The air inside the patisserie was crisp and cool. There wasn’t any sort of tacky fan blowing cold air around, or any visible source of relief from the blazing heat outside, but the lights were low, and the walls were dark, and the air was the perfect temperature.
She stood there gazing absentmindedly through the glass. Her eyes scanned the various pastries, and occasionally focussed on her reflection. There was a mirror behind her, and another one in front of her against the wall behind the counter, but she was not willing to look up at herself. She hated people who did their makeup in pubic, besides, it was overwhelmingly humid and hot again today. There was no reason to look up, she was a mess, and she knew it.
The patisserie had been here for years. She passed it almost every single day on her way to work, or while she was out running errands. Usually she would steal a glance at herself in the window as she passed, the dark interior made for a decent reflection from the bright sidewalk outside. Sometimes something would catch her eye in the window and she might remember a time when she’d eaten something so decadent, or come up with an idea for something to make herself, but she had never actually inside the shop before. It was bias essentially. She had enough money to buy whatever fancy desert caught her eye. Even on a teacher’s salary, her husband had provided her with enough money to buy anything they needed. Without children, they had a nice life, and were very interested in fine food, imported beverages, and new things. yet somehow the dainty uniforms of the young women behind the counter disturbed her. Though she never really stopped to carefully examine the women, the doily-like paper hats on their heads and white gloves they wore was more than enough information for her.
The afternoon had gone badly. She was muddled, and unable to really focus. Nothing had been done, and there was no specific pressure in particular which she could explain. Still, everything that happened seemed to pile up on top of her, like another parcel to lug around, and it was beginning to piss her off. She spent the morning at home, reading, trying to pretend that it was not going to be another day of record breaking temperatures. When she realized it was three in the afternoon the irritation began.
She dressed in a light cotton outfit which she had never worn before, and a pair of flats which she loved. Her husband would have loved this dress, he may have actually bought it for her. He was always buying her skimpy little outfits on his trips abroad, or on their vacations, smiling optimistically as he handed her the expensive looking bags stained along the crumpled edges with moisture from his thick fingers. He would grin, his appetite for easy women, and gluttonous disposition all over his face, and eyes and lips. The dresses were often lovely, but there was something in the way his hands clutched the bags, that revolted her completely. She had loved her husband deeply, and sometimes wore the clothes he bought for her. But she had never worn this dress before. It had never been this hot before. She was irritated by everything. Nothing was going right today.
The cool of the patisserie was lovely. She had hoped to pass unnoticed. There were people in the shop, women buying bags of cream puffs, croissants, and discussing elaborate deserts with the women behind the counter. A woman wearing a dark blue suit was pointing at the glazed strawberries and arguing that they were pointing outward as opposed to up as she had specifically instructed when ordering the desert.
The patient faces of the employees, their bright white uniforms, and crisp paper hats left them somehow well below the position of anyone who entered the shop. White gloves and delicate pastry seemed like a recipe for disaster. Yet somehow the women kept them clean, and didn’t appear to be changing them constantly. The women seemed cheerful, kind, and deeply interested in making sure your strawberries were pointing in the right direction, or that the eclairs you wanted were the nicest ones, and were packed just right, wrapped perfectly, so they would make the journey home with you unharmed. Rather than offending her, or provoking her in any way, the women in white seemed to assure her that they were in control. She was disarmed by their manner.
As the crowd began to disperse, she began to study the contents of the racks of pastries. Her eyes passed over the deserts and rested upon a soft, velvety brown cake. There was something about the texture of the cake’s surface which made it look impossible. It did not look like chocolate, rather, the soft surface of the cake reminded her of fabric. She stared at it, past her reflection, into the case. Something stirred deeply within her. She stood there feeling awake, and sexual, peering into the impossible texture of the cake.
Nothing could persuade her mind that this was a confection. It was a flawless thing. It was a perfect thing. It looked as if someone had upholstered, or delicately tailored. Not one single speck of the fine, suede-like bur had fallen from the cake to the tray, the lighting in the case gave it the color of a rich espresso.
She thought of coffee, and how it had been much too hot for coffee. She thought of chocolate, and cocoa, and how it never snowed here.
