The Chocolate Doll Cake
In the candy store, Maruja held a heart with cherry filling to put inside the chocolate doll cake. The brown loaf humanoid resembled her face and body features: her skin full of moles made of chocolate chips, her legs glazed with sugary spider veins, and her trunk deformed by the mounds of dough around the belly and on the back due to the increasing scoliosis.
The pile of cakes had to be frozen, so she could carve them in the shape of each limb. Even though she always wanted to be slender, she admired the sculpture of her huge stomach with its cherry-like belly button. “What a stomach cake,” she said aloud and soon she realized her joke.
It took her three months to learn how to sculp the dough coated with dark modeling chocolate exactly the color of her skin. The cake had to be completed today, the day of her 50th birthday, Saint Valentine’s day. The most difficult part to copy was the scar on her right arm—its color wasn’t of Belgian chocolate but rather of dulce de leche.
On the register counter, as Maruja slid the heart, a bag with chocolates and two stone candies for payment, the cashier, a young man, took one of the stones candies and said, “These are the exact colors of your eyes.” They were the color of molten honey.
She lowered her glasses to the tip of her nose and looked at the cashier, saying, “My husband always says that he wants to eat them.” It was a lie, since she has never been married.
She licked her lips, and said, “I guess I’m fully edible.” She paid with cash, lifted her shopping bag with the tips of her fingers to her shoulder, swung her hips, and said, “Are you going to think about me during your Valentine’s dinner tonight, dear?”
The cashier, no older than nineteen and pale as vanilla ice cream, blushed. Maruja exited the store, swinging her hips and touching her hair, dense like clover lawn. It was bushy African hair except for the patches behind her ears and above her nape from which she had cut tuffs of hair to be planted in the chocolate cake. This was the only inedible part of the doll, in addition to the nails. She didn’t clip her nails because she was afraid that she might bleed. Asking her manicurist to give her the nail clippings was out of the question. Too many explanations for that. So, she submerged her fingertips into melting chocolate and bit them. It was so delicious that she thought she could overcome her fear of blood by drinking blood mixed with chocolate. Still she was very careful, and her teeth bit off her nails without injuring the skin. She washed the nails, but their brownish color didn’t go away so she painted them black even though her favorite color was pink. Black for my last birthday cake, she thought.
A strong, cold wind entered as she pushed out the store-door and she had to put her bags on the floor to zip up her heavy purple coat. Outside, the city looked as if it were coated with whipped cream. A woman flung a bouquet of roses to the garbage can. Another gust of wind blew. Rose petals flew past her landing on a mountain of snow by the curb. For a moment, Maruja saw the petals like drops of blood. She felt drowsy. She hated blood; ironically, she had worked in a hospital for almost thirty years.
A dropout from majoring in classical mythology and without any other training, she thought she could never get a job in any other place with the same benefits. For years, one of her coworkers, Lina, followed her with a cotton tip stained with blood, teasing her.
Years later, Lina said as if she were apologizing, “I know you wanted to be a nurse or even a doctor.” She was referring to the pink nurse uniform that Maruja always wore. It was a common misconception. Maruja never wanted to be a doctor, but she liked to wear the uniform with a matching surgical mask, even though her duties were only clerical. Wearing the mask, she avoided the smell of blood, rotten milk, chicken soup and flushing toilet after menstruation, that permeated the hospital hallways. Thank God I don’t have to pay that bill any more. An idea that occurred to her when she had read the Merchant of Venice for a class in her college. Shakespeare made a mistake. Antonio shouldn’t be a man, but a woman and the Merchant is God. A God that hates women.
She put her hand over her mouth and nose, trudging past a man who was holding heart-shaped balloons with Saint Valentine’s Day messages.
If it weren’t for her birthday, Saint Valentine’s wouldn’t mean anything to her. Usually, she would bake a cake and Lina and the other coworkers would sing Happy Birthday. Then she would return to her job strapping bracelets that contained the patients’ names and dates of birth onto wrists. All of them were outpatients, without emergencies. She rarely saw blood even though the hospital smell to it all around no matter how often freshener she would spray. But in rare cases that she had to process someone bleeding, Lina always helped her, saying, “So much drama for a couple of drops of blood.”
