Cake
by MATT CARMICHAEL
There was a pear tree in front of my house and in the spring there was the smell of pear blossoms. Warm nights when the windows were open I listened to the leaves as I fell asleep. They sounded softer than the oak leaves that hissed up and down the street. At the end of the summer, hundreds of spotted black starlings flocked to the tree to feed. Every year for as long as I can remember, they pecked the pears and pecked each other and left the fruit half eaten and hanging from the tree. I thought they were beautiful birds. My father told me they were an invasive species. I had dreams as a kid in which one of the starlings flew through my bedroom window and perched itself on my chest and tilted its head curiously before pecking away at my front teeth. I woke up gagging and I remember I could still feel chipped pieces of enamel scratching at the back of my throat. The sound of the beak on my teeth echoed through my head like the chink of a hammer gently rapping against porcelain. But I don’t have those dreams anymore, anyways. My father’s suicide gave me something else to dream about.

Years ago when it was raining—and the thunder—my father sat drunk out front in his wooden porch swing, barefoot and guzzling from a bottle of expensive whiskey. After his last pull my father heaved the bottle out through the rain and into the street. Then my father grabbed for the shotgun he’d brought out with him—and probably kept on his lap—and positioned it between his legs. He placed the barrel up under his chin.

For years my father kept a gray beard, but he’d shaved it down to silver stubble sometime before he took his own life. He toed the trigger and painted his brains against the front of the house so that across the living room window, pieces of his memory—streams and rivers he’d splashed in as a child, clothespins and squid and crab fishing on the rocks at Cape Cod, birthday cakes, the war, fucking my mother, being young—met finally with his old gray hair, and together they waltzed their skull drip waltz down to the windowsill. My father was so drunk he probably doesn’t even remember doing it.


Life wasn’t that hard, my neighbor Haze Greenberg thought, and if you hadn’t gotten it figured out by the time you realized you hadn’t, you deserved the plague of insecurity, and anything else that came your way. That was until she unknowingly spent the summer sleeping with—and nearly loving—an anti-Semite knife salesman named Roy Glasgoine.

One day Haze came running out of her house in tears, her grandmother (whom Haze lived with on account of her drunk mother) close behind and waving a handful of photocopied death records from the concentration camp that gassed Haze’s great-grandparents. Haze’s grandmother screamed at her and called her a sympathizer and a Nazi loving whore as Haze flew down the porch stairs with her backpack and cut across the front yard to the sidewalk, where she started running towards me and tripped in a large crack in the sidewalk that the city had been ignoring since the springtime thaw. She crashed and smacked her teeth on the concrete. The skin on her kneecap stuck where she first made contact with the sidewalk. She clutched her knee and rolled over onto the neighbor Osario's front lawn. A veteran soldier and a failed children’s author, Osario firmly believed that lack of a decent war had corrupted every generation since his, and regularly cursed the worthless and overweight neighborhood kids from behind his coffee mug. He’d served with my father. Haze was bleeding from her knee and she held it close to her breast. Her hair was thin and straight and brown and it fell over her face, matting to her skin where it stuck to the blood that trickled from her mouth or the tears that trickled down her cheeks.

I lived two houses past Haze’s grandmother in a house my father and mother left for me when they, respectively (though in no particular chronological order), committed suicide and started fucking and living with Pete Layer—the local celebrity, entrepreneur, and founder and president of the Center for Competitive Parenting. The Suzuki method is old news, Layer told me the last time my mom brought him by, the language of business was in. Arab, Mandarin Chinese. Teach your kids Spanish if they aspire for that coveted warehouse manager position, he joked. I hated him. I’d lived in that house all my life—the dark brown Victorian with the green and red and yellow stained glass window above the front door.

