Piece Of Cake
Entry by: JHK
25th September 2015
A Piece of Cake
Eleanor had been finding things difficult for some time. However she looked at it, her husband was no longer the man she had married. He had become slobbish and sultry, drifting around the house aimlessly like a big, sad bear. He joined her only for meals, which she continued to prepare despite his increasingly infrequent grunts of thanks. He apparently took no pleasure in his work, counting down the years until he could take retirement. This Eleanor had inferred from his reticence to discuss the subject; but, in truth, he rarely wished to discuss anything at all.
Their meals were taken in almost complete silence. But while Eleanor maintained the impeccable manners she had learnt as a girl, eating slowly, meticulously, always as if the company of the queen, Albert’s decorum deserted him completely. He gorged himself hungrily, slurpily, never finishing one mouthful before stuffing in the next. Shepherd’s pie, lamb chops, steak and kidney pudding: each he took to with equal gusto, forcing down almost inconceivable quantities of that day’s dish. And then he would demand desert: crumble, tart or trifle, he never lost momentum when tackling the sweet course.
Daily, his appetite seemed to increase; and with it, her disgust of him.
She no longer desired him in the slightest. His middle-aged paunch had grown into a fully fledged gut, with that immobile thickness and heaviness setting in around his flanks and his neck. The definition between his chin and throat had ebbed away, concealed by drooping fat. The prospect of intercourse with such a creature was nauseating. But he no longer showed any interest in her. Of that, at least, Eleanor could be glad.
As she lay awake, curled up in her corner of the marital bed, listening to the monstrous snoring of the beast lying next to her, Eleanor realised that she hated him.
She began to make enquiries. Initially, she pretended it was on behalf of a friend. But the local women, the ones she know from church and whose children she had taught the piano, knew of Albert, and had observed at a distance the marked change in him in recent months. After a modicum of protestation, Eleanor was obliged to admit the truth: she needed to get rid of her husband; but discretely, swiftly, without the messiness of a divorce.
For several days, nothing came up. But having made the sure decision to do something about her situation, a warm glow began to inhabit Eleanor. She found herself smiling as she went about the menial chores that were invariably left to her, humming a favourite melody as she sliced parsnips for that night’s enormous roast, chuckling to herself as Albert’s otherworldly snores shook the windows in their thick lead frames. Eleanor took pleasure in the meaningless banality of her routine, somehow knowing that this was all about to end.
The following Sunday, Eleanor sat stilly in the bowels of the big, cool church. It was a time for private prayer. The sweet smell of incense wafted back from the altar.
She remembered the small village church of her childhood, sitting outside after the service in the dappled shade of an old oak tree. She had on her favourite dress, printed with big blue flowers. Sitting next to her was Jamie, in her class at school and her best friend. They had been giggling about an old man standing in the church yard, trying to speak with the vicar but who kept losing his hat in the wind. Then Jamie said ‘Can I kiss you?’ and, without waiting for a reply, planted a big sloppy kiss on the side of Eleanor’s cheek.
The priest began speaking. Eleanor opened her eyes, jolted from her reverie. She saw a small, white envelope, propped up on the narrow shelf of the pew in front. In tightly scrawled black italics were the words ‘For impossible husbands'. Inside was a white card, with only an address, written in the same hand. Eleanor looked around suspiciously. Who had put it there, just inches away from her clasped hands, managing not to disturb the still church air? But the congregants all faced forward, eyes on the priest, mouths moving as one like automata as they made their chanted replies.
Eventually Eleanor found it, hidden away in a den of alleys, in an old part of town that Eleanor hadn’t visited before. The street was so narrow that the roofs of the houses almost kissed above Eleanor’s head. The air was dank and chilly, even though it had been a warm day. The stone path was cracked and uneven, worn down in the middle from centuries of feet treading this way. At the edges of the path, and clawing its way up some of the once-whitewashed walls on either side, was a thick carpet of purplish-green moss.
Inauspiciously, the place looked very much like a tea shop, but this was certainly the address on the card. A striped awning, hardly necessary given gloom of the alley, hung out across most of the path. Inside was a single, tiny room, with just a couple of spare wooden tables and a small counter displaying scones and buns.
A girl of not more than fifteen was sat up on a stool behind the counter, and greeted Eleanor as she came in.
‘Have a seat,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring you some tea. Milk, no sugar, I think? And I can see you’re eyeing up those currant buns. No, I insist: they really are delicious. We know who you are, Eleanor,’ continued the girl, smiling and flicking her pixy-blonde hair away from her eyes. ‘Please, take a seat, enjoy your tea and your bun. Mother will be down shortly.’
Eleanor sat and sipped her tea. It was deliciously warming, not at all bitter, with a smoky flavour. The currant bun was fluffy and delicate, the sharpness of the berries offset by the sweetness of the dough. She noticed a theme running through the images lining the walls. What she had first taken for an eccentric style of decoration was, she realised, something of a shrine to the supernatural. There were tapestries of grand knights slaying terrible dragons, carvings of spirit-kings terrorising tiny villages, intricately painted plates showing giants fighting dwarves, and even a sketch of a wizard riding a unicorn.
