“Tres Leches”

Norm, I need to tell you some things, because the cancer is running like one of those little white rats in a maze. The rat’s not getting out, Norm, and I’m worried about you having to organize my funeral without me. God knows whether there ever would’ve been a birthday or graduation party for either of the kids if it was left up to you. And I suppose you’ve always known it was me who wrote our anniversary in your date book every year and had the florist and jeweler call you with reminders to shop for the big day. Yes, I had the restaurants call you to set up reservations, too. Some of my friends said it was terrible that you had to be baby-sat like that, but at least you ordered the flowers and actually went down to the jewelry store. I only had to exchange a gift once.

So I’m leaving you a list of instructions for the funeral in the top drawer of the table in the hall. It has the name of the florist, the telephone number for the person who books events at the church, and a list of songs. The CD’s are in the drawer with the list.

But here’s the most important thing, Norm. Serve cake at the reception. Go to Casa de Pasteles on Morgan Street and order the Tres Leches cake. No other cake.

I discovered it after Julia told me about you and the woman. Once she saw you together, Julia couldn’t keep the secret. She’s hated secrets since we were old enough to understand our parents were keeping them. The woman was what you did on Thursday nights for 21 months – not the professional meeting you told me you had to attend.

The first Thursday I knew, I wandered down Morgan Street after work, wondering what to do with myself. Hot, sweaty, dusty, I stumbled into a Mexican bakery. Inside, I breathed in cool air, vanilla and butter cream, and saw the cake – white frosting puffed like a down pillow I could press my cheek against as I lay down. I used to lie down on top of you, remember?  After we both had showered?  Our skin plump with moisture, fingertips wrinkled. You smelled clean – like milk and spicy men’s soap.

The brown woman behind the counter had eyes dark as almost-black glass.

“What is that?” I asked her, pointing at the cake.

“Tres leches cake,” she said in a thick Mexican accent, smiling big, with her whole face. “Milk and cake. Leche is milk.”

She taught me to say it. My tongue pursed against the back of my front teeth with the “le”, my cheeks drawn back, and then the “ch,” almost like a kiss. I took a large slice home. Just like the word, the sweet, wet cake in my mouth was like being kissed. While you were with the woman every Thursday, I stopped at that bakery. I ate a piece of the cake, then lay on the bed, and touched myself – rubbed until I tasted the milky sweetness again – and whispered “tres leches” over and over.

One Thursday night, you came home right after work. I got home later, with the piece of cake in a plastic container. I followed the smell of your soap into the bedroom and found you, showered, waiting on the bed. The cake was still on the kitchen counter the next morning but the sound of the “ch” had been in my mouth, in the shape of my lips, as I kissed you, all night.

About Lauren M. Baldwin

Lauren M. holds an MFA in Writing (Fiction) from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a Juris Doctor from the University of New Mexico School of Law. She is an administrative law judge and kind of a knitting super hero, and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.