Feature image by Forsyth Harmon.
He left me again in December. I returned to my childhood home in the suburbs of Paris for Christmas. It was gray and damp, the sun rose late, barely lit the sky, and set at four o’clock in the afternoon. My parents were on the verge of divorce, my father was already living a secret life, and as we had done for years, we retreated to our private worlds after having dinner in silence. At night, alone in my bed, I reveled in the unmistakable pain of grief that radiated from my chest through my limbs. Unable to sleep, I dreamed of ways to regain my love’s affection.
We had met when I moved to Philadelphia for college at 17. He was American and was a year older. I had been in love in high school, but being in another country gave a new seriousness to the relationship. It was my real adult life and lasting love. Even though it was tumultuous, I didn’t know anything else. I was surrounded by friends whose relationships were marred by betrayals and ruptures.
Every time he ended our relationship, he would turn to me and say: I don’t love you anymore. It was shocking to hear those words when moments before we were doing something ordinary: reading a book on my bed, studying for an exam, eating an apple. I tried to persuade him to change his mind. With few anchors in my life, I couldn’t let go of this person who had become my home. It wasn’t who he was – I now see our stark differences, how often we argued, the way we opened up old wounds, our cruelty to each other – but rather a belief that I had absorbed during our time together, that I was worthy of no one else’s love.
I had no shame and used every stratagem. Life was much better with me than alone or with someone else, I said. I sat on the floor closest to his legs and promised to be kinder, more patient and more open, to mold myself into the shape he needed. It never occurred to me that we might be happier to part ways.
One morning, while I was sitting at my desk in France, he called. It was the middle of the night for him, his voice was soft and he missed me. I shot her desire, told her to touch herself. It was familiar territory; we had done it countless times when I came home during winter and summer vacation. It was easier to seduce from a distance and I imagine it was safer for him, an act of generosity without consequences. I saw this small opening as an encouragement.
I was not allowed to eat sugar when I was a child. Once a year, however, my mother would bake a chocolate cake for my birthday. I could smell it when I woke up, the smell of chocolate and butter emanating from the kitchen, a rare indulgence. The cake itself wasn’t very sweet as she always cut the sugar in half, but it was covered in cream and chocolate shavings. Despite the reduced sugar, the cake was rich, almost flourless, and demanded to be eaten in thin slices. For years my uncle made fun of her half cakes, as if they represented diluted maternal love. But even then, I saw the care she took in weighing the ingredients, cutting a round of parchment, grating chocolate over the whipped cream.
What a brilliant plan, I thought, who doesn’t like cake, who doesn’t want pleasure in any form, how could he resist cake and by extension me?
At the end of the break, I flew out a few days before him and decided to bake him a chocolate cake. Not just one cake, but two. What a brilliant plan, I thought, who doesn’t like cake, who doesn’t want pleasure in any form, how could he resist cake and by extension me?
I made the cakes a day ahead, melting salted butter with chocolate I had brought from France. I followed my mother’s recipe, the only one I knew how to do, doubling the sugar. Nervous energy flooded through me as I moved purposefully around the kitchen, fully focused on the task. I remembered our first weeks together, the thrill and anticipation between each encounter, my appetite for food erased by a new hunger. The cakes were cooling on the stove as I lay awake in my bed, counting the hours until dawn. I had barely eaten in days, fueled by the desire to be touched by him.
I waited for his message that he had landed safely. It happened late in the evening, long after he got home. I needed to return his keys and asked if I could drop by, hoping he would tell me to keep them. Of course, he replied. I walked the two blocks between our apartments, carrying a cake – at the last minute I decided two was a bit much – and unlocked her front door with the spare set of keys .
From the bottom of the stairs, I heard him talking to a friend. I no longer felt the exhilaration of the day before, and I slowly climbed the stairs, holding the cake against my chest. He was sitting on the futon with a friend who glanced at him, surprised to see me there. I must have blushed violently putting the keys on the counter and putting the cake next to it. I did something to you, I said softly. I stayed for a few minutes out of a strange sense of politeness, even though I saw how little interest he had in me, how embarrassed his friend looked as they continued their conversation in my presence. I said goodbye and left.
Back at the apartment, I took the second cake and threw it away. I never considered eating it; I had offered myself and I had been rejected. The cake had stuck to the plate overnight and I had to push it with my fingers into the bin. I washed the chocolate under my fingernails and wondered what would happen to the other cake. Would it be eaten by him and his friend? Could he cut it into thin slices? Would he like the dense texture, so different from the airy cakes I had discovered in America? Would he taste me in every bite?
Three months later, he came back to me.
Extract of Zine Cakea hedonistic publication about history, pop culture, literature and art through the sweets.