Alice smelled sweet.
Carl tried to place the scent whenever they stood next to each other making cupcakes or rolling fondant. It wasn’t his mother’s Chanel No 5 or his aunt’s Jean Nate.
He asked, Is it American buttercream or a hint of Swiss meringue? Chocolate or lemon cake? Sprinkles? Gel coloring?
She didn’t answer, just smiled.
They both worked in the corner bakery together, arriving when it was still dark outside to make sweet pastries and cupcakes for other people. Carl didn’t sniff her hair like he usually did with other women, and cats to some extent. When he kissed Alice in the back room, she tasted like Lip Smackers or at least how he thought the teenager lip gloss might taste. He didn’t kiss a girl in high school so it was all a guessing game with grown women that had shiny liquidy lips.
As he tried to place the smell of her breath, they began to fall in love. Alice appreciated his Dunkin’ Donuts commercial jokes about getting there early to make the donuts when no one else laughed or remembered them being on television. She touched his hand more often than she did Bob the cashier. She also wrote sweet poetry to him on top of the sample cakes.
I love you.
You are handsome.
Marry Me, Carl
As she wrote the letters with her swooping frosting tube, she whispered the sentiments to him too.
Carl found the bakery ironic but he couldn’t get hired anywhere else, and once he met Alice, he didn’t apply anywhere else either. He was a diabetic and didn’t, couldn’t eat anything he made. Not the fondant. Not the macarons or the macaroons. Not the entremets or the frosted, shaped cookies that children loved. Sometimes, he felt faint from just inhaling the smell of the bakery and the pink boxes and vats of frosting and sugar buckets. Alice often administered his insulin for him when he was too woozy to do it himself. He’d wake up flat on his stomach with her sweet breath breathing down on him, cotton candy hair touching his shirt and his apron.
I should be better at this by now after two decades.
He thought as Alice plunged the needle into the very top of his hip (for modesty reasons, just under his apron ties.)
He told her, wondering how she was so good at the needle aspect, the filling of the syringe, not leaving a bruise.
Were you a nurse?
He finally asked after she asked him to marry her on the four-tiered sample Styrofoam cake they kept in the front of the bakery.
My lungs are made of cake.
Alice said it sweetly, and a little sadly. It made sense to Carl. The ease of using the needle. The sweet breath that caressed his face like they worked on a Hallmark holiday movie set. The way she breathed heavily when she hadn’t kissed him yet.
I have six months to live.
She couldn’t say that to him. She wrote it on the new sample wedding cake in the front glass case. Two words on each layer, Their boss yelled at them both when she found them kissing in the back room and out front writing swirly missives to each other.
Alice left a cake message for Carl five months later on a tiny sample cupcake that fit into his pocket.
My food-y flash “Breathing Cake” came from seemingly disparate inspirations: a very visceral episode of the TV show “Nip/Tuck,” having pneumonia, bakeries with pink boxes, and watching my grandparents telegraph messages as they both succumbed to lung cancer. I went through a writer’s phase of subverting fairy tales—cramming teddy bears and cake down my characters’ throats. I wrote without knowing any of the origins behind what I was doing. A recent visit to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia ended up being backwards research. There was a small display about how fairy tales were actually offshoots of mental and physical illnesses at a time when the medical reasons behind them weren’t known. This flash is unintentionally a bit of a modern take on how the Grimm brothers might have approached the subject; a surreal or imaginary explanation for something far more tragic. Cake in the lungs instead of cancer.
Amy Cipolla Barnes has words at FlashBack Fiction, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, The Citron Review, jmww Journal, Flash Frog, Janus Literary, Trampset, The Bureau Dispatch, Scrawl Place, Spartan Lit, Allrecipes, The Spruce Eats, Apartment Therapy and many other sites. She’s a Fractured Lit associate editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, and reads for Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, CRAFT, and The MacGuffin. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, longlisted for Wigleaf50, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. Her debut flash collection “Mother Figures” was published by ELJ Editions in June, 2021 with a full length collection AMBROTYPES published by word west in March, 2022.