Joanna Wisbey wins 2021 Short Story Competition
Congratulations to Joanna Wisbey whose short story, The Cake, won the 2021 StoryLinks Short Story competition.
Judges’ comments: A carefully crafted story that uses humour and insight to present a touching snapshot of a blended family wedding. Enjoy
THE CAKE by Joanna Wisbey
Mum and Nathan are getting married tomorrow. It’s okay, I guess. He’s been my stepdad for half my life anyway. I don’t think much is going to change. It’s just a good excuse to have a party. And a cake. The wedding cake is my job. It’s, like, next-level baking, so it has to be perfect.
‘What flavour would you like?’ I ask.
‘Everyone likes chocolate,’ says Mum.
‘What about vanilla?’ says Nathan.
‘How about I give you two tiers,’ I say. ‘One chocolate, one vanilla.’
‘Only two tears?’ Nathan says. ‘Most people cry way more than that at weddings.’
He reaches to give me a high-five, but I leave him hanging. I’ve learned not to encourage his terrible jokes.
Gemma stirs her fruit-loops. ‘Can Miss Whiskers help carry the rings?’ she asks.
‘Cats don’t normally go to weddings, honey,’ Mum explains.
Gemma sticks her bottom lip out while Miss Whiskers rubs around her legs. ‘I’m not going without her.’
Mum looks at Nathan. ‘Maybe we can take her in a cat carrier.’
Gemma smiles. ‘I’ll tie the rings on a ribbon around her collar.’
Mum has learned to not upset Gemma. That’s kind of what it’s like having a patchwork family. Lots of learning how to not upset other people.
Gemma and Miss Whiskers are in charge of the rings. Nathan’s other daughter, Lily, is in charge of the flowers. Deciding my job was easy. I’m the first person anyone thinks of when they need a cake. Well, me and Mrs Edwards, at least.
Mrs Edwards is a professional pastry chef. She lives right next door. It’s a pretty sweet deal, really. I help her in the kitchen—and she teaches me everything she knows about baking. I saw her struggling to carry boxes to her car once and helped her out. I’ve spent a day in her kitchen almost every weekend since.
Mrs Edwards is already wearing her apron when I arrive.
‘We decided on two tiers,’ I say. ‘Chocolate and vanilla.’
Baking cakes is not as easy as I used to think. Mum only ever uses packet mixes. Mrs Edwards bakes everything from scratch. There’s, like, thirteen ingredients or something.
We make one big batch of cake batter, then divide it into two bowls. We add cocoa to one, and vanilla to the other.
‘Get off my petunias!’ Mrs Edwards has her arm halfway out the kitchen window. She’s shooing away Miss Whiskers.
‘Can you please ask Gemma to keep that cat inside?’ asks Mrs Edwards.
‘I’ve tried,’ I say. ‘But she thinks it’s cruel to keep Miss Whiskers locked up.’
‘I think it’s cruel to let your cat use your neighbours pot plants as a toilet,’ she says.
‘She’s coming to the wedding tomorrow,’ I say.
‘A cat at a wedding,’ says Mrs Edwards. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
I shrug. ‘Gemma won’t go without her.’
We let the cakes cool before stacking the vanilla on top of the chocolate. Then we make a batch of vanilla butter-cream icing. The icing goes on thick and glossy. Once it’s hardened, we wrap a pink ribbon around the middle and tie it with a perfect bow. Even without the flowers on top, it looks like a wedding cake. Mum and Nathan are going to be impressed.
The house is buzzing. Lily is stressing because the florist is late. Mum keeps telling Nathan it’s bad luck for him to see her before the wedding ceremony. He shuts his eyes and bumps into things. Now I’m stressing because the florist is late. Mum braids our hair. The flowers finally arrive. Lily makes a bouquet for each of us, and a little arrangement to put on top of the cake.
I run the little bunch next door to Mrs Edwards.
‘You’re not dressed yet!’ she cries. ‘Go sort yourself out. I’ll meet you there with the cake.’
The wedding cars arrive and we head to the chapel. Nathan, Lily, Gemma and Miss Whiskers travel in one car. Nathan’s mate drives Mum and I in the other. He looks down at the dashboard.
’Bummer!’ he says. ‘Forgot to get petrol.’
‘It’s okay,’ says Mum. ‘Brides are supposed to be late.’
We must look silly, all dressed up for a wedding at the 7-Eleven.
As soon as the petrol is sorted, Nathan’s mate hops back into the car. He’s got a doughnut in one hand and another half-shoved in his mouth.
‘Sorry,’ he splutters. ‘They were on special.’
We get to the chapel. Everyone goes inside except for Mum and me. We sit quietly for a minute. Mum looks amazing. We hear the music start. It’s time to go inside. Everything seems to happen in slow motion—but it’s a blur at the same time.
Nathan, Lily and Gemma and Miss Whiskers are waiting up the front for us. I walk past Mrs Edwards. She gives me two thumbs up and I know it’s code for, ‘The cake is here. Everything’s fine.’
There’s talking. Then crying. Then kissing. Then confetti.
It’s all over. It’s official. We’re a family.
Gemma is crying. Everyone is hugging everyone. Gemma is crying…
‘I can’t find Miss Whiskers!’ she wails, her eyes darting around the room.
The chapel falls silent.
We all tiptoe around the room calling, ‘Here, puss, puss.’
‘There she is!’ cries Nathan. ‘Up on the table. She’s climbing into that pot plant!’
Miss Whiskers balances awkwardly, squatting among the flowers in the pot. The tall, round, white pot. The tall, round, white pot—that’s tied with pink ribbon and a perfect bow.
‘THE CAKE!’ I scream. ‘She’s pooing on the cake!’
We all stand there awkwardly as Miss Whiskers finishes her business. Mrs Edwards runs to open the windows while Gemma locks Miss Whiskers securely back inside the cat carrier.
My beautiful triple-decker-chocolate-vanilla-poo wedding cake goes in the bin. Mum and Nathan burst out laughing. Everyone joins in. Even me.
Lucky for us, doughnuts are on special at the 7-Eleven.