The Birthday Cake

“I was thinking about baking you a cake for your birthday,” Ellen said. “From scratch.”

“That’ll be nice,” her mother said.

“That is if my baking’s good enough,” Ellen said.

“You’re a fine baker,” her mother said.

“Unless there’s something else you’d like for your birthday,” Ellen said.

“Like what?”

“Well, that would be for you to decide,” Ellen said.

“I don’t know,” her mother said.

“Do you need time to think about it?” Ellen asked.

“I guess not,” her mother said.

“What kind of cake do you want?”

“I’m not sure,” her mother said. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

“I can give you a minute,” Ellen said.

She heard her mother’s sigh.

“You don’t have a favorite?” Ellen asked. “I thought you like pineapple upside down cake. Or lemon. Or I could make you a pie.”

“That’s fine,” her mother said.

“Which one?” Ellen asked.

“Any.”

“No,” Ellen said. “You’ve got to choose.”

Her mother sighed again.

“Why?” she finally asked. “It’s my birthday. Why do I have to choose? Shouldn’t I be able to do whatever I want?”

“Whatever you want? Like leaving it up to me to decide?”

“Why not?” her mother asked.

“You’ve got to choose because I’m trying to do something nice for you. The least you can do is think about what you want and tell me.”

Ellen waited.

“I’ll tell you what,” Ellen said. “Tell me tomorrow. I’m only going to have time to get everything together and bake on Friday.”

“Okay,” her mother said.

They hung up.

Harry asked who was on the phone.

“Ellen,” her mother said.

“What does she want?”

“Nothing. Wishing me a happy birthday.”

“It’s not until the weekend,” Harry said.

“I know.”

Her mother turned up the volume on the television. She played with her dogs. She popped some pills and fell asleep. Later, she got up, turned off the TV, changed her clothes and went to bed with her dogs and husband.

In the morning, she let the dogs out. She put food and fresh water in their bowls. She prepared coffee for her and her husband. She took more pills with their breakfast. She played with her dogs. She took a shower. She watched more TV and popped more pills. She made lunch and watched more TV and played with her dogs some more. She took a nap. She woke up. She did a load of laundry. Harry bought carry out. They ate. She popped more pills, played with her dogs, watched more TV and fell asleep in her chair again.

Her birthday came without a call or visit from Ellen. Harry said Ellen didn’t seem like a very caring daughter.

Her mother was very upset at being forgotten, so the next day she called Ellen to let her know how disappointed she was.

“I offered to bake you whatever you wanted,” Ellen said.

“You didn’t call me back to find out what I wanted,” her mother said.

“That’s not how it’s going to work anymore,” Ellen said.

“I’m a sick woman,” her mother said. “I could have been ill.”

“And you weren’t,” Ellen said.

“But I could have been.”

“Then Harry would have called,” Ellen said.

“You don’t care about me,” her mother said. “Not at all like I care about you.”

Before hanging up, Ellen said, “Happy Birthday, Mom.”

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