She had loved the snow when she was a girl. Her mother and father would take annual winter vacations to the mountains, and spend the entire trip indoors reading. She would sit in the window, safely wrapped in a warm blanket with a mug of hot cocoa and watch the thick, white flakes of snow drop to the ground covering everything in sight.
“May I help you?” Said the woman behind the counter.
Instinctively she clutched her hand bag, and looked up with a little gasp. The smooth, twenty year old face gazed at her kindly. She noticed the girl’s eyebrows, unwaxed, and natural. Her lips were dark red, and moist. Her skin was powdered. The girl had perfect skin. She had had perfect skin when she was twenty. It was something she had always taken for granted.
Her lips moved, she wanted to say “No thank you.” and then smile, or perhaps explain that she was “just looking” and continue to enjoy the cool of the shop, but her eyes withdrew, glancing back at the soft surface of the cake she’d been staring into. Then, without saying anything, she quickly turned and left the patisserie.
The street was still hot. Fewer people were on the street, but traffic had not improved at all. Traffic never seemed to improve. She hurried up the hill without stopping. Her husband was already home when she arrived. Opera was playing in the kitchen, and he was struggling to open a bottle of wine. She stopped in the entry hall and watched him wrestle with the cork. He was impatient, and never put the screw far enough into the cork to successfully extract it in one piece. She watched him pull on one side, and then the other. She watched the cork break and fall back into the wine with a silent little plop. “Merde” he said to himself, and then wiped his forehead and laughed. She smiled. He was a filthy little man, but she loved him.
“Having trouble?” She asked softly.
“Mada! You are just in time.” His face was full of sun, and his head had gotten burned today. He looked like a red light bulb, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“What have I almost missed?” She smiled.
“Why my delicious cooking of course.”
They ate on the balcony. He’d made an omelet with potatoes and capers. She quickly made a salad, and even though she had managed to fish the tip of the cork from the bottle of wine, they drank cognac and cold beer. He talked at length about his day even though she hadn’t asked. He had the glow of conquest on him. She could see its stain on his fingers as he mopped up his dinner with a piece of bread he’d torn from the loaf. The beer was cold, and she drank several glasses. While he talked, she thought that whatever it was he was saying had all been said before.
He wasn’t a stupid man, he provided the two of them a comfortable living, but she didn’t want to hear him make up events and exchanges, or classroom replies to his riveting lectures on a day he’d clearly spent in the sun with some student or would be professor.
They had an open relationship. To him that meant that he was free to conquer every woman he could dazzle with his theories about the unwritten cultural revolution. Somehow interest in his work translated to sexual exploration. To her it meant that she had a fair amount of time to herself, and she could engage in flirtation, and fantasy without shame or reprisal. She had been in open relationships before, and they usually meant that it was common knowledge that her lover was free to sleep with anyone they liked, but she was not allowed the same liberty. This situation had its limitations and difficulties, but it was the most agreeable compromise she had entered into so far.
While he talked about someone called Amelia, she thought about the surface of the chocolate cake. HEr mind traced the circles around the pastry. Her fingertips delicately traced over the surface of the paper beneath it. She felt each impression, every indentation. While she watched her husband’s mouth move, she imagined herself alone in the patisserie, alone with this chocolate cake. She was aroused again. She could feel herself slippery with wetness between her legs. This was irrational. She blushed, and glanced carefully at her husband. He was talking, but clearly hadn’t noticed her blushing. What was it about the cake? How had they made such a texture from powder, sugar, and eggs? Why was this bourgeois pastry of any interest to her? Why did it seem to have so much power over her. It shouldn’t matter, it was just a cake, and yet, the velvety suede of the surface made her mouth water. She swallowed hard and made an effort to pull herself together.
“Mada, darling.” Her husband said with his mouth full. “Are you going to eat the rest of your omelette?”
“No.” She said as if she were full.
He poured the last of the cognac into his own glass, and reach across the table and scraped the omelette onto his own plate and began to eat it with his hands. He continued to talk, occasionally a piece of bread, or fleck of egg would drop out of his mouth. She would watch carefully to see where it landed. Sometimes it would drop sadly into his mustache and ride there as he chewed, occasionally he would fire a crumb from his lips out across the table. The idea that we are always spitting all over each other made her smile.