I was just coming back from the store where I’d gone to get a few things—toilet paper, Windex, and some porno magazines. I jogged to where Haze cried and put my paper bag on the ground and searched for the toilet paper. I’d forgotten the toilet paper. I’d forgotten the Windex too. I thought for a second and pulled out a magazine and quickly removed the black plastic wrapping that censored the cover. Girls of the Economic Crisis. I opened it and ripped a page out and pressed it against her knee. The glossy magazine photo wasn’t much for absorption, and Haze's blood trickled down the chin of a chubby blonde teen inhaling the perfectly manicured erection of a faceless man; a few twenty dollar bills were scattered on the floor around her knees. I pulled the picture back to wipe the blood that slid down Haze’s shin. Haze sniffled and looked at the picture. She laughed and turned shyly away and said it was the biggest dick she'd ever seen. We both laughed. I was embarrassed. So was she, but she was embarrassed because she was crying and bleeding on the sidewalk. I don’t know why I was embarrassed. Maybe it was because I always liked her. Not in that I sexually objectify every woman I see way liked her. I genuinely liked her. 

Her grandmother was still screaming from her porch. Osario came out and yelled something about enlistment and direction and slugged from his coffee mug and smacked his lips and went back inside. A squad car drove by and the officer slowed down. The oak trees that lined most of the street rustled and it began to rain. The officer flicked the wipers and hit it down the block. I helped Haze up and the rain hammered her face and she wiped the blood from her mouth with the sleeve of her sweatshirt with holes around the dirty cuffs where her thumbs poked through. She’d chipped the corner off her front tooth.  Haze said don’t listen to her grandmother. She said her grandmother didn’t understand, her grandmother thought Haze knew the truth about Roy, the anti-Semite knife salesman, all along and was only now offended that he was an anti-Semite because he’d probably broken up with her. Haze picked up her backpack and said she almost loved him. She said that nobody could ever understand how learning of Roy’s Nazi ways felt like somebody had ripped her wings clean off her back.


At Uncle’s Willie’s you pick out your chicken, a live one, and they kill it and feather it for you right there on the spot. When you walk out of there with your bird, it’s still warm in the bag. They’ve also got geese and ducks that they don’t even keep caged up, and they flock around the back room where the chickens are stacked up in cages to the ceiling. Uncle Willie’s is run by three Iraqis who speak little to no English, two brothers and a father. Nothing in there but a few chairs, some empty display cases, a scale, and three Playboys that have been sitting there on the shelf behind the counter since long before I ever even went there. They are covered in dust and haven’t been moved in years. I was always curious, but I never worked up the nerve to ask about them, mostly because I was afraid our language barrier would result in him thinking I wanted the magazines or something.

There are no prices written anywhere in Uncle Willie’s. Instead the chalkboards on the walls are covered with what look to be certificates of achievement in one way or another. They are written in Arabic, so I never really had any idea what they were about. But whatever the certificates are, the three Iraqis looked happy in the pictures of themselves receiving the certificates. Those pictures are taped up next to the certificates themselves. For all the killing that went on in Uncle Willie’s, they kept the place clean enough. Never had a health code violation I ever knew about.
Haze was a Square Rat. At the center of the city there was an old fashioned cobblestone square surrounded by brick building shops and apartments. An old brick opera house, beige and red, stood at one end with its bell tower, and the old original jail and county courthouse capped with its white rounded tops—domes of democracy—stood at the other end of the square.  The old courthouse was now a museum dedicated to the life and art of a famous cartoonist who had lived outside of town and was buried in the cemetery there, and somebody had turned the old redbrick jail into a pizza parlor where the customers ordered sausage and pepperoni from their tables set up in the cells.

There were two types of people seen on the square. There were the tourists, mostly women, who read about or saw pictures in magazines like Midwest Monthly and The Nostalgic Consumer.  And then there were the Square Rats, local kids who loitered in the park at the center of the square. Most of the Rats who hadn’t already dropped out were well on their way, skipping classes to sit on park benches and smoke cigarettes. The city of Harlow Hill did their best to shoo the Rats away from the Historic Harlow Hill Square, but then a couple of stoners from the Parks Department are never the pit-bulls everybody makes them out to be. So the Square Rats stayed.

