Cake & Eighteen
Clay-winds spiral, kicking up dust and rain in amongst the desiccated landscape. At the side of the sand-swept road, Joanna kennels over, her cracked fingers pick at the dry earth excavating some small reflective thing that had caught her eye.
The dry atmosphere had aged Joanna’s face considerably. She was only a thirty-four year old woman, but had the complexion of some weathered ancient relic. Her blazer carries with it a thin dust on its shoulders, and fastened to the button-hole of the right lapel, her fathers cufflink. Her floral dress exposed her legs to the harsh winds, those that had aged her so drastically. It was of no consequence to Joanna.
“Cola. Est, Eighteen sixty-six” she reads atop the small, reflective bottle cap. Her warm voice crackles through powder-coated lungs, like an intermittent radio transmission. She places the trinket in her pocket.
Joanna thinks of her parents for a moment, before setting off once more toward her home. “Best hurry with this storm...” she ponders aloud. “are they, shut?” she adds, wondering whether she’d closed the windows to her flat this morning.
She shuffles through the terrain, as if an Emperor penguin finding its way through the white of the old Arctic. Little boot prints are left momentarily before being erased. A few blocks of flats litter the skyline, most likely empty.
The door into the building is worn. Forceful gusts force Joanna to shield herself until inside the a faux-magnificent lobby, mailboxes stretching the length of one wall. Adjacent, a well concealed entrance to the stairwell, and an out of service elevator, where two young boys stand jabbing at the button, passively kicking the aluminium doors.
“It is broken, you know?” Joanna calls as she moves toward the stairwell. A gust blows through, causing the hinges of the sporadically ajar mailboxes to squeak on their rusted hinges. She’d not got mail for years; the pigeon holes merely collected opportunistic debris that tumbled through the entrance now.
“Shall we go with her?” Joanna hears one of the boys whisper as she enters through the door to the stairwell.
“She’s cross...” The other responds.
Joanna pauses. It was odd to see another face in the building, certainly unfamiliar ones. “Are you okay?” Joanna calls back. peering around the frame of the door.
“We need the...third floor, I think”
“The party” the other adds.
“Oh. This way”.
Joanna signals them to the foot of the door before.
“I’d have probably been jabbing the button too...” Joanna jests “where have you come from?”
“North. About three miles”
“His dad walked us. Most of the way”
“Yeah” his friend adds. “What about you?” the boy responds.
“Work. The weather tracking station” Joanna replies “checking what the weather is doing, I suppose...” The boys laugh; she knew why, she saw the futileness of her job too.
The three arrive at the third floor, where a resonant rhythmic buzz seeps down the hall. A ballon hangs from Ronda’s door at the end of the hall, where the boys scuttle off to.
Joanna had lived in her hollow nest all her life; her parents had passed when she was sixteen. It was expected, some things weren’t long-lasting, she’d tell herself .
Placing her things down, she fetches the bottle cap from her pocket, and places herself at the rustic table by the semi-opaque window. The sun pours through, illuminating the front room. All manner of trinkets her and her parents had collected glisten, displayed across her mothers bookshelf. Little specks of dust sail through the light, which falls gracefully across Joanna’s face, igniting her brown eyes buried deep within her sculpted clay face.
She sits by the window and begins to scrub the bottle cap with her blazer sleeve. The flat shivers as the conditions worsen outside.
“Windows!” she exclaims, the howls pricking her ears. She attends each one, tightly sealing them. A faint knock taps at the door.
“Hello!” a small woman exclaims, in a rattling mousy voice through her pickled face, holding a slither of cake atop a chipped porcelain plate.
“Ronda!” Joanna bursts.
“We are having, a little party, for Nathan today. Eighteen!”.
Joanna had known Ronda since she was a child, but mostly as a name she knew.
“I just wanted to bring you a bit of cake. The boys were just saying how nice you were earlier, I wanted to say thank you”
“Oh, that’s very kind” Joanna adds, Ronda handing her the plate. “You know, you’d be welcome over. Just knock if you fancy it!”.
Ronda scurries off before Joanna replies. She closes the door behind her, and retakes her seat at the table.
