I nervously inhaled as I gingerly searched my newly remodeled kitchen for each of the ingredients to make the chocolate cake. I continued to take big breaths, as though trying to suck in all the oxygen in the room.
I was worried that if I didn’t do it now, I would lose my nerve.
I was also worried that it wouldn’t be enough.
I grabbed my apron from inside the small pantry, and slipped it over my head. But the thing was, the loop at the top of the apron stung as it rubbed against the bruises on the back of my neck. I shuddered as I realized that I didn’t want anything tight around my neck anymore. I shook my head and hastily shoved my apron back on its hook. I decided I would just let my clothes get messed up from baking and then maybe I would burn them later. It might be a form of poetic justice, really, considering that a couple of weeks ago, he had burned all of my clothes. The ones I was currently wearing were new clothes I had recently bought at Kohl’s.
I gathered the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, water, and mayonnaise. I carefully measured each of the required amounts and lined them up on the fake granite countertop, like soldiers preparing for battle. I kept the secret ingredient in my pocket. Next, I combined the dry ingredients into a glass mixing bowl and stirred them thoughtfully with an old wooden spoon.
I cracked the eggs, and poured the sugar and vanilla into the expensive baby pink KitchenAid mixer he had gotten me for Christmas and switched it to high.
For three minutes, I stood, mesmerized by the movement, trying to keep my mind from wandering to the painful images that continued to haunt me. Like how his hands and fists had hurt. Or how he had burned all of my clothes when I didn’t answer the phone right away. More big breaths.
Worse was the look in his eyes right before. What had been my transgression this time? I had purchased the wrong brand of mayonnaise. I could see the anger boiling in him when he saw my grave mistake. After opening the fridge door, and commenting on the “wrong mayo,” I had immediately leapt up from my chair so I could go to the store and buy the “right one.” But he had intercepted me.
I reduced the speed to low, and added the mayonnaise, making sure to use the “right mayo” this time. I alternately mixed in flour and water. After the consistency looked light and fluffy, I tasted it, and it was perfect. Smooth and creamy, with a little zing from the mayo. Just how he liked it. Then, I looked around to make sure I was alone in the room, and stealthily added the secret ingredient.
I poured the cake into a pan and baked it for thirty minutes. The smell of chocolate and vanilla wafted through the entire downstairs. It smelled delicious, but I knew I would not be eating it. I stood careful watch over the oven. I had sent our children over to a friend’s house, which they loved, simply so they could get away from him for the day. I could hear him stirring upstairs, so I knew it wouldn’t be too long now. I poked a toothpick into the middle and it came out clean, so I knew the cake was done.
The cake was cooling just as he walked downstairs. I delicately sprinkled some powdered sugar on top. He smiled as he eyed the cake. So far, he didn’t seem to suspect a thing.
I mustered up the warmest smile I could and offered him a slice. With the first bite, his eyebrows rose, and my heart jumped into my throat a little, fearing that he would suspect something. “Chocolate mayonnaise cake?” he asked. I nodded. With a big grin, he shoveled more cake in his mouth. He devoured two whole slices and chugged a glass of ice cold milk. It probably tasted delicious with his hangover. Standing across from him in the kitchen, I could still smell the ladies’ perfume on his collar that was not mine.
Not once did he seem to notice that I would not be partaking in any cake this afternoon.
Then, after a few minutes, he drew his last breath, and collapsed. The secret ingredient had done its job.
I finally breathed a sigh of relief, knowing he couldn’t hurt me, or the children, any longer.