Her thoughts returned to the cake. She imagined the cold knife softly cutting into the surface. From the center of the perfect circle, the metal would slice through the velvet texture of the pastry like a hot knife in butter, pulling the pile, forcing it to one side or the other, and reaching the edge. Separating the slice, creating pieces, division, segments, orderliness, bliss.
“Mada, darling…” He said softly. She felt his hands touching her. “Darling what is it?”
He had gotten up from his chair and come to her. He was red-faced, and sweating in the evening heat. They were drunk, and he was horny. She smelled the capers and cognac on his breath mixed with the faint smell of another woman’s sex. His teeth were perfectly white, and they seemed like dentures in the mouth of a homeless person. The smell of him brought her back into the moment, and she was no longer aroused in the least.
“Maybe I’ve had too much beer.” She said quietly to herself.
Her husband closed his lips and looked at her, snorting through his nose, as if too much beer were a lucky accident for him.
“Darling I would like to make love with my wife.”
“I have to take a shower.”
“Mmm…” He said, pressing his face against her cheek. “You can take one after.”
“I’ll just go and shower quickly.”
“I’ll be waiting my love.”
She stood up from the table, and left. He swayed there on the deck. He collected the dishes and put them in the sink. He rinsed his hands, and turned off the stereo. He heard the water begin to run in the upstairs bathroom. He put the eggs and potatoes back into the refrigerator, and switched off the light.
In the dark he climbed the stairs, looking through the crack of the open door to the bathroom. He saw his wife standing in the shower through the etched glass of the sliding doors. You couldn’t see the shower from the bathroom doorway, but you could see the reflection in the mirror.
He walked into his bedroom, kicked off his shoes, unbuckled his belt and felt his abdomen relax as his trousers fell to the floor. He peeled off his shirt, and scratched himself. He thought of Amelia, and how pink her ass had been when she stood up from the grass this afternoon. Amelia had loved their picnic, and so had he. She was going to make an excellent professor. He was lucky to have gotten his hands on her now, while she was still interested in men like him.
When she entered the bedroom she was wearing a muslin dressing gown. It was a little cooler, and she felt much better after a shower. Her husband was laying on the bed with his mouth open, sound asleep. She smiled, and softly climbed into bed, switched out the light and went to sleep.
Looking down at his crotch, a bright light shone onto his red, and almost erect member. Gloved fingers held the tip clinically. The blade of a knife appeared. It was a surgical knife, a scalpal. He began to perspire. He tried to move his hips, to force himself upright, but he couldn’t move. He tried to cry out, to shriek, to call for help, but no sound would report.
The knife’s blade was cold, much colder than the gloved fingers. He could feel his pulse pounding in his head as the blade delicately touched the base of his penis.
He was in abject terror, and yet, somehow he was deeply aroused. He went from only partially erect to completely hard, as if the prospect of having his cock removed was uncontrollably sexual, and the response, quite involuntary.
The sharp blade delicately slid over the skin at the base of his erection. A faint red line appeared. Blood didn’t flow, the cut hadn’t been deep. It was little more than a scratch, but a dark drop of blood appeared at the center and began to run.
He sat upright in bed. His head was pounding. He groaned. It was hot again. The clock’s green numerals came into focus, and he realized he was late.
“Fuck.” He stood up and pulled his trousers up around him. He grabbed a fresh shirt from the closet, and began to button it as he rushed into the bathroom. “You should have woken me up.” He called.
She rolled over in bed, her head was pounding. It was hot and uncomfortable in the bed. She sat up and checked the time. He was going to be late. She smiled.
“Mada, you should have woken me up.”
“So it’s my responsibility to wake you up now?”
He appeared from the bathroom looking irritated. She was sleepy, and her hair was piled up to one side of her head, matted in the back. He used to love how dreamy and messy she looked in the mornings, but right now it made him angry because she hadn’t woken him up and it was all her fault.
“Well…” He began.
“Yes, yes.” She said to the floor. “Whatever.”
His face changed, and he tried to explain again, but she had retied her gown, and gone down the stairs.
He walked back into the bathroom in a huff and blew his nose, took a couple of aspirin and splashed water on his face. He washed his hands with soap, and stepped into his shoes. When he arrived in the kitchen there was almost coffee, and Mada was out on the terrace. He glanced at the newspaper, and ate a piece of bread, poured his coffee into a stainless steel portable mug, and knocked on the glass door.
