I SINK MY FORK into the cake slice, hot bile scalding my throat. It’s black midnight cake, the third I’ve baked this month.
“I’ll eat it if you won’t,” Meg chimes from across the table.
I force the cake into my mouth and swallow. She raises an eyebrow, studying me, but says nothing. There are smears of frosting left on my fork. My stomach twists.
“It’s comfort cake,” Meg always says. Her favorite, at every social gathering.
She and I used to dance. Swinging string lights in the branches overhead, our cheeks pinked in the night breeze, breath caught up in our lungs, noses red, bright smiles on our faces. The cake sits heavy in my gut, bearing me to the floor.
It rests on my plate, not moving, inanimate. If I stare at it long enough, perhaps I’ll want to eat it.
“Wanna go to the movies?” Meg asks, watching me. “You can pick.”
What’s to choose, I think but don’t say. Superheroes fighting aliens, rebels fighting monsters. The hero always wins after a battle with too much CGI.
Meg’s brother had a party a few weeks earlier. I brought the cake, black midnight, the only thing I spend my time on anymore. Dump in all the ingredients and beat on high for five minutes. Hope it doesn't dry out in the oven or fall while cooling on the stove.
Meg sang karaoke in the next room, her brother opened presents, mostly razors and wine. I wedged myself into an armchair, staring at the flat grey rug. I used to love karaoke, but now I don’t see the point. She came by with a slice of cake later, touched my numb hand. "I wish you'd tell me what's wrong," she said. I wanted to speak, but couldn't. The same words exchanged, same scene, same recipe, over and over.
Later, Meg pulled me close while watching Jurassic Park in bed. Scientists fighting dinosaurs. A CGI face at the end to wipe out the stunt double’s existing. They call that movie magic.
Meg clears her throat. I’ve been silent too long. “Happy birthday,” I say, although I know it’s not what she wants to hear. My voice sounds strange. Quiet, like someone just died and the EMS are here to take the body away. I wish I’d finished that cake.
I excuse myself to go retch in the toilet.
Meg is there, a cool hand on my shoulder. I didn’t hear her come in. She stays silent, waiting, but I know she’s unnerved. Frankly, I am, too. The scent of toilet cleaner twines with chocolate in my nose. I lurch away, knocking back against her knees as I stand.
The air outside is cool, buffing my cheeks. I wrap my arms around my ribcage. My sweatshirt is too thin.
She follows me into the backyard, fingers light on my sleeve.
“Are you okay?”
I nod, swallow back a wave of vomit.
It’s not yet dark, so we sit on the edge of the deck, watching the sky shift to night. Meg threads her arm through mine, but it takes ages for her warmth to reach my elbow. She feels like a ghost, a wisp of smoke beside me, not actually there.
When the light from the kitchen is the only illumination in our yard, she tugs on my arm, settling her hands around my neck. I mimic her position, moving with her as she sways to the branches swinging in the darkness.
I can’t see the stars, but it must be close to midnight. The sky, black as tar, creeps in sweetly, churning, swirling, twisting inside me.
My feet sink into the decking. It’s swallowing me, but I don’t think it wants to. Meg is foreign in my arms, distant. But I hang on anyway, falling, falling into the smooth, black sky.
— AMELIA ALEXANDER
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