The Devil gets the first slice of cake, Alice tells her. Reka carries it into the nursery, the gilt edge of Alice’s bone-china plate just touching the edge of her eight-month belly through a hand-me-down blouse. Alice’s grandmother brought over the plate and the Devil’s legend from Hungary. They have a word for the offering.
Reka sets the cake down on the dresser. Never in the cradle. You don’t want to invite the Devil into your bed, Maryka tells her. The offering assures Reka’s baby girl will be beautiful. All the women in Somerset grew up beautiful. Alice had danced on MTV in 1986 and her daughter was just crowned “Little Miss Jersey.” Maryka had been approached by Playboy in college. Sarah wore a bikini until she was 39; her daughter dated rock stars and lived in a series of paid-for Manhattan loft apartments. They would not deny any of that to Reka’s baby. They did not want to risk offending those who offered such gifts.
Reka’s baby kicked. The cake was gone the next morning.
Time and the Devil had not been kind to any of them. The daughters were lovely, but the women were growing old; jowls, crow’s feet, spare tires that could fit a Hummer like the yellow one Alice’s husband drove the babysitter home in late at night. They tried to fight the process; carpooled to Pilates classes, held Botox parties, left low-fat, low-cal, gluten-free offerings after lifts and tucks, but when the bandages came off, nothing changed but the deepening of their frustrations. They had grown dependant on their beauty. For forty years they hoarded blue ribbons and dance cards, Homecoming sashes and prom crowns. Now their husbands look at them like strangers, bury pornography on their tablets, gape at younger women when they think their wives aren’t looking. Alice jokes that they’d all be widows together, someday.
Reka is in labor when she hears the nurses’ shouts in the hallway, the paging of doctors, the scream of the ambulance pulling into the ER. Her husband tells her quietly that it’s Alice’s husband on the gurney. Dead On Arrival.
Reka huffs out hard breaths, gives another push, howls as though the Devil is inside her. Her baby cries, the nurses swoon. On Somerset Avenue, the cops lead Alice out of her home in handcuffs. She put rat poison in her husband’s coffee the morning after catching him with the babysitter.
In the nursery, the doctor tapes a blue ribbon to her daughter’s crib. A young nurse brings a teddy bears and flowers from the hospital gift shop. Your baby, she tells Reka, is the most beautiful girl we’ve ever had. She pins her picture to the bulletin board out front. Reka’s face gets hot as her husband eyes the nurse a little too long.
Image courtesy of diamond.