a late lunch, strolling briskly up and down the street for pleasure, and then I turned to walk towards his site. ‘You outside?’ I told him I was, and stood there looking at the passing traffic and labourers smoking in circles. It was an autumn sun, its light and heat tired, stale almost, but slightly more golden as if the air itself had weathered its descent. Business people passed me by, their hair neatly combed, suited, erect and hurried. I waited for some time before my brother emerged from a locked door with a plastic bag in hand, which he held out to me. He asked me how it was being back at work and I knocked on wood. I told him a story about how my friend’s baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck and how she didn’t breathe for the first twelve minutes of her life. He told me that my niece (named) had baked the cake and insisted I have some, since I had missed out on my birthday, so my brother had taken it fifty miles for me; begrudgingly, because he wanted the cake for himself. It was wrapped tightly in cling film and I could tell that it was a good lemon drizzle cake. I smiled. I put the lemon drizzle cake in my backpack. I told my sister-in-law to thank my niece (again, named) for the lemon drizzle cake. She sent me a video of her saying she hoped I liked the cake. She, my niece (unnamed), is wearing a big puffy pink dress and stuffing banana into her face, saying she hopes I like the cake.
After dinner I will have a slice of the lemon drizzle cake, and there is enough for me to have a bit every night for a few nights yet.

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