Patricia Abbott’s new collection of stories, Monkey Justice, is an ebook from Snubnose Press. She is co-editor of Discount Noir. Nearly one hundred of her stories have appeared in print or online. You can find her at pattinase.
The #459 bus skidded on a patch of black ice that day, and although she was preoccupied with a book, Lena glanced up in time to see a small cake sitting in the middle of the road. Its improbable location made her giggle loud enough to disturb the drowsing passengers. She tilted her head toward the road, but by now the cake was no more than a pale glimmer in the rearview mirror.
“Oh, you missed it,” she said, looking around. “Pity.”
The heads around her bobbed in unison as the bus moved bumpily toward town.
Later, at her work station (fifth row, fourth desk) she thought about it—who’d put a cake in the middle of a country road? And why not a box to protect it? It’d be ruined in no time.
On the way home, the road was empty other than imploded tires, Big-Gulp cups, and discarded shoes. She remembered the spot perfectly though—a stretch of birch trees stood across from it; a well-tended farm lay just ahead.
Two days later, the cake was there again and growing larger. It was now a two-layer cake with silky white frosting. A trail of pink roses circled it. It rested on a pale blue plate. A birthday cake perhaps? A surprise for a child on the way to school? Again, no one else seemed to see it. Was the cake there for her alone?
The cake had three-layers next. A pale green vine etched the frosting. A layer of thick cream topped it. She didn’t really want to share it, but her finger darted out to point before she could stop it. A schoolboy looked up, followed her finger, and made a face. His index finger circled his head. Daft. Perhaps she was daft.
Pillars held up the cake a few days later. The cake was quite tall now, and she wondered how the bus driver managed to miss it. The blue plate had been replaced by a large silver tray. It was raining, but the cake seemed impervious to the damp, merely glistening a bit more than usual. The woman next to her gave a start, and for a minute, Lena thought someone else had the eyesight or attention or imagination necessary to see it. But the woman sneezed instead.
“Bless you,” Lena said.
A groom stood atop the cake the next day. Lena strained to see him. He was very handsome and wore the traditional attire but seemed lonely. He held out an inviting hand as if waiting for a bride to join him. Lena rubbed her eyes, but he remained at attention. Waiting.
On Saturday, she did her errands. The bridal shop was only a few doors from the shoe repair store, so on an impulse, she stopped in. She tried hard to imagine what the bride might wear, but there was nothing suitable. It was all too modern.
With a bundle of her deceased mother’s clothes to donate, her last stop was the Shelterville Thrift Store. Inside she saw the dress in a section at the very back. The sign over the rack read, “This is just what you’ve been looking for.”
And it was. The dress was in perfect condition because, of course, it had only been worn once. She tried it on, and it fit perfectly. The price tag was missing, and the clerk let it go for a song.
“I hope your day is as special as your dress,” the woman told her, her voice a trill.
Lena didn’t correct the clerk because she wasn’t sure herself. What was the dress for?
It seemed odd to wear her dress on the bus, and she covered it with a coat despite the nice temperatures. She rang the bell as they approached the birches and the well-kept farm.
“Here?” the bus driver yelled. “You want me to let you off here?”
The passengers’ eyes swung left and right. Shrugs.
“If you don’t mind,” Lena said, walking down the aisle. Nobody noticed either her dress or the heels that went with it. Not the gloves, nor the flowers she’d tucked into her bag. Not her either. No one ever had.
“Sure you got the right spot?” the driver asked again. “There’s nothing here but an old farm.”
“It’s the right place,” she told him, feeling more certain all the time.
As the bus drove off, she worried for a moment that the cake wouldn’t be there. But when the fumes cleared, she saw it. It had a canopy now, and small birds perched on it. As she neared the cake, she saw the groom was still there. In his black tux with a red rose in his lapel. He looked expectant.
“I’ve been waiting,” he said, holding out his hand to her. She took it and climbed up. “The dress is perfect,” he said. “You are perfect.”
She smiled, feeling she was in the right place for the first time in her life.