I knew Haze since she was little and I was only a few years older than her, and I knew she was different than the rest of the Square Rats. They were loud. They broke glass bottles on the sidewalk and yelled random obscenities just for the fuck of it. They were ugly kids with big ears and crooked teeth and dirty jeans. Haze wore skirts and was beautiful and graduated high school and was pretty smart (she graduated with honors, but was not a graduate of the Honors Society. Hazel got all A’s in everything, but she’d been caught smoking cigarettes three days before the graduation ceremony. Mrs. Cesar, who called herself the Honor Society’s Chief Facultative Advisor, spent the next seventy-two hours black-lining and censoring out the name Hazel Greenberg from two thousand commencement programs that incorrectly listed her as a member of the Harlow Hill High School Honor’s Society).

Hazel said she couldn’t go home to her grandmother. Square Rats were by nature free spirits, and Haze could have gone and stayed with any one of them and their deadbeat parents or whatever. So I was surprised when she accepted my rain and blood and porn soaked invitation to stay with me, but then again we’d been neighbors for years.

Haze slept until noon the next day. When she finally woke up, the floor boards moaned under her feet as she shuffled slowly to the kitchen. She grabbed a Coke from beside the fridge (I never actually got around to putting soda in the fridge) and collapsed on the couch beside me and asked if I thought she had mono. She said she felt really exhausted. Her eyes were shot. I heard the drowsiness in her voice, in her attempt to stress that simple word: really. A half-assed nudge from her broken lips. I could tell she’d been crying all night. I told her she was just heartbroken. I told myself I would be the one to fix her. She smirked and tucked her hair back behind her ears, cocking her head to the side with a playful ‘woe is me’ sort of look. She had a small star tattooed just behind her right ear that could only be seen when she wore her hair up, and in the tiny instants after she carelessly tucked back her hair with her fingers and before it fell right back out of place. I asked her about it. She said it didn’t mean anything, she was sixteen and it looked cool. She asked wasn’t I going to buy a heartbroken girl breakfast. I looked at the clock and said lunch, you mean lunch.  


A previous diner had left a newspaper behind. Haze picked it up as she slid into a padded red booth with a bounce. I liked the way she was always bouncing around—playful and innocent in that booth like her feet still couldn’t reach the floor. She didn’t seem so exhausted anymore. She started to read aloud from a headline on the front page. Our Lady of the Underpass. She read it like some stuffy news anchor. She looked up from the paper and rolled her eyes and flashed her cut-up smile. An image of the Virgin Mary was discovered early that afternoon beneath the I-47 underpass where the hookers liked to operate.

They’d found her in the moisture on the wall. A water stain seeping from the cracks in the concrete beneath the interstate. The face of the Virgin Mary. Believers confessed that she’d come to provide some sort of salvation, to save the whores of Donovan Avenue. Haze said Mary probably only came to watch them fuck. Most everybody knew there was prostitution going on over there.

Haze scanned the rest of the article while I looked over the menu. She slapped the paper down with a grin and said we had to go see her. I reminded Haze she was a Jew and she just rolled her eyes and said she wasn’t looking to lick her Holy Clit or anything. Hazel the Devotee, I called her. She hated her name, Hazel. She said it was on old woman’s name, but at the same time it made her feel like a child. We finished our meal and went to see Mary. Haze insisted that we stop to purchase one of those Catholic votive candles, the brightly colored ones that the Mexican grocery stores stacked in rows in their front windows. She chose a candle emblazoned with a portrait of Jude the Apostle—the patron saint of lost causes—and we were on our way.    

Even in the daylight the underpass seemed dark and seedy, the four lane interstate above all but blocking the sunlight from the sidewalks below. Weeds grew over from the cracks in the pavement. Trash collected in the grass and gravel washouts between the sidewalk and the cement walls supporting the freeway. It was not uncommon to find needles and used condoms tossed casually about the underpass. I’d driven by and seen girls lifting their skirts in the shadows and bracing themselves against the concrete walls. Nobody wants to admit this sort of thing is going on in their community, that there are people fucking and using outside the quaint and cobbled block of the Historic Harlow Hill Square. I never really gave a thing like drugs or prostitution a second thought. I didn’t care who was doing what or who was paying for it.             

