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September 13, 2017 Fiction


Dana Diehl

Buddy photo

“We made out once,” my sister says. I thought “I was in love with him for a night.”

We watch Buddy Valastro make cakes on TV. We watch him turn the cakes into castles, into mermaids, into aquariums. We watch Buddy roll dough into tentacles as he screams, “By Sunday? Sunday? I need more time!” 

Three days ago Buddy Valastro was arrested for drunk driving. We wonder if this will hurt his show, if it’ll shorten the four-block-long line that’s snaked from his bakery ever since TLC picked him up for another season. Lately, Buddy’s screaming has seemed half-hearted. Like he doesn’t really care if he has more time, or if the octopus has eight dough-arms or just seven.

We live down the block from his bakery, and I’ve seen him taking out the garbage from time to time, square-torsoed, thick-eyebrowed.

“Isn’t he married?” I ask.

My sister is painting coral onto her toes, her lips lifted into a cringe as a Crest Whitestrip dries on her front teeth. I’m arranging the books on my bookshelf by year they were written. I moved into her apartment two months ago, after a friend caught my boyfriend hand-in-hand with a girl in Chelsea Market. It’s unhealthy, my sister and I living together like this. We’ve become the most extreme versions of ourselves.

She tells me they met at a bar on Fourth. He’d just come from the bakery. “There was sugar between his fingers and flour in his hair,” my sister says. “His wrists were dyed blue.”

It’s a strange enough detail to almost convince me. Even the garbage at the Valastro’s bakery smelled like vanilla and cinnamon.

“Well, do you want to know how he kissed me?” 

I say, “Not really,” but she tells me anyway. She tells me his kisses were warm and not very wet. She says that between kisses Buddy Valastro told her he wanted to make her into a cake. He’d carve her breasts out of yellow sheet cake, her lips out of licorice. He’d build her a PVC pipe skeleton to support her curves.

“You’re lying,” I say.

But I can’t stop picturing it, my sister’s cake-double on display in the Valastros’ bakery. My sister with cake-curves. Everyone lining up to see her. The line would stretch down Newark Street to the Hoboken Ferry. The line would stretch into the Hudson River. Everyone wanting a piece of my sister with the icing skin.

I wish I could go to bed, but my bed is my sister’s couch, and her nails are still drying, so instead I tell my sister that I’m going to run a bath, and I retreat to the bathroom. I turn the tap, but I don’t undress. I sit on the edge of the tub and think about texting my boyfriend. I still haven’t officially broken up with him, even though we haven’t seen each other in over a month. 

I wonder if, by now, we’ve broken up by default. 

I wonder if Buddy Valastro had approached me at a bar, said he wanted to make me into cake, would I have kissed him, too? Kissed him for the chance of being molded out of butter and dough? For the chance of seeing my cake-double on the TV screen, all the bakers’ arms outstretched as I topple from the back of the refrigerated moving van, everyone intent on catching me before I break?

The windows fog as the tub fills with water. I lean my head close to the steaming faucet, and I can almost taste the sugar in the air.

The Valastro family is lost at sea. The Valastro family is lost at sea on the Ambrose Channel in a boat called “Killin’ It.” Buddy’s at the wheel, and he’s kind of drunk, but not too drunk to feel his wife giving him The Look when the kids’ backs are turned. Buddy and his wife have been fighting lately, and he’s worried this—getting lost at sea—is the sort of thing that will have him sleeping on the couch, waking up early and folding away the sheets before he packs the kids’ lunches.

Manhattan is a constellation along the horizon. Buddy can barely see it through the fog. He thinks the fog looks like a breath of powdered sugar. He thinks the water looks like a sheet of icing before it’s smoothed flat. He thinks: 2 tablespoons milk, 2 tablespoons softened margarine, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, sugar, blue food coloring. He feels his wrist curving to the angle it makes when he’s spreading icing around cake. He could ice a cake blindfolded. He has iced a cake blindfolded.

Somewhere in that fog, on that water, are barges ten times the size of their boat, and gulls, and floating islands of trash, and hopefully a ship full of firefighters coming to rescue them. 

“You’ll be in the tabloids for this, Buddy,” his wife says. 

“What are my toes supposed to feel like? I don’t think I can feel them,” his daughter says. 

Buddy focuses on the patterns of the waves, their perfect lilt, and wonders what kind of spreading knife, what thickness of icing, could mimic such perfection.

Moments pass, and Buddy can no longer see the lights of the city. He can no longer hear the din of traffic from the highway. At night, fog is black instead of gray. The kids stop crying, and his wife sits on the opposite side of the deck, facing the water. Buddy plans the cake he will make to gain her forgiveness. Most of the cakes he makes for his television show are beautiful, but flavorless, made with refrigerated sheet cake and covered with fondant. Tomorrow, he decides, tomorrow he’ll make a cake that’s delicious and ugly. A cake with raspberry filling that oozes and uneven fudge frosting. It will be a cake big enough for second and third helpings. 

Or, if they’re not rescued, if they drift into the Atlantic, he’ll make a cake of seaweed and gull feathers. He’ll decorate it with barnacles scraped from their ship’s bow. He’ll ask his daughter what she’s learned in school about sea creatures. Which fish feed close to the surface? Which swims faster, a shark or a swordfish?

A light twinkles on the horizon, burning through the fog.

“There they are,” Buddy’s wife says. “The fire department. Thank god.”

And at first Buddy doesn’t hear her, caught up in a pretty daydream where everything tastes sweet.

image: Dana Diehl