Cake Eaters is a book of stories, realistic and imagined, that I started writing in the late 90's. The stories come from Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tucson, Milwaukee, Florida and New York City.
Two stories - Milk and Doors - are posted here. Milk in text and my reading of Doors.
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My Dad kept saying, suggesting, accusing her of having sex with the milkman. We’d never had a milkman before, with or without sex, and I wasn’t sure what sex was but I could tell it wasn’t something that should be happening between my mom and the milkman. Or didn’t seem to be.
I felt rich. Richer than rich rich. A milkman. What sort of magic brought glass bottles of milk to our front or back door every 3 days? When I went to sleep the night before milk was delivered, I’d try to hypnotize myself into waking up before dawn so I could see who this milkman who was having sex with my mother was. Like Santa Claus, he was able to mysteriously appear, show up, leave things and get away without anyone seeing him, and he too had an outfit. Leslie Baer’s Dad was a milkman or used to be before he bought a bathroom-sized candy store that sold boxes of 100 crayons which Hannah Pillsbury gave to me for my 10th birthday making me rich rich richer than rich until the darkest purple one snapped later that day and I no longer had 100 perfect crayons.
So I trained myself to wake up before the robins and lie in bed listening not breathing for long periods so the sound of breathing wouldn’t cover over the possible sound of milk bottles tinkling in a metal wire basket. Glass tinkles, like Rudolph’s harness but different. I know I imagined it – the sliding white truck door with red & blue writing on the side spelling out something about dairy and the word fresh and maybe even cold. The milkman’s shoes hitting the asphalt as he slid out of the truck, right hand pushing the plastic gear shift on the steering wheel up into park, engine idling, his steps barely audible sometimes not as he reaches in the side door and pulls out bottles the sweat just beginning to form on their necks as the rose light of dawn, peachy like my favorite skirt, silhouettes his truck, framing him box a baby shadow until his steps away, turns, each hand holding a wire carrier with milk bottles, looks up the street, down, and walks the lawn to our front door our back door and sets the left one down, straightening, like Santa, to step away, turn and move to the Rubies who lived next door.
I don’t remember ever bringing the milk inside, retrieving it. Maybe a fear of dropping one, breaking glass, sweaty slippery sides, milk splashing everywhere clothes, linoleum, Formica, wood cabinets, shoes, puddles forming – you can never put milk back in a bottle – maybe that was too much for me to risk. But I remember the bottle, sitting on the breakfast table, its curves so sexy so smooth even though I had no language for it, the solid whiteness of the milk, especially if no one removed the stamper top no one had pried open its red shiny accordion edges Xmas red – and peeled it back from the glass round rim it was perfectly holding on to.
I knew what that felt like. I knew.
And the milk and the bottle, creating a bit of a puddle on the table as the temperature and air married and mixed and my Mom sometimes appearing in worn out pink bathrobe or torn polyester slip – to reach for things and place 8 slices of week old frozen bread on a cookie sheet with one smear of margarine dyed yellow which my Dad had to buy in Illinois because it was illegal to dye margarine yellow in Wisconsin where we’d moved 4 months before and a haphazard line of cinnamon and sugar like a shoelace wiggled across each slice on broil for 2, 3 minutes sometimes enough to get warm, sometimes enough to briefly bubble the dyed yellow margarine and then on to our plates the white plastic ones with the green circle of ivy leaves – she loved them I was with her when she bought them they were the best ones in the store I remember that too and sitting there, the sound of the oven door opening and shutting hard by itself. The turn of the broiler knob, my feet reaching the floor, my stomach empty, the overhead light maybe on, maybe off. The sounds of brothers and sisters and my mother’s pain scored deep in my heart as I touched the bottle of milk, cold to the touch still, within reach but not near me, running two fingers up down over the curve, sitting there it’s perfect curves, lid unpried, waiting to be opened, waiting to be lifted, waiting to be poured out even the possibility feels good if you slow down for it – remembering the milkman perhaps remembering the truck, the milk rushing in the cap snapping tight the ride to the world my family now lives in, remembering perhaps the milkman’s fingers, strong and sure, grasping necks, two bottles at a time, the arc from the tray to the basket carrier, the letting go, release, as I wonder what sex is, what my mother wants, who she might want to do wrong things with if not my Dad as she turns back towards the kitchen away from that morning, all six of us, the cookie sheet now angled in the stainless steel sink, that sound too.
She takes her piece of bread and eats it staring out the window far far away from us, the cookie sheet, the oven, far away from Wisconsin and dyed margarine, far from the milk bottle now warming on the table unopened, far away where cinnamon tastes like a kiss and milkmen or the idea of them, hasn’t even been invented yet.