That afternoon it was a whole different scene. I thought first of the prostitutes—mostly young Mexican girls who spoke little English. Mary’s appearance was not going to be good for business. Haze told me to look around and said there were still plenty of women on their knees. Women, and men, bowed and kneeled, clutching their rosaries, taking pictures, praying. Some kids mimicked their parents’ rituals, others flirted with one another. Younger children chased each other around their parents’ legs and the youngest were held before the image of Mary herself, blessed. Bouquets of red roses, white lilies, yellow daffodils and orange marigolds crowded her feet, and dozens and dozens of colorful votive candles lined the sidewalk. A large portrait of the Virgin was propped against the wall, her hands pressed together in prayer.

Haze and I stared at the stain on the wall. I turned to Haze and confessed that I could not see the Virgin Mary. It just looked like water. Haze wasn’t listening, just holding the votive tightly in front of her. A man in a dated brown Sunday suit fell to his knees before the image on the wall. Weeping hysterically, he held his arms outward. His tears flowed down his cheeks and fell to the sidewalk. Pigeons cooed from the tops of the cement walls. Haze said we needed to go. Her face was pale and I told her she looked like she’d seen a ghost. I knew she hadn’t seen the Virgin Mary either. Whatever she saw in that water stain on the wall, it was probably closer to an anti-Semitic knife salesman than anything else.


She kept the votive and placed it in the front windowsill at my house, and before she fell asleep she told me that all she could think about after seeing the Virgin Mary was Roy, and how he would have to inherently half-hate on principle any child they would ever have. She fell into her nap and I brushed back the hair from her cheeks and thought about how beautiful she would be once her lips healed. I’d have treated Haze better than Roy ever could.


Of course I never asked or demanded or even suggested some sort of rent or payment agreement with Haze, and really she wasn’t even staying with me long enough to be anything but a guest, but she didn’t mind paying me in Adderall. She’d found a doctor in the City, an old white haired man that didn’t have a secretary or even a computer and still kept his records in pencil, and who wrote prescriptions no questions asked. She’d been put on it as a kid but stopped after a while and later decided to take it up again recreationally. Haze weighed about a hundred pounds and the doctor prescribed her with two thirty milligram pills a day. I weighed about a hundred pounds more than that, and just one of those pills had me wired for twelve hours.

So we’d sit around jacked and talking and I’d make a joke and she’d smile, more of a sour pucker because smiling might tear the scab trying to form where her lip had split. I think it probably took twice as long for the cuts to heal because I always had her laughing. She wanted to be a chef, culinary school, and she didn’t think time travel was possible, and she didn’t believe in ghosts because if they were real then at some point in the history of dead people there would have been at least one outgoing ghost who gave a press conference or something. We talked about music we hated (the Beatles) and how there was never anything good on TV. Mostly I tried to keep her mind off of Roy.


Selling Cut Good knives is an art form. And Roy Glasgoine was certainly an artist. I couldn’t believe it when Haze told me about Roy. The same Roy they had used as an exemplary salesman in the Cut Good, Sell Great! training session I didn’t make it through earlier that summer. There was a picture of Roy in the Power Point presentation. A slide titled “There is No Cold in Call.” A glitter-dissolve transition from left to right, and there he was. Roy Glasgoine, the Cut Good, Sell Great! Number One Cutter. He was clean cut and smiling in a loose generic olive suit that hadn’t been tailored to look any better. He held up a fan of paychecks I couldn’t make out. Haze told me that was the thing about Roy. He was friendly, and normal, and didn’t let his beliefs interfere with the day to day. She said he wasn’t really even a practicing Nazi or anything; he just harbored some incredibly hateful feelings towards Jews and sympathized with limited parts of the movement. She always stressed the limited. It wasn’t like he ever acted on any of it, Haze told me. She said it was really just jokes in poor taste, and how bad could it be if he had feelings for her? I thought about signing up for the training session again just to cry Nazi when they got to Roy’s slide. 