‘I see our artwork interests you.’ A lady had sat down before Eleanor. Her hair was long and wild, wavy and greyish, her face a little lined, but her eyes matched her daughter’s: sharp and green. ‘I hope you enjoyed your tea. My name is Gabrielle. I’d like you to tell me why you are here.’
‘Oh, the tea was lovely!’ replied Eleanor. ‘And that cake... Thank you for having me here, Gabrielle. Well, the reason I’m here… I have a – a rather difficult husband.’
Gabrielle cocked her head, raising an eyebrow inquisitively.
‘Just – difficult?’ she asked.
‘Well,’ said Eleanor, catching the other woman’s drift, ‘more like impossible!’
‘Ah,’ said Gabrielle. ‘Then I think we can help.’
The single slice of chocolate cake stood proudly erect on the kitchen side. It was large and dark, reddish black, glisteningly moist.
Eleanor still wasn’t quite sure what would happen when her husband ate it – which he inevitably would.
After hearing Eleanor’s story, the kind woman at the shop had given her clear, simple instructions: take this slice of cake, and make sure your husband eats it all. Before the sun rises again, a great change will come over him.
Gabrielle has refused any suggestion of payment (apart from for the tea and the currant bun which were, in any case, very reasonably priced). Eleanor, unsure of what sort of solution would be presented, had brought all the money she could easily get her hands on. But Gabrielle had said no: what she wanted more than anything was for Eleanor to be free, and happy.
Eleanor watched her husband nervously over dinner. He ate his bangers and mash with the usual ravenous indiscretion, shovelling sausage after sausage into his slobbering, fleshy mouth, masticating furiously. But would he fill himself up, Eleanor wondered? Should she instead have presented the cake to him right away, when he got back from work?
She needn’t have worried. Belching, having seen away sixteen sausages, Albert nudged his plate away with his fat palm. His piggish eyes darted around gluttonously, before resting on the slice of cake perched on the sideboard.
‘Yes,’ said Eleanor, kindly, as if speaking to a child. ‘Yes, I brought you some cake home from a lovely tea shop I visited. Here you are!’ She slid the cake in front of him, taking away his used dinner plate with the other hand. ‘No, I’m not having any. I had my slice earlier, you see! Yes, it’s tasty, isn’t it?’ But Albert was paying no attention to her words, already gobbling down his gooey desert. In three more mouthfuls, it was gone.
For a few moments upon waking, Eleanor’s mind drifted in an elegant space, beyond recollection of the past few days. She was a little girl again, under a big oak tree, a cool autumn breeze touching her face, dappled sunlight on her arms…
Eleanor was suddenly very awake, and immediately saw the sun streaming in through a gap in the curtains. She turned over, feeling sick. A ghoulish image of Albert’s big, fleshy corpse, blue and cold, flashed before her eyes.
But instead, a sloppy canine tongue licked her, right on the cheek.
The dog was big, black and fluffy. It lay on the bed expectantly, watching her, panting slightly. It lay, indeed, precisely where Albert had slept – and of Albert himself, there was no sign. His moth-eaten slippers were still at the end of the bed; his shapeless brown dressing gown still hung on the back of the door.
There was no question about it: her husband had been transformed into a dog.
She named him Marty. No vet in the town was able to tell Eleanor quite what sort of dog Marty was. Healthy, yes, about seven or eight years old (they guessed), lively, happy, but otherwise unexceptional. Fortunately, it gave no sign of human intelligence; this had been Eleanor’s greatest fear, upon discovering the transfiguration: that Albert had become a freak, a man trapped in a dog’s body. There was, happily, no sign of this. Indeed, her new pal was quite unlike her husband in virtually every way. The dog had boundless energy, and showed her endless affection, licking her hand or her knee, constantly begging to be petted.
Marty resembled her husband only in two ways: in appearance, and in appetite. The dog was big and hulking, though muscular where Albert had been flabby, and had those same small, dark, piggish eyes. And Marty showed the same rapacious hunger as her husband had done in his last months (though the dog’s manners were, if anything, slightly better). But the vets confirmed that this appetite was nothing to be alarmed about: it was pretty normal, they said, for a dog.
Eleanor settled quickly into her new life. She sold their dreary terraced house, and bought a pretty cottage a little way outside the town, with a big garden for Marty to roam. She began her piano teaching in earnest once again, and was soon offered a post lecturing on music part-time at a new University nearby.
She spent her days busy with her pupils, and her evenings contentedly sowing dresses or reading old novels, Marty’s head resting in her lap, a fire crackling in the grate, Debussy or Bach trickling smoothly from the record player.
Occasionally, she thought of Albert; but when she did, she remembered the good times, in the early years of their marriage. And though she knew she was largely responsible for what had happened to him, she felt no guilt, only freedom.
It had, after all, been easy.