Mada stood up and walked toward the door. He gave her the finger and grinned. She scowled at him and sat back down. It was going to be another very hot day.
After he was gone, she went into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. She sat in the shade of the kitchen and sipped it slowly, reading the newspaper. She had married a pig. She had married her father. She had married a child.
In the newspaper, more people were dead in the world, and some young woman’s breasts were on the front page. As if it were actually news that someone she had never even heard of before had augmented their breasts for a film role they’d been awarded.
She imagined all of the women in the world who get breast implants each day and don’t have their surgeries acknowledged on the front pages of newspapers. Perhaps it would be a good idea to begin an augmentation gazette. There is clearly a market for this. People could send in before and after photos, and the day’s surgical procedures would be listed in it, like obituaries, the public could read about breasts, and talk about augmentation, surgery, youth, and the girth of bosoms, boobs, breasts, tits, and teats with a frankness which we currently lack.
She laughed at herself. She hated breast implants, and imagined herself with breasts the size of canteloupes. She tried to imagine the look on her husband’s face when she woke up from the surgery. She was about to get angry again when her phone beeped. It only beeped when she received a text message, and her husband was angry with her for text messaging with her friends because it cost money every time. Occasionally he would send her one. She was sure this was a message from him.
She clicked through the menu of her phone and read the message which said “I’m a pig. Forgive me?” She laughed and typed a reply with her thumbs.
As soon as she set the phone down on the counter, it rang. She answered and it was her husband.
“I’m a pig.” He said.
“Yes you are.”
“Mada, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
“I am a grown man. It’s not your job to wake me up in the morning. Please forgive me. I drank too much cognac last night. I should never drink.”
She could hear her own breathing, but said nothing.
“My only regret is that we did not make love last night.”
“Mmm..” She said.
“Darling, Mada, it has been much too long since we made love.”
She parted her lips to say something.
“I had the most curious dream last night which I only just remembered.”
“Darling, I must go. I will call you later. We will have something special tonight for dinner, and we will only drink beer. ok?”
“I will call you later my darling.”
“Do you forgive me?”
“Tonight we will make love.”
She put the phone back down on the counter and finished doing the dishes.
She had made a long list of things to do today. Yesterday had been so hot and humid that nothing was accomplished. There was laundry to collect, food to buy, people to visit, and various things to purchase. There was quite a bit to do. But today was possibly hotter and more humid than yesterday. She collected herself, and walked with a serious face toward the avenue. She was going to buy everything on her list, and perhaps return home in time to do some reading she’d meant to do. Also, she wanted to shower and change before her husband came home from work. She felt bad about last night and this morning and resolved to do better today.
Walking down the hill she passed a woman who had once been a friend of hers. They were in a reading group together, and met at her house to discuss the assignments a couple of times a week. She liked her, but was daunted by her habit of generalizing.
“Everyone knows that people like that are stupid” She would say.
It wasn’t so different from most people really, but it irritated her anyway. They stopped speaking after she fucked Arvan. It was difficult for her, despite her own insistance upon her relationships being kept open to befriend or remain friends with anyone her husband took as a lover, however casually. Passing the woman without meeting her eyes or saying anything was not nice. But in a way she felt that she was doing her the favor of having to avoid her. A kindness reserved for those she felt she may have hurt.
At the corner she stopped and took out her list again, she looked at the long list of items, and tasks. It was so hot, and the cars passed quickly. The smell of exhaust was choking. After scanning the list several times, she folded it up into a tidy rectangle, tucked it into her purse, crossed the street, and walked into the patisserie.
The cool of the shop was the same as yesterday. It took her, and embraced her completely. Walking into this shop was like being recieved on the lodge of an opera house, or welcomed into a spelndid circle. She took a deep breath, smelling the delicious deserts all at once, and then walked over to the cake. It was there, just as she’d left it yesterday. Perfectly round, perfectly smooth, perfectly illuminated. She stared at the cake with her hand on the glass for a few moments and then caught the attention of one of the girls.
“Good morning Madame.” Said the calm, and pretty face from yesterday. “May I help you?”
“Yes.” She said softly. “I’d like this cake please.”
“The fruit torte Madame?”
“No, no. the chocolate cake.”
