On the final stretch of her eight mile run Morgan became fixated on the last slice of pumpkin praline cake leftover from Thanksgiving—a significant wedge lying sideways and wrapped carefully in cellophane atop the china saucer in the Oberon pattern. The final indulgent slice for a whole year. Kick it in the last three blocks—sprint it out. Feet hitting the pavement, pea-cans, pea-cans, right, left, pea-cans. Hands on hips, cool down walking around the block. Pumpkin. Cinnamon. She was too hot to enjoy it with coffee or tea. Maybe she would shower first. She should eat it slowly, make it last, not scarf it down by the fistful.
Brendan declared his hatred of pecans as she baked it. He decreed that nuts don’t belong on cake, and why couldn’t she make an apple pie instead. His Thanksgivings had apple pie. More pumpkin praline cake for me, Morgan thought during the three hours it took to bake.
Brendan was on the tacky plaid couch, transfixed by golf on TV, when she walked in the door panting and sweaty, and unstrapped her music from her arm with a yank. Morgan would enjoy the fat wedge in the kitchen, use her hands and stand over the sink. She strode past Brendan and opened the fridge.
Where was the cake? The cellophane? The china in the Oberon pattern? Maybe it got moved behind the milk or relocated to the deli bin. No. Nothing. Then, in the sink, the Oberon saucer licked clean. Morgan’s face got hot.
“Did you eat the cake? The pumpkin praline cake?”
“Did you hear me?” Morgan walked in front of the TV.
“Hey!” Brendan sat up. “What are you doing?”
“I asked if you ate that last piece of cake.”
“Yeah. It was good. It was really good.”
“You are an asshole. You know that?”
Brendan looked like he’d taken a punch, then his face contorted into a scowl. “I’m an asshole? For taking a piece of cake? I didn’t know you owned the cake. Should I ask you before I drink some water or use the electricity?”
“You’re really awful. I had been looking forward to that cake all day.”
“How am I supposed to know that?”
“Because you said you hate pecans! You spent that whole day telling me how much you hate nuts on cake. Why would you eat pumpkin praline cake if you hate pecans? That cake is a pain. It takes three hours! And you just finish it off without thinking. You have no feeling.”
“It’s a piece of cake! Who cares? I’ll make you another cake if it’s so important that you’re going to yell and call me an asshole and stand in front of the TV.”
“The cake isn’t the point!”
“What’s the point then? It sure as hell seems to be about cake.”
“It’s not just about the cake. It’s the money,” Morgan said, turning away from him. “Our finances.”
Morgan said it knowing frogs might as well have been coming from her mouth. Brendan leaned back into the couch.
“You are insane,” he said calmly. “How do you get from a piece of cake to money?”
“It’s always about money,” Morgan mumbled, now aware of the salty sweat residue coating her body, thinking she could use a hot shower.
“Okay. Clue me in here, Mor, because I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”
“The cake,” she said softly, looking at the spotty beige carpet. “It takes three hours. Three hours I don’t have. But I wanted it for Thanksgiving, and I worked hard on it, and I think there’s something for me to enjoy, and then when I go for it, it’s gone. You took it. And you don’t even care. You don’t even care how hard I work for something before you take it and waste it. Just like our finances.”
Proud of her honesty, Morgan raised her eyes to Brendan to see his face red and fists clenched. “What?” she asked. “I’m being honest. Isn’t that good?”
“I can’t believe those words just came out of your mouth. You think I waste your money? You think I waste your money? Why don’t you tell me how you really feel? I have no idea how you can even say that.”
He made a move and Morgan flinched, but it was just to grab the remote and finally turn off the TV. The flinching made everything that much worse.
“What the fuck?” He yelled. “Did you think I would hit you? I waste all your money and I might hit you? Is that what you think of me? Maybe we shouldn’t have moved in together if I’m such an awful person.” Brendan glared at Morgan, daring her to respond. Morgan’s mouth set in a firm line. He would never hit her. She knew that. Flinching had been bad. But, she thought, she would never lose the last piece of cake again.