Joyland

The West |

Darklands

by Mara Beckman

edited by Kate Folk

On a searing weekend afternoon Ingrid’s apartment was clean and everything thoughtfully arranged, knickknacks curated and pristine. As it should be, thought Ingrid, for a birthday party. She vacuumed rugs, the couch, and washed the air conditioner vent. People and acquaintances showed up and seemed comfortable in the space, eager to talk. There was a muted merriment overall and most wished her a happy birthday, which reminded Ingrid about the chocolate ganache cake that was being kept chilled in the refrigerator.

In icing it said, Happy Birthday, Ingrid, without an exclamation point. She’d bought it from a bakery that also made a Sachertorte. Ingrid had mulled over her options for a considerably long time, wringing her hands tenderly like a little lamb. Finally, she decided on the ganache cake. Ingrid was wary that a Sachertorte would make her seem ostentatious and knowledgeable about worldly cuisine. Would the guests enjoy the apricot jam? She feared not. She feared it would all disintegrate with the wrong cake. She told the baker that this time she would take the ganache, but she would come back another time, her own time, not for any occasion, just for the Sachertorte.

She placed the chocolate ganache on the kitchen island. Guests surrounded it in a circle, marveling at it like a sugary newborn creature. They want to digest it, thought Ingrid. She was pleased with the reaction, people licking their lips and widening their eyes, on the verge of shoving. Her brother Tim set twenty-nine candles on the cake without any pattern and lit a match. Everyone looked around unsure if they were going to sing the song, but they sang it anyway. Moments after the ganache was served, guests waiting patiently for a slice, barely a fraction of the ganache cut into, smoke from the candles still being batted away from people’s faces, Ingrid’s brother Tim stabbed her in the right eye with his fork.

It was undoubtedly a gruesome accident. The mood soured. A party guest threw up, hand cupped over mouth, bits of fluid projecting through her fingers. Fork in eye, shocked, Ingrid passed out and landed supine on the kitchen tile. She knocked a bowl of pretzels off a counter on her way down, making a mess. Drinks were dropped, plates tossed aside. No one else threw up, but some people hid in the bathroom. Tim heard them lock the door and pull forward the shower curtain, which had a whimsical sea pod design. He hoped their shoes were clean, knowing Ingrid would be perturbed by scuff marks in the tub. Someone on the outside jostled the bathroom doorknob begging to be let in. Another yelled, “God! Call someone. Seriously, someone call someone. There’s blood all over her face and the floor.”

A different party guest called the emergency line. Her hands were shaking, one holding a cigarette, the other snapping, delegating tasks. She kneeled on the ground beside Ingrid. Such a fussy person, she thought, and now she’s deformed. This guest remembered a time when she had eaten lunch with Ingrid at a restaurant that served only noodle bowls with various protein and vegetable additions. Ingrid asked the cashier what kind of tofu they used, such as was it hard or soft. I can’t eat soft tofu, Ingrid said, if it’s too mushy I will throw up, so can you please ask the chef what kind of tofu they use. The cashier hesitantly left her post to ask the chef about tofu. The chef brought out a block of tofu, lazily holding it up for inspection, as though it weighed a considerable amount and required extraordinary effort on the chef’s part. Ingrid briefly glanced at the block of tofu before saying she would order it, it met her standards. Someone like that was not equipped to deal with an actual problem.

“Hello, yes there’s an emergency. The prongs of a fork went into my friend’s eye on accident. It’s still in there. No, it’s just a table fork. It’s not a special fork, it’s not a serving fork. I don’t think a serving fork would fit in an eye.”

She lightly brushed Ingrid’s hair out of her face, careful not to upset the fork, and flicked off some crumbs that had started sticking from the blood. “How do I tell if she’s okay otherwise? She looks like she’s sleeping, but a fork is sticking out of her eye.”

From the background, Tim asked if they should remove the fork, which was relayed to the emergency operator. “Should we remove the fork? No, none of us are doctors. Does it take a medical degree to pull a fork out of an eye? Okay, we won’t. Yes, we’ll stay calm.”