Roy started showing up when he had time to kill between sales calls. He parked his blue Jetta on the street and sat there, and Haze watched him sit there from the cushioned window seats in my living room. Sometimes she cried, sometimes she didn’t. I shut the curtains and told her to forget about him, but she just opened them up again. When it was time for another sales call and Roy started his car and drove away, Haze rolled onto her stomach and laid there waiting, tonguing the chip on her front tooth, until Roy came back and parked again. Roy’s car was always clean, and Haze laughed and said he took it over to Soap-a-Clean three times a week to have it washed and detailed. He was a real Nazi about it. She said it was always so clean that half the time they didn’t even do anything to it at the wash, they just parked it in the garage for fifteen minutes and charged Roy twenty bucks and he drove away feeling better about himself. I asked if Roy knew she was staying with me. I asked why he was parking in front of my house and not hers, and Haze said it was probably because Roy thought she was still at home and didn’t want to be so obvious about it. Haze said there was no reason why Roy would know where she was, she hadn’t talked to him. But I still whispered and tip-toed around nervously when Roy was outside.

When I first saw his slide projected onto the screen in that sales presentation, his thin blonde hair and his glasses, I wasn’t afraid of Roy. But when I saw him out the window just sitting there in his car, I’ll admit he scared me. Now, I pictured him ripping his shirt off to expose a mural of scars and vicious tattoos—dogs and iron crosses—and then biting me on the neck. I asked Haze how old Roy was. She said he was almost twenty-eight. He’s too old for you anyways, I told her. I said she should find somebody closer to her own age.  I never heard the whole story about how it unfolded, only that Roy had gotten comfortable and said something terrible about Jews to Haze, who then told Roy she was a Jew. She said he looked surprised, but not sorry for what he’d said. After the he-said-she-said, Haze went home crying and told her grandmother what had happened.


It was almost a week Haze had been staying with me when she told me the next day was her eighteenth birthday. I said we needed a cake. Haze said she didn’t want one, but I told her I was raised on birthday cake, and it wouldn’t be right to celebrate without it. Knowing my family history, Haze questioned the legitimacy of our traditions and asked if afterwards we’d be playing Pin the Head Back on My Father. We both laughed. I said we needed a bird then, and I took Haze to Uncle Willie’s.

Haze had second thoughts about it right when we walked in. There were dead birds hanging in the windows and we could see straight through to the live ones clucking in the back. It smelled like a barn—sawdust and shit. The shorter of the brothers, who was always smiling, smiled. I told him we wanted a chicken. Nothing too big. For two people, maybe some leftovers. He smiled and translated to his brother, who never smiled. Anytime I was ever in there I only saw the serious brother handling the birds. His broad nose ran straight into his forehead between where his eyebrows grew thick and black. I only ever knew him through stern nods. He nodded and grabbed a hen from the back. He was experienced with the birds, calmly plucking them from their cages by their wings. They shrieked and squawked and screamed and flapped until he placed them on the scale and with a wave of his hand lulled them to stop and sit still for the weighing. I thought it was at that exact moment when each bird realized it was the end. 

The man smiled and said nine dollars before the scale even registered. I can’t even be sure that scale ever even worked. And I wasn’t a newbie to the shop. I wasn’t willing to pay a little extra for the experience of selecting my own bird for slaughter. 

I said that’s a four dollar bird.

He said five.

I asked for change for a ten.

He laughed and politely declined. If I had a ten then it was no longer a five dollar bird.

Haze had a five and I took it and paid. We waited for the father to pop through a window in the wall behind the counter with our freshly killed and gutted chicken. He handed it to his son and his son gave it to me. The bag was warm. I gave Haze my ten and told her happy birthday. She smiled through her swollen lips, her chipped grin, and wrapped herself around my arm.

