Mostly it’s the cake. I don’t mean it’s easy, coming up with the “premiums.” Every Friday he comes, and if I think maybe I’m a little ahead, always on that Friday he says expenses have gone up, and he needs a little more to make sure nothing bad happens. The first time I tell him I don’t need any help; thirteen years in the bakery business before I come here, and I never have any trouble. This neighborhood’s different, he tells me. I send him away, but that night someone throws a bottle of gasoline through my window. It doesn’t burn much, but I get the message. That Friday he comes again, says maybe I change my mind, but I’m a known risk, now, and the premium is higher. He laughs. His fat belly shakes. Then he gets this serious look. Worse things could happen. Think of Krista, he says. Krista is my little girl; it scares me that he knows about her.

But it’s not the money. Krista is dying, the doctors tell me. I can afford the chemicals if I buy little else and things go well in the bakery and the premiums don’t go too high. But the chemicals make her sick, and her hair falls out. The chemicals are poison, the doctors say. We give her enough to kill the thing growing inside her, but too much will kill her. I cannot afford to buy her a hat; the premiums are too high. But he leaves me enough to live, to get chemicals that will make Krista well if they don’t kill her. No, it’s not the money; it’s the cake. Every Friday he takes a cake, and laughs. Always the nicest one, the one I’ve worked hardest on, the one the customer is especially waiting for. Today I don’t have any special orders, but I make a special cake anyway. “Happy Birthday, Maria” it says. I don’t know any Maria, but he will like it. He will take that one. Next week, after I get more chemicals for Krista, I will have money enough to buy her a hat.

Ron Risley – 09 Aug 1990