When the paramedics arrived, one of them shuddered. In wide-eyed disbelief he said, “Lordy.” It was unprofessional and earned a tsk-tsk from the senior medic, who was secretly grossed out. He had never seen anything so revolting and tried not to look directly at the fork. They placed Ingrid on a stretcher and strapped her in for the ambulance ride. The party guests lingered, shuffling around in confusion. “I feel like I’m rubbernecking. What should we do?” No one really knew. Some took the initiative to clean up plates and cups and sweep the floor of food debris. A few people bagged their own presents, suspicious of other guests stealing them. Most people left in a daze wondering if what they saw really happened.

Tim rode in the ambulance. He apologized repeatedly, speaking mostly to himself. Never had he ruined a party or disfigured a person.

“I think I stumbled over my own feet and there was a fork in my hand. We were getting ready to eat cake. I’m not a bad person. I swear. I don’t do anything bad on purpose. I’m sorry. Does it seem like this couldn’t have been an accident? How does it look?” The paramedic shook his head and shrugged his shoulders while fussing about with medical equipment. Tim looked at Ingrid. She seemed peaceful except for the fork and all the blood.

“I have to tell our parents. I’m not sure what to say because I don’t really know how this happened.”

“Maybe you should just be honest and say that. I bet they will just be happy she’s okay. That’s most of what I see in the job. Horrific accidents and then joy that a person still has their life.”

#

Such an injury required a substantial amount of time, weeks and weeks into months, in the hospital. During this stretch, Tim sublimated his guilt into productive chores to preserve their bond. He went to Ingrid’s apartment to water plants and found a dead cockroach. He vacuumed up the corpse and threw out the vacuum bag, fearing Ingrid would inspect it once healed and reproach him for not letting her know he found a bug. He put bills in the mail with corresponding checks. Every Sunday he cooked a batch of soup for the week, which he brought to the hospital for Ingrid. He moved her car on street cleaning days. He walked her dog. Still, Tim sensed, Ingrid remained displeased, even prickly. He wondered how long it would take for her to move past it.

After a series of operations, the defunct eye went behind a glass façade that bulged slightly from her eye socket. Naked, it looked like a raisin, in texture, if a raisin could be foggy like a blind dog’s eye. Ingrid found the whole thing bizarre. Not only because she was unintentionally stabbed in the eye with a fork, but because she couldn’t have seen any of this coming as part of an ordinary day. When Ingrid woke up the Saturday of her birthday party she knew roughly how the day would proceed. The party would most likely be an okay time. People would participate in the habitual, polite gesture of catching up. They would say things about work and their home. People would eat cake and then they would leave.

Luckily, the incident happened after she blew out the candles. How incomplete it would have been otherwise. Everyone, as far as she could remember, had already eaten cake. According to a surgeon, she kept mentioning her luck after she woke up in recovery.

Ingrid didn’t remember talking about cake in the recovery room. She remembered waking up and shaking, nearly convulsing from feeling cold and from the various medications in her system. Her hospital bed was directly across from the nurses’ desk in the recovery room, one in a line of beds against a wall. She opened her remaining eye and saw people going about a day of work. Many of the nurses wore mint green pants. Doctors floated around as well. Ingrid called out for help. “I’m shaking, I’m shaking. I can feel my body shaking.”

A swarm of attendants started hovering near Ingrid’s bed, including a doctor wearing a low bun that covered her ears, but not the earlobes. Ingrid saw little diamonds sticking out. Her face was smooth with angular features. It seemed like the doctor was conscious of this, taking extra measures to soften herself and appease the patients as a caregiver, like by wearing too much blush. The doctor shooed the other people away and placed folded blankets on Ingrid’s bed but didn’t unfold them as her attention was directed elsewhere almost immediately. Somewhere in the line of beds a patient expressed discomfort, yelling about the pain being like a machete in their gut. No one asked Ingrid if she was thirsty or if she wanted anything to eat.

“Miss, I’m thirsty,” Ingrid called out. A nurse brought her a Styrofoam cup with water and a straw. She plopped it down on the tray next to Ingrid’s bed. It wasn’t a bendy straw. Ingrid spilled some water on herself.

“Where is my family? Do they know I’m here?” asked Ingrid, but the doctor was talking to someone else behind a curtain, paying little attention to Ingrid.

“Miss, I’m hungry,” and then the doctor brought Ingrid a packet of two graham crackers. Were they from her purse, Ingrid wondered.

“My lip is twitching. I don’t have the right balance of nutrients so that my lips don’t twitch.”

