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My sister called me in a panic. “I don’t have any time,” she said. “I don’t know when dinner is. When are we supposed to have dinner? I just need to know these things. Mom and dad are so freestyle, but everything in my life is so fixed, I need to know, you know?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll talk to dad.” And that is all that I did. I called my dad, and I said, “Dad, what time is dinner?”
“Six thirty,” he said. “Great,” I said.
Then I called my sister back. “Dinner is at six thirty,” I said.
“Oh, my god, you’re so amazing,” she said, “Thank you, I’m sorry, you are amazing.”
“It’s nothing,” I said. All I did was call him – why didn’t she just call him? “Do you want me to get a cake? They only have half cakes at the gas station.”
“No, no! I’ll get it! Thanks! I love you!”
She called me back in a panic, however, when she found out that the Baskin’ Robbins in the city had closed. “That’s why she wouldn’t return my phone calls,” she said.
“It’s fine,” I said, and I bought two half ice cream cakes from the gas station.
Later that night, when we returned home to have cake, we all gathered around in the kitchen and sung “Happy Birthday” to my mother. The cakes remained in their cardboard boxes – they looked better that way, in their way.
Dad immediately walked away and disappeared. Mom cut herself a slice of oreo cake. The ice cream was very soft and cut easily. I cut myself a slice as well.
My sister cut herself a slice of praline. Mom started to package up the box of cake. “I need to put this up before it melts,” she said.
“No, don’t,” said my sister. “Let me do it, eat your cake.”
“No, it’s fine,” she said, “You eat.”
“Why don’t we both all just eat cake?” I asked.
“Because someone has to put the cake away,” said my sister, sounding testy.
She started to put the oreo cake away first. As soon as she took the box away I knew I would want some more, but before I could even finish my slice she had wrapped up the remaining cake into little messes of saran wrap and put them in the freezer.
I ate slowly to try and wait for her and dad to sit down and join us. “Where is dad?” I asked. Nobody knew.
Finally, my sister came back to the table, but instead of sitting down to eat, she started packaging up the praline cake.
“Will you please sit and eat cake with us?” I asked her.
“Daniel, it’s going to melt.”
“Let the damn cake melt, then!”
She paused for a minute, but then took the cake away and started wrapping its melted pieces up in saran wrap and freezing them. Meanwhile the slice on her own plate melted away, a yellow puddle forming under the soggy dough.
My mother and I were finished just as my sister sat down. I stood up and opened the freezer to have a second slice. The balled-up pieces of cake depressed me and I hesitated.
“Make up your mind and close the door,” said my mom, angrily. I closed the door and walked out of the room.
I ran into my dad. “Sorry,” he said. “I just started obsessing about keys.”
I nodded and walked past him and onto the porch while he returned to the kitchen to eat cake.
On the porch, I laughed at myself, but I was deeply offended. How much was it to ask, to sit down for one minute together and eat a slice of ice cream cake for my mother’s birthday?
The problem is we are all neurotics, but neurotics all of different types. I’m probably the worst of them all, the least sociable. I will blank out entirely, erratically, for hours. They must talk about me behind my back and worry about them. Well, they should! And I worry about them.