Fiction · 08/19/2020

Lamb Cake Salvation

My mother bakes a lamb-shaped cake for Easter. She feels compelled to go all out because she’s worried my father’s lost soul might be wandering around the house. She’s convinced that Jesus will accept him if we all put on a good show. She’s sure they will spend eternity together despite what the church ladies cluck when they think we can’t hear them. As if grief rendered my mother deaf. She’s invited them for post-Easter service prayer and cake. They only knew my father as the one that dropped us off and picked us up each Sunday. But declining the invitation would be un-Christian-like.

The lamb cake looks like something went terribly wrong in the birthing process. One eye is much larger than the other. Broken legs. A woolly frosting more reminiscent of tumors than lamb fluff. Our guests hmmm and ha awkwardly as they compliment our house, the flowers, the matching dresses my sisters and I wear. Anything but the centerpiece of the table. My mother’s hand trembles, and she thrusts the knife into mine, certain everyone will relax with a piece of cake in hand. I hover over the tail and the snout, unsure of the proper cutting protocol for a badly formed symbol of God. I ask myself what my father would do in this situation. I feel a nudge, hear an echo of his chuckle.

I just behead the thing. I cringe as I lop the lamb’s head off and realize my mother baked my father’s favorite.

My mother gasps behind me. “Oh, Esther, why?” I hear my sisters’ stifled giggles. The church ladies are stunned into silence, which is a perk I hadn’t anticipated.

We all stare at the headless red velvet lamb. My mother bursts into tears. I twist the delicate chain of my gold cross necklace, half hoping it will snap. I remember the Easter I had an ear infection and stayed home with my father to watch the first baseball game of the season. He made me canned chicken noodle soup and let me eat a whole sleeve of crackers while my mother and sisters prayed for my quick recovery and his salvation.

“Seems like if you need to find God,” my dad had said, “He’ll be wherever you look. Even a baseball game.” He chucked me under the chin before tucking a hot water bottle between my throbbing ear and the couch cushion.

I’m secretly recording the game right now to watch alone in my room after all the church ladies have shuffled out in one synchronized sigh of relief. I want to tell my mother that I don’t believe that my father’s soul is much of anywhere these days, except an echo in our home. That it doesn’t matter that the lamb cake is a disaster. Instead, I point to the flower bed where we’d spread his ashes.

“The tulips bloomed especially bright this year, don’t you think?” I say, taking my mother’s hand and squeezing.

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Diane D. Gillette lives, writes, and teaches in Chicago. Her work has appeared in over sixty literary venues including the Saturday Evening Post, Blackbird, Hobart, and the Maine Review. She is a founding member of the Chicago Literary Writers. You can find more of her published work at www.digillette.com.