Ingrid could feel in her good eye that she was crying. Each time she went to dab at her good eye, the doctor with the low bun that covered her ears passed by and said, “Don’t touch your eye. It’s important that you don’t touch it. Even the good eye must not be touched. Do you understand? Think of them as under quarantine.” The doctor didn’t explain why this was the case, but Ingrid listened. She suspected both of her eyes were exceptionally raw. One, damaged and mutilated, the other, overworked and unprepared for the responsibility. Groggy and drugged, Ingrid said, “Treat me like a person, too. I was born in the desert, but it’s cold in here. I’m still shaking,” but the doctor didn’t hear her. A patient hidden behind a curtain next to Ingrid was having a worse time, calling out, agonizing about the pain in their head feeling like a pressure cooker about to explode.

The surgeon who removed the fork visited Ingrid at her bedside. “Ingrid, you’re lucky your other eye is strong. Now that eye will do all the work.” The surgeon then introduced the doctor with the low bun as someone Ingrid could count on in recovery.

“This is Dr. Lynch. She helped me remove the fork from your eye and will help it heal.”

Dr. Lynch, acting like she had never yelled at Ingrid before said, “You’ll need to learn how to use just one eye. Think of it as a dog that needs walking.” She then unfolded one of the blankets and with quick, darting motions of her hands tucked in Ingrid’s legs and feet.

“I have a dog and it always needs walking,” Ingrid said.

“Right, so you understand. Just like a dog.”

“Just like a dog.”

“Ingrid, I want you to know that I’m invested in my patients. Their recovery is paramount. It’s how I measure my personal success in life. We will aggressively treat your condition until you are the best you can be.”

“That’s reassuring, Dr. Lynch. Sometimes I feel like doctors don’t care. They just hoard information and look at us like we’re stupid for not knowing how bodies work.”

Dr. Lynch pondered this for a moment. Wrinkles around her mouth, there from decades of frowning, contorted aggressively into a new upward direction, like a smile. “That’s not me.”

The surgeon started to leave, but then remembered something important to tell Ingrid.

“Oh, and the anesthesiologist wanted me to tell you that he used the smallest needle possible to put you to sleep. He said he found it in the pediatric ward. He said you were crying about the needle because you’re scared of them, so he thought it would make you feel better to know just a little one was used,” and the surgeon turned away. Dr. Lynch followed.

#

Sometimes in the morning when Ingrid opened her eyes in the hospital and couldn’t see the entire scope of her room she thought life would be easier, hurdles more surmountable, if only this one thing had never happened. Although she believed not complaining was a virtue. It’s not as if the more she complained the more likely it was her vision would be restored and her eye would miraculously regain its correct shape. Round, supple, but not too round. Eyes could naturally be the incorrect shape. Like astigmatism, but that’s not a deformity. Ingrid was disfigured.

Dr. Lynch said that referring to the eye as if it were the enemy served little purpose in recovery, but what did this doctor know beyond how eyes worked. She was not a therapist and a doctor, she was just a doctor. A short, slender doctor with a weasel laugh and compulsion to crack knuckles. Ingrid noticed Dr. Lynch cringe slightly each time Ingrid removed the glass eye. She clenched her jaw, out of pity for Ingrid perhaps. A cherubic face gone rancid. Maybe she was squeamish.

One day Ingrid asked Dr. Lynch if she believed in God. She asked languidly, as if the two were old fishing buddies and the question was appropriate, almost inevitable.

“That’s personal, Ingrid,” Dr. Lynch replied.

“I know, but I won’t tell anyone what you say.”

“Why does it matter?”

“I just want to know if the same thing happened to you, and you believed in God, would you think you were being put through a test? Would you think it was a test of faith or would you think you were being punished for a sin?”

“Oh, Ingrid.”

After Ingrid asked Dr. Lynch that question, she had a hard time getting Dr. Lynch’s attention. The doctor claimed to be booked with off-site physical therapy appointments, months in advance, when before that was not the case. Ingrid asked a hospital receptionist why there was a sudden uptick in the amount of people making appointments for eye exams with Dr. Lynch. The receptionist pretended not to understand the complaint and eventually stopped taking down Ingrid’s requests. Ingrid left a review for Dr. Lynch online. She said that while the doctor was certified from a prodigious university, and clearly skilled in her field, she upheld a firm barrier between doctor and patient relations. If someone were looking for a doctor that might tell them a personal story, this was not the doctor. If you just wanted to get better, she was fine.