Finally, Lina had understood the disgust that blood produced in Maruja. What Maruja never told her was that every time she clicked the bracelet on a patient’s wrist a spurt of blood from a chicken neck came to her memory accompanied by her grandmother’s prayers.
“I humble myself before the mysteries of Echú. You are the Messenger of Cambolé and the Ancestors. You are the Owner of the Mysteries of the Four Directions, north, south, east, and west. You are the Guardian of the Gates of Death and Life.”
As she was walking along Lexington Avenue to the train station, she felt hungry and shoveled a chocolate in her mouth. It wasn’t enough. The tip of her tongue touched first a tooth on the right and then a tooth on the left. She enjoyed feeling their sharpness, a distraction from her hunger. One chocolate wouldn’t kill her. “Not yet.” Her recent diabetes diagnosis and her doctor’s words, “You need to eat chicken, nuts, meat, protein…” didn't matter. She wanted to eat only pastries and chocolates and fruit sometimes. Maybe she could survive without them or just taking insulin when the sugar was high, but she was terrified to think that she had to poke herself with a needle to test her blood and inject her belly with insulin. “Eat meat, Guacala,” she said aloud as if she were giving herself an order. Shaking her head, she looked at her watch: 1:35 PM. There was enough time to arrive home in Brooklyn. She needed to place the cherry heart in the doll’s chest, replace the eyes and light the candles before starting with the ritual at the exact time she was born: 3:00 PM. It was intriguing to her that she was born on February fourteenth during an eclipse at 3:00 PM; Christ died at 3:00 PM during an eclipse. And now she woke up every day at 3:00 AM to pray to Babalú Ayé before getting ready for work.
But today's 3:00 PM would be her last birthday. She mumbled a prayer to Echú. Her coworkers had been teasing her earlier because for the first time she didn’t bake a cake to share for her birthday. Nobody knew about her human sized chocolate cake.
“She has a date,” said Lina.
“He’s a little devil.” Maruja giggled and moved her hips in the way she had learned when she was fifteen, when she learned to dance salsa. But there was no little devil. The only lover she ever had was a vegan man who used to sniff her, saying, “You don’t smell like dead animal, like the others.” It was sexy but she also wanted him to bite her and kiss her. He never did that. When he was on top of her, she imagined his tongue trying to shovel each inch of her palate as if it were the most delicious of candies. Instead of feeling like melting chocolate, when he finished, she was left on the bed like a pillow with a hole. Ten years younger than her, he was the one who deflowered her after a dance party; he was the one who married a New Age girl who he surely kissed; he was the one who used to ring her bell at 2:00 AM and left before her prayers to Babalú Ayé. He was the one who hadn’t returned after his penis bled and after he accused her of having some disease. A false alarm? Yes, and no. After that, the blood work came out with high cholesterol and diabetes. As she climbed down the stairs to get the 4 train to Brooklyn, the image of his hand pulling down the prepuce to show a pink bell, a drop of blood seeping from it, still made her shiver.
No, there was no other man and when she thought about a hairy chest, square jaws, bowl heads, she remembered what her grandmother told her, “A man makes you bleed with tickles.”
Indeed, her grandmother had bled and laughed the last time Maruja saw her. As Maruja crossed the train turnstile, the voodoo doll of her Grandmother with implanted gray hair came to mind. And laughing, Grandma said, “Men don’t like older women.” Maruja shook her head, trying to chase away her Grandma’s laugh and words that now were like a buzzing. But the memories rushed like bubbles in her mind. Maruja wasn’t even ten years old when her grandmother died. Now in her mind she had the memories of her Grandmother’s death: her grandmother stabbing the voodoo doll and her blood sloshing around Maruja, burbling and turning the ritual into a nightmare of hell with flames from the candles. The neighbors rescued the young Maruja from a wallow of her grandmother’s blood. One of the candles had turned down burning her right arm. The neighbors were terrorized by the little black girl who didn’t show any sorrow for her grandmother’s death and even one of her classmates told her, “My mom says that your father is the devil himself.”
