Heat from the candles warmed her face as she leaned over the cake. The tang of sulfury smoke mixed with sugary vanilla filled her nose. A camera flashed off to her side, momentarily brightening the dim single bare incandescent bulb lighting of the dining room.
Chocolate was her favorite. She’d requested chocolate when asked what kind of cake she wanted, but she knew it was a plain white cake beneath the white frosting. Again. Even yellow cake would have been better.
She’d made her wish and blew, but the stupid candles wouldn’t go out. Everybody around her laughed as she blew and blew, but each time the thin green candles would relight. The camera flashed again, somewhere behind her. The laughs floated and danced, living beings, circling her like evil clowns in a macabre fun house. She blew harder, but the candles magically burned again. Black flecks of ash from the candle wicks sprinkled the undecorated frosting. A tear ran down her cheek.
Her dad noticed and stopped laughing. He locked eyes with her. His face took on a look she knew too well, a combination of pity and disappointment. He licked his thumb and index finger and pinched and held the wick of one candle. He repeated this until all of them were extinguished. The camera flashed again.
“Stop the goddamn flashing,” she yelled.
Her mom, whose laugh had changed to a sporadic self-conscious giggle, froze. “Lissa, watch your language.”
“It’s always that goddamn flashing, always,” Lissa said. “If I ever get my hands…”
Her mom’s hand flew faster than Lissa could react. Lissa was caught by a full open hand slap across her face. Her cheek stung and burned as blood rushed to the surface.
As Lissa stood up, her chair tipped backward and fell over, bouncing on the worn wood floor. Lissa swept her arm across the table, pushing the cake onto the floor. It landed top side down, breaking open. She stared at it for a second, taking in the sight of the white cake beneath the frosting before she ran out of the room. Her twelfth birthday had turned out just as bad as all the rest.