Ingrid was assigned to a new doctor, Dr. Jean Aubrey, who she refrained from asking questions about God for the meantime, although didn’t entirely table the idea. The new doctor, while also certified in medicine with university degrees displayed on the office wall, had an interest in the mystical. There was an oil painting of a coyote in the desert behind her desk. She also had a small nose ring, which made Ingrid wonder how much the doctor paid attention in medical school. Dr. Jean Aubrey, rebel and caregiver.

At their introductory meeting, the new doctor gifted Ingrid a smooth black rock with a slight sheen when light hit the stone correctly. It fit perfectly in the center of her hand.

“The rock is intended as a device to keep you grounded, Ingrid. Touch it for a sense of calm.”

“I’ve never been gifted a rock. I didn’t know I needed one,” said Ingrid.

“You definitely need this rock. And it isn’t any ordinary rock. Try meditating with it in your hand for the next week. Caress it when you feel like your brain is looping. Squeeze it to ground your mind.”

“Where did you get this rock?”

“It’s from my personal rock collection, of which I’ve been building for the past ten years from various international vacations.”

“Wow, so where overseas did you get this?”

Dr. Aubrey squinted her eyes and reached out for the rock, inspecting it closer. She handed it back to Ingrid.

“You know what? I was confusing this rock for another rock. This one I found outside of a post office on Vermont Ave. I don’t even remember what I was doing there—probably mailing something, but maybe picking something up—when I saw this most splendid rock on the ground.”

“Oh. It’s a landscape rock.”

“More or less. I think we’ll see results, spiritual results, at our next appointment. Medical ones, too. Your good eye must stay strong. We will exercise the good eye, but the bad eye needs spiritual attention. It all needs work.”

“Do I pay for this rock on my way out?”

“Ingrid, it’s a gift. It’s part of your treatment, but it’s a gift.”

At the end of her next appointment, Dr. Jean Aubrey asked, with vexation, if Ingrid had meditated holding the rock.

“I think so, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve never meditated.”

“But you’ve held a rock before, haven’t you?” The doctor rolled her chair closer to Ingrid as if proximity would reveal anything.

“I can’t be sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever held a rock with any intention.”

“Ingrid, have you ever done anything in your life with any intention?”

“That feels harsh. Like something Dr. Lynch would say.”

“Dr. Lynch only cares about chemical medicine, she can’t expand her knowledge. I have a sense about these things. Let me give you another rock. This one helps with intention.”

Ingrid left the appointment with a clear quartz stone. Dr. Aubrey also encouraged Ingrid to join a support group that she spearheaded for other patients recovering from traumatic eye injuries.

Ingrid went. Each Saturday afternoon they met in the cafeteria of the hospital. Everyone brought their own snack, which often came from a vending machine in the hallway. From afar it looked like a large group of friends out for lunch, except everyone had eye patch or medical-grade sunglasses or a glass eye or only one eye open. No one was terminally ill, but they all gave off the impression of being nearly dead anyway.

By the third meeting, Ingrid noticed a handful of regulars. Some of them she came to remember by name and some of them she didn’t. This was never a strength of hers. She often remembered people instead by obvious physical traits, a sure way to quickly diminish people into nothing. That person with the large forehead, I remember them, thought Ingrid. This was only the second meeting Ingrid had attended, so people were still getting to know her. A regular who lost an eye to a dog attack tried to make Ingrid feel welcomed. Ingrid remembered her because she had yellow teeth.

“What do you do for work, Ingrid?”

“I teach the third grade at a private elementary school. Or, I taught third grade. I’m not sure if I will get my job back. Anyway, there are three teachers per grade. They divide the students up by emotional intelligence—a polite way of grouping together the ones who cry a lot; advanced intelligence—the students bound for exceptional incomes; and those in the middle, the children so average it’s a genuine mystery where to place them.”

“Which one do you teach?”

“I teach the first group because, and this isn’t just in my mind, my reserved personality comes across as a little soft, something the administration believed would connect with the crying children. In the end, it doesn’t matter because at recess all the children play with pill bugs.”

Dr. Aubrey finished peeling an apple into one long spiral of skin and asked if anyone wanted something to drink. She always brought a pitcher of homemade lemonade, which Ingrid always declined because it was nothing more than sugar and water.