But what kind of grief could she show? She knew of grandmother’s death since she was five. That was the way she learned to count. Holding her little right hand her grandmother touched each finger. “One, two, three, four, five.”
Then, she puffed smoke from her cigar and held the thumb from her left hand, “Here is ten, when you get there, I’ll be fifty. No men like a fifty-old year woman. There is no life for me after fifty. Did you hear me?”
For Maruja, during the funeral, her grandmother’s body was a carcass and the coffin a container with meat. No, there was never sorrow, or even a single tear. What she wanted was to scrub the sticky sensation of the blood from her skin, to erase the red marks and deodorize the smell of blood, like putrid milk, and spread some refreshing ointment to relieve the burning sensation on her right arm.
A year later, an evangelical pastor and his wife adopted Maruja and brought her all the way from Buenaventura, Colombia to Brooklyn, New York. Maruja’s dolls made with tufts of human hair that she stole from her classmates were the reason why the pastor gave her to an orphanage when she was twelve. “She is possessed,” he said with pleading eyes as he emptied a box with eight dolls stabbed with needles. Those dolls were her classmates who’d been mean to her, yelling, “Dumb blacky.”
Except for her prayers to Babalú Ayé, she had almost forgotten about that, about the candles, the bloody dead chickens, and smudging of lemon balm, sage and pine. But her baking instructor had the idea to bake human-like body parts made from cake. Her cake, a plump left hand, inspired admiration from everybody. It had all the lines that her grandmother taught her how to read. It had a little hairy mole. It had wrinkles on the knuckles. And it even had a tiny red dot that nobody saw. Her grandmother had poked it with a needle, saying, “Here is when you turn fifty. After that there is no life that deserves living.”
Maruja gasped for breath as she sat on the train bench and the image of the baked hand with lines came to her mind. The lifeline went until the moment of death, the red mark for the fiftieth birthday. After that she had drawn a morass of lines that only could mean death. Her stomach growled, stabbing the area above the belly button. She ate another chocolate. She imagined herself stabbing the chocolate doll in the chest. One, two, three times. The cherry heart would burst as her own heart would explode. “If it worked for grandma, then...” she wished. Maruja had witnessed how her grandmother’s former lover fell mortally ill after her grandma had stabbed a voodoo doll with the man’s hair.
She looked at her watch: 2:25 pm. For a moment she wished she had taken the day off. But with a little bit of luck she would arrive at her home in Brooklyn a few minutes before 3:00 PM. She would insert the cherry heart in the doll’s chest and replace the eyes with the candy stones she just bought. The ritual had to be at 3:00 to invoke Echú, the God of the dualities who would grant death at the time she was born. She imagined Echú drinking from the pond of blood where her grandmother had died after the ritual. It wasn’t a suicide. It was with Echú’s permission, she thought. As soon as the train arrived at the last stop, she would run to her apartment and light the candles. She had everything ready. The super had helped her to move all her furniture out of her living room. “I’m turning fifty so I’m decorating for my celebration.” It wasn’t a lie. Her tiny living room needed space for the chocolate statue of herself laying on the floor. She touched the cherry heart in her purse. It would explode once she stabbed it and she would burrow herself in that cherry blood to eat the cake possessed by Echú.
“My death will taste like chocolate,” she mumbled.
A young Jewish man wearing a black hat, a matching long coat over a sparkling white shirt and carrying a large pizza got on the train at the Atlantic Avenue stop in Brooklyn. Is there any Kosher pizza? Maruja asked herself.