When we got home I told her I had to go out for a bit and snuck over to her grandmother’s house to see if she’d be interested in forgiving Haze, or at least joining us for her birthday dinner, or at the very least making a cake for the occasion. I had no idea how to make one, and I was already quite sure that the old lady had no interest in either forgiveness or attendance. I had known her for years, and she was stubborn as hell. But I wanted Haze’s birthday to be right and I was confident in my chances, at least on the cake.

Roy’s clean silver Jetta was parked out front again. Haze’s grandmother let me in and I followed her back to the kitchen where she was cleaning and polishing her late husband’s collection of firearms. She did this at least once a month. Her table was littered with small white patches of cotton fabric, some soaked and dirtied, others clean. She’d laid out an assortment of nylon brushes and long aluminum rods with wire bristles spiraling off at the ends. The kitchen reeked of alcohol and ammonia and kerosene—Hoppe’s Number 9. We’d talked about the sweetness of that smell before. Her husband, Haze’s grandfather, had sometimes worn it as cologne. I asked her jokingly if she realized that handguns were illegal in our town. She told me that where she came from, occupied Europe, those who waited in line and followed the rules were the first to burn.

She handed me a revolver. It felt cold and heavy and clean in my hand. I popped out the cylinder and popped it back in. She laughed and said of course it wasn’t loaded and I aimed for a red ceramic cookie jar on the counter. She said she watched her father shoot an SS officer in the head with that same gun. It was that gun that got her family out the back door and into the woods, but that the Nazis had caught up with them eventually and taken her parents to the camps. She and her older brother lay still and covered in snow for hours until they were sure nobody was around. Her father had given the gun to her brother just before they were taken. I pulled the trigger and the hammer snapped at the cookie jar. With a story like that I figured the gun was worth quite a bit of money.

I asked her what she knew about cakes.

She agreed she would make one, but there was no way in hell she was sitting down to dinner with Haze after what she did. Crying over spilled Nazis. She’d lose her appetite. Haze’s grandmother had the Admiral’s Collection of Cut Good knives resting in their wooden block on the counter. Roy probably made almost two hundred dollars on that commission, I thought.

I told her Haze felt awful about herself and hadn’t known the truth about Roy and that she might like the family support. I didn’t tell her that Haze still had feelings for him. Her grandmother thanked me for looking after her, but insisted I didn’t let Haze take advantage of me. She said that even if Haze didn’t know, she was still a fool for not having the judgment to figure it out. She was old enough to make her own decisions. I said sometimes it’s hard, maybe impossible, to ever really know somebody. Her grandmother said you don’t need Yellow Stars and Swastikas to differentiate between the good and the bad in life.


What is your favorite war? Osario asked me that when he caught me staring at the bloodied uniform of the Japanese officer he bayoneted in Papua. He kept it framed on the wall in the front entrance of his house. Inside he had shelves full of military books and artifacts and medals and certificates he earned during his service in the Pacific. His hair was gray and he’d gained weight in his older age and his face was round and always red like he was about to pop. But he was always calm and soft spoken, unless he was yelling at the kids, or talking about the War. Loose skin hung down like a couple of wattles under his chin. I said the Civil War was my favorite war, with WWII a close second. I told him I appreciated the romanticism of the Civil War, and that I loved watching WWII footage. He said they were both very fine engagements. I had always been interested in American history.

He slapped me on the shoulder and brought me into his den where he had a 72 inch flat screen television mounted to the wall. He said I hadn’t seen war footage until I watched it in his den with the surround sound. I said I’d love to, sometime. He said he hadn’t seen me around as much. He missed the reminders of my father.

I’d gone over there because Osario’s attic was, for all practical purposes, an army surplus store. As a kid he’d bring me up to the attic that was loaded and organized and full of weapons and shells and uniforms and bags and cases and radios and helmets and canteens and anything a soldier ever took into battle in the 1940s. I remembered seeing a coatrack full of old army messenger bags up there and I thought if I could talk Osario into a purchase it would make a great birthday present for Haze. I explained my situation to him and he told me to go on and pick one out. He asked that I promise to come over one day and watch some war in the den. He said he didn’t need any money. I said sure thing and thanked him for the gift.