Ingrid turned back to her conversation. “See, the thing is that I don’t think anyone likes me at work.”

“Why not?” the young woman with the yellow teeth asked.

“No one sent a card or flowers while I was out. One teacher apologized and said no one knew my address, but I know they know they could have gotten my address from the administration office because when Elaine—this lady I work with named Elaine—was out just for a sprained ankle there were three, maybe four cards heading her way and I remember pitching in a few dollars for flowers. How do you think they know where she lived? The administration office. That’s where the records are kept.”

“Maybe they forgot about that option,” the young woman with the yellow teeth said. “It’s hard to remember the process for doing everything when you don’t do the things very often.”

Ingrid shut down. She couldn’t seriously consider the opinion of someone with yellow teeth as it was a clear lack of personal hygiene and self-care. The truth was, Ingrid didn’t have many friends. She never understood the type of people who knew a lot of people. It always seemed like a generational trait that could only be gifted. If your grandparents knew a lot of people and were well-connected, they just passed that technique down the line. The new doctor chimed in.

“Ingrid, you must have friends if you had a birthday party where your accident happened or were those all strangers?”

“A few people were my friends, but a lot of people invited were Tim’s friends. I’ve never been one for big parties. I had a pool party once in elementary school and a friend of mine told me she couldn’t make it and then she showed up anyway, like her presence would be the thing to celebrate, and since then I’ve really just soured on the whole idea of parties, but Tim convinced me to have one because it’s the last of my twenties.”

Dr. Jean Aubrey then clapped her hands to get the attention of everyone, like they were all little show dogs responding to a cue. It was time for the group session check-in where everyone went around and said something good that happened to them in life even though they were all without at least one eye, some of them without two. Life could go on, was the point of this exercise. Good memories could overpower the negative ones. The new doctor preferred if people shared positive experiences that happened after their eye traumas, but she accepted any memory that brought people joy. The girl with the large forehead went first.

“This week I successfully navigated the tumultuous waters of applying for a job. Since I lost my eye it’s been hard to convince myself that I deserve to be in public, but I applied for a job at a retail store and I think it will go well. I think I will get the job even though they asked me to wear an eye patch to the interview.”

“That’s wonderful,” said Dr. Jean Aubrey. “Does anyone have a reply to that?”

No one had a reply and most people just stretched out in chairs and amused themselves by staring off in the distance or picking at dried crusts of food on the tables until it was their turn to talk.

Ingrid said, “If you wear an eye patch, are they really accepting you? It sounds like that will just draw more attention to your problem and invite jokes at your expense.”

The girl with the large forehead looked to the new doctor for reassurance that the positive memory she shared was in fact the right thing and Ingrid was just antagonizing out of boredom. Dr. Jean Aubrey encouraged Ingrid to share instead of criticizing.

“Okay. I often think back fondly on the perfect cake at my birthday party. It was a chocolate ganache and everyone enjoyed it just before I was stabbed in the eye by my brother on accident. Everything was in order and even.”

The girl with the large forehead said, “How do you know everyone enjoyed it?” She didn’t intentionally antagonize Ingrid, but felt no contrition after realizing she poked a sore subject. Ingrid was her least favorite person in the group. She often complained about the amount of added sugar in the vending machine selections, saying there were no appropriate snacks available, but that she was still hungry, she just couldn’t eat anything with more than the recommended percentage of sugar for the entire day in a single snack.

“How would I not know? I saw them.”

“Well, at last week’s meeting you told the story about how the accident happened and it sounded like most people didn’t eat cake.”

Ingrid started scratching repeatedly at her neck as she thought back on what had happened. The surgeon said she talked about cake, she remembered blowing out the candles, she remembered a complete party despite the accident. She bought the chocolate ganache specifically so that people would enjoy themselves at the birthday party. Without the cake, without any of the guests indulging in the chocolate ganache it was nothing more than just an assemblage of acquaintances who witnessed the most horrific accident of her life. Ingrid thought her throat was melting and started compulsively swallowing to save herself from choking, a familiar sensation, usually felt when she knew something was amiss but couldn’t yet articulate the full reasoning.

“You weren’t there, so you really don’t know. Why would you do that? Why would you place doubt in something you don’t know anything about? Something’s wrong with you and your forehead.”

