Two chunks of Christmas cake are brought back to the house before the New Year. They sit uncovered on a large red plate in the kitchen with a knife to hand, so that anyone who wants to take a piece can help themselves.
There is one sliver left, and the house is in the grips of a politeness standoff. In an unspoken atonement for a year of domestic indiscretions, no one wants to be the one to take the last slice. After all, it is almost the new year, and resolutions of magnanimity are taking shape in everyone’s minds.
The cake hardens. The marzipan cracks and the currants and cherries shrink and wrinkle. The standoff becomes a silent collective refusal to bin it, because doing so would somehow be an admission of defeat. In turn, they go into the kitchen and stare at the cake while they wait for the kettle to boil, thinking, what’s the point of being generous if no one is going to appreciate it?
It’s January 5th, and the cake remains untouched. Everyone pretends not to notice it. It’s an embarrassment, a failure, an outstayed welcome; a relic from last year dragged awkwardly into the new, irrelevant and unneeded.
One night someone comes home drunk. The chicken shop near the house isn’t open, and he is starving. The only food in the kitchen belongs to others and isn’t the kind of food that you can sneak a bit of without getting caught (he knows that certain people count their crisp packets).
He eats the cake in two big mouthfuls. It is stale and disgusting and he regrets it immediately. He goes to bed unsatisfied and spinning out.
A pile of crumbs lingers on the red plate. Two days later someone else brushes them into the bin and washes up, tutting.
o o o