Th cake was wrapped carefully for protection against the heat, and the various conditions of transporting it. She carried the parcel by the ends of the strings it was tied with, and went straight home. She walked quickly up the hill, deeply aroused, her heart beating wildly in her chest. She didn’t buy anything else, and did not stop again until the box was safely in her refrigerator.
Afterward, she sat on the terrace, sipping iced tea and reading. When she would refill her glass, she would gaze at the pale paper texture of the surface of the box. The cake was in this box. Something lovely, and decadent was inside of it. She wondered after a couple of hours if the cake had made it home intact. So she untied the string, and opened the box to look at it.
The suede-like texture of the chocolate had very slightly begun to moisten. It wasn’t so much that it had melted, but it was obviously chocolate now, and no longer the perfection it had been in the shop. She quickly closed the box and shut the refrigerator and sat down. Biting her fingernails she wondered about the cake.
“What a stupid thing to do.” She thought.
Disgusted with herself, she went upstairs and took a long shower and lay down for a nap.
It was dark when she awoke. Opera was playing, streaming softly from the kitchen. She looked at the clock and wondered why he hadn’t woken her up when he got home. When she got down stairs she found Arvan making an elaborate meal, sipping a huge can of Sapporo and singing along with Giacomo Puccini.
He looked so happy cooking. He must have been home a long time because he wasn’t sweaty. She put her arms around him and kissed the back of his shirt.
“Mada! Hello my darling…” His face was brown, and the mitt of hair around his bald head was light from the sun.
“I must have fallen asleep.”
“You were exhausted my love.”
She looked at him curiously.
“I have prepared a masterpiece.” He turned at looked into her face. He was tan, and his face was hopeful. “Tonight we will feast upon Sapporo beer, and my world famous pomegranate chicken with garlic rice and green salad.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“You are the occasion.”
“I see, so we’re French now, are we?”
She thought of the cake, and opened the refrigerator to make sure he hadn’t stuffed half of it into his mouth the moment he discovered it. It was untouched. But the texture of the surface was still imperfect. It remained slightly softened, and looked like fine and short chocolate shavings instead of the flawless suede it had been in the shop. She had ruined the cake buy buying it so hastily, and traveling home on foot. She ruined everything.
“I noticed your delicious desert.”
“How could I miss it?” His lips were wet, as if he’d been licking them in anticipation of eating the cake. She was revolted, and was thinking of some way to explain that the cake was not for him, but perhaps for some occasion. But what occasion? Before she came up with anything, her husband was running the plates outside onto the deck, and had resumed his singing. She calmly walked out onto the terrace, took up a chair and sat down.
The cold beer was wonderful. The food was terrible. Her husband had a way of undercooking everything. The pomegranate juice was cool, and had not soaked into the flash completely. the chicken was pink at the bone. Even the salad was thick, and had too much vinegar in it. She picked at her dinner, and drank too much beer. He let out a triumphant belch and pushed his plate aside.
“I’m going in for another Sapporo, would you like one?”
He smiled darkly, as if the next beer would ensure an evening of sex. He loved it when she got tipsy, even a little drunk. She was much more flexible, and willing to go along with his desires. The rest of the time his once moldable and quiet wife was now quite rigid and difficult to satisfy. She never complained, but he knew. She was nothing like the students or salaried teachers at the university. They were hungry, passionate, desperate to learn, talk, touch, taste and feel their own visceral pleasures. She had never been like that, but she certainly had a beautiful ass. She would have slapped him if she could read his mind. They had never had a relationship based on carnal interest, rather, they were meant to be equals, peers. She looked after his house, and he looked after her security. He must be drunk. He reflected quietly and burped a few more times into his napkin which he then left in a wad on the counter.
“Arvan,” She said from right behind him in the kitchen.
He wheeled around guiltily and peered at her as soberly as he could.
“I am just going to go and lie down.”
“Not again my love. What’s wrong are you ill?”
“Yes I must be.” She said, but she knew she was lying. “No, no I don’t think so. I am drunk an I don’t want to be. I want to lay down.”
He kissed her on the forehead and smiled. She went upstairs and he put all the dishes into the sink, pots, pans, trays, empty cans, forks and knives. He vaguely realized that this wasn’t what you are supposed to do with dishes when you are done eating, but he didn’t wash them or rinse them, or change anything. He simply crushed a few cans so that the whole mess would fit into the sink, switched off the light and followed his wife up the stairs.
