A Slice of Cake
(Listen to this piece on S2E27 of the podcast)
High heels clicked on cold tile from the other side of the closed break room door. A scraping sound of chair legs with hard rubber casing screeched. Carla stopped short of the break room’s closed door. The office had been a ghost town when she shut down her computer monitor for lunch. Even her work best friend Sylvia was nowhere to be found. Carla groaned. She would not forgive her co-workers if they’d done what she told them not to. If they’d imposed their celebratory antics on her even though today was the most annoying day of the year. The day she dreaded more than mammograms ever since 1982 when her fiancé left her for some Spanish chick in East Harlem. When she reminded him of what day he’d chosen to break her heart, he’d slapped his palms to his forehead saying that he’d honestly forgotten.
But apparently—or at least probably—her co-workers hadn’t, so Carla lowered her hand from the break room doorknob where everything was silent on the other side apart from those shuffling feet and sliding chairs and hushed tones of excitement.
Carla turned in her brown penny loafers and stretchy black career pants and modest purple cable knit sweater towards the elevator where she’d go downstairs for an Italian submarine sandwich. She’d eat her packed tuna for dinner. All the young folks in the office tended to eat out daily. Imprudence if you asked her, but she’d join their ranks today.
“Carla, where are you off to?”
Carla turned. It was her boss. She cut the middle-aged woman a knowing look. They’d been working together for nearly 15 years, though Carla had arrived first. Carla had made it plain that she didn’t want her birthday celebrated, and that was it. Never mind this one was a “big one.”
“Just because it’s my 60th, doesn’t mean…”
“Carla,” her boss interrupted, “it’s our intern, Dayjah’s, birthday. She’s 23. Don’t worry, it’s not for you.”
“Oh,” Carla said, sobered but relieved. She turned back towards the break room just as an unsuspecting Dayjah turned the corner, a birthday tiara on her head.
“Surprise!” everyone yelled as the young girl opened the door. Carla shuffled in after her boss. They’d ordered pizza for the festivities and Carla chose a meaty slice after wishing the young girl good tidings. They’d chosen a unicorn-themed red velvet cake for the intern that Carla found garish. Plus, she only cared for chocolate. Skipping the cake, she slipped into a solitary chair next to the fridge as her colleagues buzzed with chatter. If they knew it was her birthday, too, no one broached the subject. Her messaging over the years had clearly taken hold.
“There you are!” her dear friend Sylvia said, sliding a chair next to hers. “All these kids in the office these days, I was trying to figure out where the rest of the old heads were.”
Carla chuckled at this, but only halfheartedly. She felt off, though ostensibly, everything was just fine.
“Did you get a slice of cake?” Sylvia asked.
Carla shook her head with fervor. “Nooo, I don’t like red velvet—” but she stopped short—interrupted for the second time today, but not by words. Slyvia had slid a cupcake out of her tote, individually packaged with peek-a-boo cellophane. Chocolate on chocolate. A small “60th” cake topper staked down the middle. For a moment, neither woman spoke.
“Sure,” Carla said, patting her friend’s hand tenderly as her eyes misted, surprising even her. “I guess I’ll take some birthday cake after all.”