Nora Maynard

Anna slammed her finger in her boyfriend’s car door moments after she broke up with him, so she and Holly put together a meal that was all bruise colors: red onion, black grapes, blueberries, and hamburger meat. And then a few days later: weak tea, canned peas, mustard, and boiled cabbage.

Back then, it was stunts like this that brought Holly into the kitchen, that made her remember her mother’s recipes. She never used to be one of those women who cooked for real.

But one Sunday late in that freshman first semester, the two of them spent the whole afternoon baking a cake for a party. It was the birthday of a girl neither of them liked much (Holly can’t remember her name, it’s been so many years now. Was it Constance or Hope or Faith?), but she’d been lending Anna her notes from Anthropology whenever she cut class—pages of them written in neat secretarial shorthand—and Anna wanted to make sure she’d be fixed for second semester too.

The recipe was something Anna had found in the Chicago Tribune: fluffy lemon frosting slathered between layers of light yellow chiffon, stacked high. It turned out better than Holly ever would have expected. Not at all like the dry, cratered cakes she’d made in high school Home Ec. But this was all because of Anna. Whether she was pronouncing German, tying scarves, or blowing smoke rings, her best friend always seemed to have a knack for stuff.

“We’ll give her the cake then only stay half an hour,” said Anna.

“We’ll eat the whole cake,” said Holly. “Then leave.”

It was a pain to get there. The party was at the girl’s sister’s apartment, a long subway ride uptown to the Loop, but Anna insisted on bringing her bike. The sturdy steel monster went everywhere with her back then. Its reptilian-green body was scarred with deep scratches. Its tires were dry and cracked and its fenders were scabbed with rust. It had a wide wire basket attached to its handlebars, the kind delivery boys use, where Anna often kept a kind of traveling art exhibit, filling it with naked, shock-haired Barbies one day, and scuffed rubber duckies the next. But today she had cleared it out completely, and the cake, cradled in its taped-together cardboard carton, slid right in.

“Watch the step.”

“Whoa, don’t tip it.”

“Alley oop!”

The subway car was empty. Holly lay lengthwise across four seats while Anna rode up and down the aisle, stopping and starting then stopping again. This position wasn’t very comfortable, but Holly liked the idea of it.

“It’s a velocipede.”

“It’s a boneshaker.”

“It’s a crotch rocket.”

When the doors opened, Anna rode straight out onto the platform.

“Did you see the look on that guy’s face?”

“We gave him the fright of his life.”

The Miracle Mile. It was hard riding double behind Anna. Holly still remembers staring at the knot of her coarse, dark hair pinned into its messy upsweep, at her beaded earrings swinging above the collar of her old suede coat. “No, keep your legs in.... Hold my waist not my shoulders.... Ow, not so tight.” There were so many shocks and jolts, skids and near misses as they made their way along the crowded sidewalk. The leaves had begun to turn and sky was nearly cloudless, a clear stretch of blue that made all the buildings look bright and chiseled. The wind sent Holly’s long brown hair streaming back behind her (she imagined this made her profile look majestic), but then, as they rounded a corner, it came whipping across her face and into her mouth (was she going to arrive at the party looking like a crazy mess?). She didn’t have a free hand to fix it so she just held tight to Anna and hoped for the best.

They hit a bump going over the sidewalk on the Franklin Street Bridge. The cake shifted, yanking the front wheel over to the left with it so the bike jackknifed. Anna slammed on the brakes.

“Whoa!” The tire hit the guardrail and Holly staggered onto the sidewalk. Her bare ankle was zigzagged with oil from the chain.

“Oh my God, that saddle,” said Anna, rubbing her backside. “Talk about a kick in the ass.” She leaned the bike against the rail, unpinned her hair, then twisted it up again. Holly was the pretty one, that much they both acknowledged, but there was always something vaguely intimidating about Anna’s perfect disarray.

“The cake!” Her eyes widened at the sight of the basket. “Is it wrecked now?”

Holly took the box out, peeled away the scotch tape and peered in to check. “It’s a little smushed on this side. But I think I can fix it.” She set the box down on the rail, bracing it against her hip

“Ack,” Anna gasped. “Don’t drop it.”

Holly raised her arms to demonstrate how well everything was balanced. “You don’t have a knife do you?”

“Whaddyou think I am, a cub scout?” Anna reached over and smoothed some of the crushed frosting back into place with one of her short, square fingers. “There. All re-spackled. Damn, this means we have to go to the party after all.”

Holly scooped up a bit of frosting that was still stuck to the cardboard and put it in her mouth.

“Not necessarily,” she said.

What happened next came as as much of a surprise to Holly as it as it did to Anna. Holly grabbed the box squarely in both hands and tipped it over the rail. The cake slid out into the void like a body buried at sea.

Lemon chiffon. A passing seagull. A circle of pale icing against the dark waters. And then a faint plop.

They both stared at the empty box.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe you did that!”

Holly couldn’t believe it either. Her heart was beating fast now and she felt a little sick.

“I hope the fishes like it,” Anna howled.

“No, the gangsters.”

“That cake has cement shoes.”

They couldn’t stop laughing. Their chests were heaving. They were winded. Their young, flat bellies pushed and pressed against the flaking iron rail. “Stop! Stop! It hurts!” They would simmer down for a moment, just long enough to catch their breath. But then all it took was a sly glance from either one of them and they’d start up again.

They both got quiet. The sun was setting and Holly’s hands felt cold.

“Tell me again why did you that.” Anna zipped up her jacket. It was a size too big yet somehow fit her perfectly, torn and stained in just the right spots.

“I don’t know,” Holly shrugged. “Because I could.”

“We can still make the party.” Anna turned her back and started for her bike.

“Wait, wait.” Holly picked the icing-smeared box up from the pavement and hurled it over the rail. As it fell, she imagined it floating down the Chicago River like a tiny white boat, that she and Anna would chase it by bicycle, weaving around poodles and panhandlers, hot dog carts and fire hydrants, traffic cops and street musicians as it made its journey across town.

But the wind took it before it hit the water. The box ended up somewhere beneath the bridge where they couldn’t see it, stuck among the trash and dusty river weeds.

She can’t remember when she lost touch with Anna. It couldn’t have been long afterward. Sometime before graduation. Before she moved in with the record store manager. Before her mother’s lymphoma. Before her wedding. Before the baby. Before the job at the bank and the software company and the brokerage firm. Before the trial separation. Before the trip to Africa. Before her son’s divorce.

It used to be so deliciously easy to wreck things. To take pleasure in squander. But she didn’t know that even then she was using her life up.

Nora Maynard
Nora Maynard

Nora Maynard is a Canadian/American fiction/nonfiction writer based in NYC. Her work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, The Millions, Killing the Buddha, Leite's Culinaria, Food Republic, and Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn, among others. Nora has been awarded fellowships from the Ucross Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, The Artists' Enclave at I-Park, and is a winner of the Bronx Writers' Center/Bronx Council of the Arts Chapter One Competition.

Visit her website at