He showered, and combed what was left of his hair with a whistle. He was already partially aroused. “Sex with Madame” He thought. He stopped making tipsy faces long enough to convince himself that he was still an attractive man. Staring into the mirror with the face he only made when he stares into the mirror. The face resembled an overweight dachshund. His long, fat face allowing the wrinkles in his forehead to smooth artificially, and his eyes to stare back at him in the mirror. He was happy with this posture, although he never made this face in his real life. It was a pose which gave him some kind of confidence, especially when he was drunk or fresh out of the shower.
When he was done he threw the towel on the floor and walked slowly into the bedroom. She was awake, but she was tucked into bed, her back to him. He put his hand on her shoulder and whispered,” Mada. Mada darling are you awake?”
For a moment she stayed completely still. She knew that if she stayed right there without moving that he would quickly be discouraged and climb into bed, switch the television on and start snoring. Her heart was tight in her chest, and even though she would have rather broken every single tooth out of his head in a single blow and spit in his face, she lifted her head and looked up at her husband.
“I’m here.” She said quietly. He smiled a sleepy smile and relaxed his hands. “I’m going to freshen up. I’ll be right back.”
He watched her get up, and walk around the bed. He closed his eyes and hummed to himself.
In the bathroom Mada brushed her teeth and washed her face. She was hungry. The toothpaste felt sharp and powerful in her mouth. She felt he stomach gnawing at her torso. She ran her hands over her abdomen and looked at herself in the mirror. Every line, ever blemish, every sign of fatigue stared back at her.
With a sigh she scrubbed at her face with the wash cloth. Scrubbing, toning, rinsing, and toning again. She tied her hair up with an elastic band and switched off the light.
When she arrived at the bed, her husband was asleep. There he was, laying on his back, mouth wide open, one sock on and a hand down his boxer shorts. She pulled the covers up around him and climbed into bed. She turned on her side, switched out the light and lay there staring straight ahead in the dark.
The mouth of this apparition opened and revealed sharp metal teeth. They were dark, covered in blood. He struggled against the image, but he was unable to move. The more he struggled, the closer the face seemed to come to him. He remembered the dream from the night before, and suddenly felt the familiar cold fingers pulling the ends of his foreskin, extending his penis.
“For God’s sake!” He cried. “Please, no!”
“Wait a minute. I’m dreaming.” He said to himself. The sound died in the room. He was sitting up in bed, sober, and wearing only his boxer shorts and a sock. His penis was erect, and sticking out of the opening in his boxers. His scrotum was being twisted in a mass of fabric between his buttocks. He arranged himself and then stood up. Laughing he turned to the other side of the bed.
“Mada?” He whispered, reaching out to her in the dim light. “Mada I have to tell you about this terrible dream.”
He patted his hands around the bed, but she was not in bed. He looked around the room in the dark. He looked in the bathroom, she was not upstairs at all. He scratched himself, the dream almost completely forgotten, and walked downstairs to the kitchen. He instinctively opened the refrigerator to see if there was anything new, or different, or left over for him to eat. There was nothing but a soft pink box. It was open and empty.
The kitchen was a mess. How had this happened? The kitchen was always clean. Yet there were crushed beer cans, dirty pots and pans, and plates stacked up inside of it. On the counter were crumbs and wrappers. On the island in the middle of the kitchen as a knife, it was standing up straight, impaled into the butcher block surface of the island. It was covered in what looked like a chamois, or perhaps some kind of feces. He went to turn on the light to try and figure out what the fuck was going on when he caught sight of his wife’s profile on the terrace. He went to the door and slid it open.
“Mada?” He said into the slight breeze which had begun since they went to bed. “Mada are you out here?”
She sat there in the dark, staring straight ahead into the lights of the city. She had eaten every last bite of the cake. At first she had cut a piece, an elegant, sultry piece of cake. She ate every bite of it, and slowly licked the rest from her fingers when she was done.
Absentmindedly she returned to the kitchen for a second piece, and returned with the entire cake. She sat down in the chair and began to devour it. It was all over her face, and the thick texture of the frosting was all over her hands. She could feel it between her teeth, under her fingernails, between her fingers. She could feel this cake inside of her.