On Haze’s birthday I walked over to her grandmother’s house to pick up the birthday cake. I’d already confessed about visiting her grandmother the night before, when Haze recognized the scent of the Hoppe’s Number 9 on my shirt and asked if I was fucking her grandmother. I had laughed, and then I wondered if it was the right laugh to clear me of any real suspicion. Roy’s Jetta was out there again, clean and parked out front of my house. He was wearing one of his cheap olive green suits and reading a newspaper. I could feel Haze watching from the window as I walked past his car. 

On her porch, Haze’s grandmother asked how Haze was doing and thanked me again for taking care of her. I could see she was lightening up and Haze would probably be back living with her any day. I told her that I hadn’t slept with her or anything. She rolled her eyes and said even if I had she’s old enough now to make her own decisions, and at least I wasn’t a Nazi. At least, I said, and left with the cake.


Roy was still parked in front of my house. His Jetta was still clean and shining in the sun. As I passed his car he flipped his paper down and looked at me and smiled. But it wasn’t a friendly smile. It was a smile like he knew something. 

A flock of starlings whistled and descended to peck away at the pear tree behind me. There was a dog barking somewhere up the street, a red bi-plane flying low overhead. There was Haze over my shoulder, watching from the window. There was the Nazi who stood between me and Haze, smiling at me from his car.

I peeled the plastic wrap off of Haze’s birthday cake and smashed it against his windshield and screamed I hope you like chocolate you fucking Nazi. Roy got out of the car and asked who I was and why would I do that. His voice was a lot higher than I imagined and I pushed him against the car and told him I’d been watching him and to stop sitting in front of my house or I’d call the police. He had no idea who I was. 

I imagined coming back inside and Haze jumping into my arms and thanking me for saving her and the two of us laughing about Roy having to have the cake washed off of his car. But instead Haze came running out of the house and yelled and got between Roy and me. Haze and Roy stared at each other. Roy looked at me and shook his head and I took a step backward. Haze said she couldn’t believe me. She ran inside crying and I told Roy he’d better leave and ran behind her. He said it wasn’t over between the two of them and I got tough and said yeah man, it is, as I closed and locked my front door.


Haze was still crying when we sat down to eat. I said I was sorry for the cake. She said not to worry about it anyways because she hated chocolate cake and her grandmother knew that. I asked how she could possibly still have feelings for Roy knowing he was a Nazi. She said he wasn’t a Nazi, he was an anti-Semite at best, and he obviously wasn’t anti all Semites if he cared enough to sit out there in his car every day. She said that there was more to him than that. He was funny and smart and caring and was going to help her pay for culinary school in the fall. I said I could do that too, all of it. She shook her head and laughed and said the chicken was good.

I got Haze’s present out and she opened it. She loved the bag. She threw it over her shoulder and said she’d actually wanted one just like it. She smiled her sour smile and her brown eyes didn’t seem so dark. I wanted to kiss her. I’d wanted to kiss her plenty of times that week, and probably would have if her lips had just been more presentable.


I heard her leave that night, and out the window I saw her opening the door of Roy’s Jetta. In the streetlight she looked happy as she threw her bag into the backseat. She kept the bag I’d given her around her neck and shut the door and Roy kissed her swollen lips and they rode away through the oak trees and down the block and out of sight.
The next morning I went outside and jumped for one of the pears that hung low enough on the tree. On the first try I missed, but on the second I felt my fingers dig small holes where they met the fruit and I ripped one down and took a bite and examined it as the juices bled out over my lips. As a kid staring at the fruit from my bedroom window, it always looked perfect and smooth and nice enough to be a lithograph framed and hanging in the foyers of old women across the city. But up close it was spotted and ugly.






MATT CARMICHAEL lives and writes in Chicago, IL, where he is pursuing an MFA at Northwestern University.