Credit: Alison Graham
Poetry & Prose

Not Your Birthday Cake

You are five years old and the cake tastes great: two textures dissolve on your tongue, a soft, spongy yellow birthday cake—it’s not your birthday, though, but your grandmother’s—and a creamy white frosting so sweet it tickles, almost burns after a while, leaving the roof of your mouth raw and numb but forever asking for more, so you do and your mother serves you another slice that you let slide down your throat before you remember to say that sweet, sing-songy, sugar-coated “thank you” of yours in between spilling crumbs on the hardwood floor and sucking sugar off of each one of your tender fingers; you sit there with your soft and full stomach anchoring you to the chair but your little legs are free and dangling inches above the floor, kicking aimlessly until you see your mother’s eyes dart toward you, glazed by a sudden interest in your presence, and she tells you to sit still and listen to the conversation, which you then hear for the first time, the buzz of grown-ups decades away; you watch it bounce around the candle-lit room, voices melting together like sugar and butter, like the frosting that was thick and sweet and creamy on your tongue as you shoveled it in, but which stings afterwards, leaving your mouth sour and thirsty, leaving you suddenly afraid to ask for water.

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