The spiralling winds soothe her. It’s mischievous and vile, it diminishes and decays its surroundings, but the sounds of its whistling was white noise to Joanna, a sedative.
She thinks over Ronda’s proposal. “They did bring cake...” she reminds herself, flicking the bottle cap too and fro her fingers.
She rises, and glances in the mirror, brushing down her blazer and legs, and finally, the cufflink that her and her father had found together some twenty years ago, in a vacant elderly home.
The party is sparse; Joanna enters, cake in hand. A few boys litter the front room, two stand and chat on the balcony.
“Joanna, so pleased you came” Ronda exclaims, emerging with a plate of snacks she places on a table.
“Please, pick away. Food, drink. Make yourself comfortable”.
“These look good” Joanna says eagerly, taking one from the plate and biting into it.
“I beg you don’t hold your breath”. She was right.
“Coca-cola?” Joanna exclaims inspecting the glass bottled drinks, not noticing Ronda had already scuttled off once more. She takes a drink and carries it along with the cake to the sofa. A small cloud of soot springs to life as she sits, alone.
The winds cry with intent, the open balcony door amplifying its individual notes. A small speaker set coughs up an old ballroom track, almost sounding as we do. Ronda rejoins Joanna on the sofa, stopping for a moment.
“Where’d you get these?” Joanna asks, holding up the glass bottle.
“Oh. Expensive those. But I wanted something special for today”
“I remember finding the caps outside with mum and dad. Much, much younger...” Ronda laughs, “You’re still young!”. Joanna smiles.
“It’s getting stormy. They alright out there?”
“There’s always one on the way!” Ronda says dismissively, trailing off into the kitchen.
“...well say Hi then!...” Joanna hears Ronda quietly insist from the kitchen. A boy emerges, and sits beside Joanna.
“Hi” the boy mumbles “thanks for coming over”
“and thank you for the cake” Joanna replies, “Nathan?”
“Yeah. My mum made the cake though” he replies, cowering to one side of the couch.
Joanna reservedly flashes a smile at Nathan. She felt old in his company, noticeably so. Nathan signals for the glass bottle. Peering down, Joanna notices it sealed.
“I hadn’t thought to ask...” Joanna says chuckling.
She hands Nathan the bottle.
“Mum said to...like this...” he says, clamping the bottle cap with an opener.
The perspiring glass spills froth from its slender neck; Joanna’s eyes glow with childlike wonder. She takes the bottle back from Nathan, and plugs the expanding foam with her mouth.
“Mmm!” Joanna muffles, taking a swig from the bottle. “It’s really sweet!”. Nathan laughs “I thought that” he adds. Joanna gazes at the bottle, still nursing her untouched cake.
“How long you lived here for?” Nathan asks.
“My life I’d say. We were across the hall a bit, but moved” “We?”
“Parents. Not now though” Joanna remarks.
A gale of clay-winds pelt the windows; the vision outside drops.
“...You’re pretty” Nathan mutters.
“What?” Joanna retorts. A yelp emits from the balcony. Joanna rises, placing her bits on the floor. Joanna ushers the boys in, closing the balcony door behind them.
“Everything okay?” Ronda asks having emerged from the kitchen.
“Just a bit of dirt”
“Here” Ronda calls, signalling the boy to the kitchen. “rinse it” she says, passing him a cup of water by the sink. “You’ll be fine”.
Joanna stands awkward, avoiding eye contact with Nathan.
“Ronda I think I’ll take off” Joanna calls through to the kitchen, “I’ve left a window open” “Oh, well it was lovely that you came. You can bring the plate back another time” Ronda says referring to the cake. She takes the plate and drink, and makes her way back to her flat.
Joanna sits beside the window, and places the cake and glass bottle along with the bottle cap she’d happened upon earlier. The gales sing fiercely; tiny rocks batter the windows and flurries of dust seep through crevices into the empty flat. Her cracked fingers pick away once more at the dirt baked onto the face of the bottle cap, intermittently taking sips from her glass bottled drink. Clay-winds spiral, kicking up dust and rain.