“And don’t forget to pick up my cake!”
Helen’s voice was shrill even from a floor away. Renold sighed and walked out to his truck, trying to keep the list of things he had to get in his head. Not only did he have to stop and pick up a variety of parts to fix the leaking sink, he also had to pick up some groceries and medicine.
And now she wanted her cake on top of it?
Renold gingerly climbed into the truck. At nearing eighty years on this earth, he found going out and running errands took more and more effort each time. His hips ached and feet and hands were cold no matter how many layers he seemed to wear.
Renold drove through the snowy streets down to the hardware store in town to pick up some drain cleaner, a few lengths of pipe, some washers and bolts. Next door was the grocers, where he picked up the fixings for a big pot of ham bone soup and his next batch of insulin.
Then was the long trek to the bakery to pick up Helen’s blasted cake. She wouldn’t settle for just any cake, store bought or made at home. No, he had to go to a small, ornate bakery twenty minutes away on the other side of town. He wasn’t sure who was the bigger fool: her for thinking the trip was worth it or him for making it despite knowing better.
Ah, the joys of marriage.
He pulled up to the bakery and entered. Just like they did every week, the young girls on staff welcomed him in. He had been coming here like clockwork for over a decade now.
“Good morning, Mr. Irving,” the girl at the register said as he came in. He couldn’t remember if her name was Naomi or Kelly, his glasses too fogged up from coming in from the cold to fake it and make out her nametag.
“It’s certainly been a morning. Nobody knows how to drive in this weather.”
“Well me about it,” she said. “I had someone take off my mirror the other day trying to change lanes into me.”
Renold did a good job feigning alarm. “I hope you’re okay.”
“Yeah, thankfully they were quick about getting back into their own lane, and I was quick about noting their license plate. But once there’s snow on the streets you better believe everyone’s going to lose their minds.”
“Anyway, can I get a piece of your cheesecake, to go?”
“Certainly,” she said, heading over to the glass display case and pulling out the cake. “You sure you don’t want anything for yourself?’
“I can’t,” Renold said. “With the diabetus and all.” He pronounced it with all the Brimley-esque nobility he could, mostly because he knew the young girls here thought it was funny when he did so. He was rewarded with a smile and a small laugh for his trouble.”
“We have sugar free stuff, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” he said. “But you wouldn’t sit a starving man in front of a banquet and tell him he can have a saltine, would you?”
“Of course not, but … oh,” she said, his comparison dawning on her. She shook her head. “I can only imagine. Why come in here, then?”
“The missus insists this is the best in town, and heaven knows that after fifty years I’m pretty sure it’s just the liberal application of baked goods that really keeps a marriage together.”
The girl cut off a slice and boxed it up like they did every week. “Well, your wife at least has good taste,” she said, giving him a big grin. He had the good taste to look a little embarrassed.
“Thanks,” he said, paying for the slice of cake. “Have a good day.”
“You too,” she called after him. “See you next week.”
* * *
Renold sat all the bags he had brought on the kitchen table. From the floor above him, Helen’s voice called down. “You got my cake?”
“Of course,” Renold said loudly, trying not to let the frown on his face show in his voice.
“Bring it up!”
“I will,” he said, looking at the bags before him. “Give me a second. I have to put this stuff away.”
“Don’t take too long,” she said, her voice drifting off. Renold got to work putting all the tools out for when he’d need them later. Then he got out his syringe and gave himself his scheduled dose of insulin. Once he was done, however, he didn’t immediately pack up his stuff. Instead, he looked at the things spread out on the table. And he popped open the lid to the drain cleaner and dipped the needle into the liquid, pulling up the plunger and with it some of the noxious looking blue liquid.
He turned and opened up the box with the cake. The needle slid in, so tiny it wouldn’t leave a mark. Renold depressed the plunger in a few spots, little drops of the cleaner that quickly diffused into the cake. He had been doing this long enough that he knew just which type to buy that it didn’t taste funny. She certainly hadn’t noticed by now, and he expected she was far too gone to at this point.
That done, he tossed the needle in his hazard bin and washed the syringe well. It wouldn’t do to have traces of that cleaner in the syringe when he used it. That stuff was dangerous!
His medical supplies safely put away, he grabbed a fork and took the box containing the cake up to Helen’s bedroom. Soon she would be happily eating her weekly treat, then she’d lay back down feeling ill and he could have piece for a few hours longer.
Cake really was the glue that held a marriage together.