The man’s long blond sidelocks fluttered as he held the door open and called for a woman who was running behind. Maruja had seen a synagogue around her neighborhood, but she rarely walked by that area since it wasn’t near her subway. Bouncing her feet and rocking back and forth, she wanted to tell the young boy not to hold the train. But she sighed once his girlfriend got in, stumbled, sat on the bench facing Maruja. The woman removed her headdress handkerchief, and the man sat next to her combed her hair. Even though Maruja had heard that only Jewish married women wore a wig, the single women always covered theirs in public. Weird. It’s New York. New York subway. A zoo of all the upside downs. Maybe Echu is playing with me, she considered. He is trickster. Maruja ate another chocolate and closed her eyes to ease a slight headache.
The smell of pepperoni woke her up. They shouldn’t be eating pepperoni. That’s pork, she thought and frowned at the couple.
But even stranger was that the Jewish people continued on the train all the way to the last stop. They usually get off at Franklin, she thought. The couple continued kissing and munching. I have never seen those religious Jewish people doing that. Kissing. The train came to a sudden halt. “There was an accident in the train ahead of us. We ask you for patience,” the conductor announced. To calm herself, she massaged her temples and smoothed the wrinkles on her face. After fifty, there is no life, she thought.
She had her right hand inside the chocolate box, and she combed her hair with the other, imagining planting some pubic hair in the doll’s vagina, which she had forgotten to do. Her grandmother had done that with her voodoo doll. But it was already 2:55. There was no way she could be there by 3:00.
She stomped, chewed another chocolate and imagined stuffing the mouth of the young man and his girlfriend with the crumbs of pizza crust that had fallen on the floor. “Echú, you who is guarding of the Gates of Life and Death,” she mumbled, leaning against the handrail while leaving her hand inside the chocolate box.
She blinked and fell asleep. The Jewish couple in front of her transformed into two birds mating on the top of a skull with a flower garland. “Echú,” she prayed. “Grant me death.” The skull laughed and the two birds flew away scared and perched around a pizza box.
The skull said, “I am not Echú. I am Saint Valentine. Echú sent me over after I gave him some candy.”
The birds regurgitated pepperoni pieces over the pizza box and Saint Valentine said, “My two feathered friends are Hephaestus and Charis. Thanatos and Hestia boarded the previous train. You missed them by just three minutes.”
Maruja’s hand muddled inside the bag as if she had submerged it in a swamp. She lifted it and was dripping mud.
“I must say your doll is really a work of art. Sad that it’s made of dough. Clay would have been a better choice for that. But Hephaestus can glaze it with wrought iron. Charis could help you in polishing it.”
The pizza now had Maruja’s face in a silver metal.
“Grant me love,” Maruja pleaded, putting both hands together. They stuck as she rubbed them. Layers of dark mud bubbled as she tried to separate her hands.
“Love cannot never be granted. Love is predatory in nature. You bite what you desire until you destroy it.” Saint Valentine laughed.
In chorus, the birds and the iron face in the pizza spoke in Greek.
“Ἐγγύα πάρα δ ἄτα.”
It was strange to her that she understood each sentence by heart even though she never took a Greek class.
“Nothing in excess.”
“Surety brings ruin.”
Saint Valentin spoke again, “Gods always grants death, but humans never know when it will be.”
She woke up crying. The chocolate had melted on her fingers. It was 3:00 PM. Admiring her chocolate-coated hand, she hated Echú. She hated her destiny. She despised her cowardice towards blood. She licked her hand, and suddenly, right there in the subway car, in front of the horrified couple across from her, she bit her fingers, right through the flesh, to the bone.
Colombian-born, Mr. Jhon Sánchez arrived in NYC seeking political asylum, where
he is now a lawyer. His most recent literary publications are A Weekly Call (Everybody Press
Review), On WriNting (the other side of hope) “United Tombs of America,” (Midway Journal),
“Handy,” (Teleport Magazine), and “ The DeDramafi,” (The Write Launch republished in
Storylandia issue 36). He was awarded the Horned Dorset Colony for 2018 and the Byrdcliffe
Artist Residence Program for 2019. In 2023, New Lit Salon Press will publish his
collection Enjoy a Pleasurable Death, and Other Stories that Will Kill You. For updates, please
visit the Facebook page @WriterJhon, Instagram jhon_author, Twitter @jhon_author.