“Okay, Ingrid,” said Dr. Jean Aubrey to her troubled little dog and broke out a plate of homemade cookies and instructed everyone to get out their rocks for group mediation.

#

Several months later Ingrid was released from the hospital. She would continue her treatment with Dr. Jean Aubrey at a rehab facility and could still stop by the hospital for group if she felt like it. That night at dinner Ingrid pushed around large slices of potatoes in her soup bowl while Tim slurped his food across from her. They ate at Ingrid’s apartment in front of the television because Ingrid couldn’t stand the sound of chewing. They watched a home renovation show that fixed up outdated homes for couples in nowhere America.

“It’s essentially just the same episode on an endless cycle. Even the decorations look the same at the end. Open floor plan, large kitchen, hardwood floors, not linoleum. That’s the key. And I didn’t know what shiplap was before all of this became public knowledge.” Tim genuinely enjoyed renovation shows.

“Someone at group therapy once asked me if people at the party actually ate the cake.”

“That’s a weird question to ask.”

“Did they?”

“That one girl I work with who threw up had a bite, I think, but the cake had barely made it to a handful of plates before it happened.”

“Right, before you stabbed me.”

Ingrid said, “I’m done,” and waited for Tim to clear her dishes. She was perfectly capable of washing her own dish, but she refused.

“So, no one had cake. Not only did the party completely implode, but it was also incomplete. Cake means there was a party that celebrated a birthday, my birthday at my party with a cake that I bought, but no one ate cake, so it’s like people just came over to watch me get stabbed in the eye for no reason.”

Tim, older and less severe in personality, lacked the energy required to engage with Ingrid’s temperament and often didn’t challenge anything she said, but went immediately to finding a resolution.

“Should we get another cake?”

“And you and I just eat it? We shove it in our faces? Like a couple of people eating our feelings with no other way to cope? No, we invite everyone back to the apartment and recreate the party and provide a new cake, a better cake that people will eat and then the party will be complete.”

“Ingrid, what am I supposed to tell everyone? That you’re having a second birthday party?”

She wouldn’t turn her strong eye from the television where walls were being demolished in quick succession.

“Yes, exactly,” she said. “No one will be surprised. The first party was completely ruined.”

#

Ingrid returned to the bakery shop where she first bought the chocolate ganache. The same baker was behind the counter, shielded by a fortress of batter and butter and icing. She waited her turn impatiently and idly perused the selection of treats.

“You bought the chocolate ganache. Haven’t seen you since, but . . . oh, my goodness.” As with most people who abruptly noticed her glass eye, the baker became uncomfortable, worried that his calling Ingrid out for not being in the shop was insensitive to whatever had happened to her during that absence.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ingrid said, “my brother stabbed me on my birthday, but it was an accident, so he’s not in jail or anything. I’ve come back because I’m having a second party. It’s a continuation of the first one, but this time it will end. Last time it never ended, it just stopped.”

The baker might normally crack a joke like, “Oh, you want to lose the other eye, too,” but Ingrid seemed like the type of person who would call the Better Business Bureau to file a complaint, but with a tender voice like she was protecting the neighborhood and not just lodging a grievance with agitation in her tone, so instead he said that was a lovely idea and what could he help her with.

“I see you still sell Sachertorte cakes.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And where did you learn to bake this?”

“Seriously?”

“I’m curious.”

“From someone else who knew how to bake a Sachertorte.”

“That makes sense.” Ingrid, like the first time she went to the shop, continued wringing her hands until they were red, like little burned paws. She felt a reflexive twitch in her face. She leaned in close to the display case, enough so that her nose left a tiny smudge. For the first party, she had concerned herself with what the guests would think of the apricot jam, what they would think of the way her house was decorated, the art she liked, and the type of frames she chose for the art, like if the colors complemented the image or competed with it. She had passed on the Sachertorte because she couldn’t accurately say who liked apricot jam. It was safer to assume that everyone, or almost everyone liked chocolate. The baker, without other customers in the shop, stared at Ingrid so she would decide.

“Well? Do you want the Sachertorte?”

“No, let’s go with the chocolate ganache.”

As the baker walked into the back, Ingrid swore she heard him mutter something.

From the back he called, “What do you want the cake to say? Same as last time?”

“Yes, the same as last time. No exclamation point.”

Ingrid waited in the shop for the cake to be ready.