I am six and Barbie is still in heavy rotation in my world; the Ferrari still leaves the dream house a couple times a week and there are tiny shoes for every stripe in the rainbow. Mom is taking a cake decorating class and is practicing ruffles; creating lines of colored frosting on wax paper with a piping bag, scraping them off, and starting again. I sit at the kitchen table and draw, watching across the way as she plays with lines of color on the counter; just like me, only fancier. A couple weeks ago she made a volcano cake for my brother. His friends came over and helped him eat the gooey, red and orange frosted cake that oozed like active lava. The final cake is for me. The girls who live on my street have been invited to the unveiling.
The following Saturday we stand around my kitchen table staring at her. She’s beautiful, like a doll should be, and once we are done marveling at her frosted frame we get to eat her dress. She reaches out to us with stiff arms from rows of narrow, pink, skirt ripples dotted with tiny flowers in yellow and green. She’s just a plastic doll staring at me from a chocolate ball gown covered in frosting curls, but she’s mine for the afternoon.
With promises of upcoming front lawn tea parties and swingset dates, I said goodbye to my friends and sent the remaining slices of cake off to their mothers. After our pink-stained paper plates were pitched and our frosting-clumped forks soaked, Mom picked up the little doll and rinsed her off. She was naked, like Barbie, from shoulder to hip but her legs had gone missing and in their place was a flesh-colored toothpick. Cake decorating, it turned out, wasn't Mom's favorite hobby and we never saw the doll come alive again. Mom stuck her in the kitchen island amid the tips and piping bags next to our collection of boxed teas, and she probably still lives there, her bright red bob flattened by the plastic bag. The doll cake only lasted a couple of hours but the lore of its existence spread throughout the surrounding neighborhood like our sugar rush, quick, exciting, and short-lived.
In the picture, you may think I am one of the girls sitting up front mugging for the camera, but I am the barely visible floating head in the teal shirt -- just bangs and a thin-lipped, no-teeth smile -- hovering just above the doll’s head. I recognize my awkward posture right away; my feet are probably hiked up on the back of one of our kitchen chairs as I lean into the frame. After Mom sent me the picture, I asked why I was hiding in the background. Mom shrugged audibly, “Blame the photographer”.
Barbie’s dream house has long been packed in the rafters of our garage, the red Ferrari lovingly bubble-wrapped, the box collecting dust in wait for my potential kids. While in California for a week prepping sweets for a friend’s bridal shower, Mom dug through the kitchen island one evening and produced her crinkled piping bags and barely-used tips for me to try. I wasn’t there when she tore apart her decorating supplies, but I am sure she had to move the plastic redhead out of the way to find the box; and the thought made me smile. After she washed the piping bags out and hung them to dry above the sink, we laughed that one of the white linen bags was still stained pink...a permanent remnant from the one and only doll cake. Decades later I can’t recall if the cake was moist or dry; the frosting too sweet; or how many cups of milk I drank that day. What I remember was the awe on our faces, my pride over my mother’s creation, and pure crumb-covered joy.