Biting Baby Jesus
The new neighbor brings a cake over. At least she calls it a cake, but it doesn’t look like one they’ve ever seen. It has a big hole in the middle, yet it’s not a Bundt. It looks more like some kind of frosted bread.
She calls it a King’s cake, baked for the Day of the Epiphany which, apparently, is today. She explains that it has a little baby Jesus tucked inside. The kids vaguely know something bad happened to Jesus, but they didn’t expect anything like this. And they didn’t realize religion involved so much sugar. The “cake” has whipped cream, glaze, colored icing, and jellied candies. For the first time, they wonder if they’ve been missing out by not being taken to church.
The family promises they’ll be careful not to choke on the baby Jesus. After the neighbor leaves, the man says, “I think it’s good luck to get the toy. You’re king for a day or something. It has to do with Mardi Gras.” The woman doesn’t correct him, but she thinks there are a couple things wrong with this. For one, Mardi Gras is a month away; for another, what kind of toy is a baby Jesus? But maybe he’s right about the luck part. Maybe the thinking is that it’s Good Luck to Get God. She might have even seen this on one of those signs outside a church.
The man wonders if they should throw the cake out. After all, they don’t know the neighbor, but if someone knocks at your door, offering food, it’s never smart to eat it. Isn’t that the lesson of Snow White? Forget the apple; if you want to poison people, hand them sugar. Give them something like this. He knows, however, if he starts to carry the cake toward the wastebasket, or even suggests it, the kids would rip him apart like a pack of wolves.
The woman gets plates, cuts the wheel into pieces, and distributes them. “Be careful,” she says. The oldest boy has seen prison movies and cautiously probes his fork around. The daughter decides to divide hers into smaller and smaller sections. The youngest, however, simply shoves it into his mouth. A second later, he says, “Umpf Gomf If,” then his tongue pistons out a white plastic blob.
It looks at first like he has mashed it with his teeth, but when it’s wiped off, it turns out that it’s more the idea of a figure—head, body, legs—than one with any detail. The family is relieved. They turn back to their pieces, eating now without fear, but a moment later, the daughter says, “Oww!” She too has bitten into a chunk of plastic. Then everyone else does as well. The man says, “The goddamn cake is full of baby Jesuses.” The woman suggests maybe it’s supposed to signify God is everywhere. For everyone. The man argues the cake is defective, or maybe a practical joke. The kids don’t want any more. They leave without even scraping off the icing.
The adults keep eating, periodically spitting out baby Jesuses like watermelon seeds. At first, they let them bounce on the table, then they see if they can hit a glass, moving it farther and farther away. Eventually she sweeps them together. It looks like a miniature salvage yard or a burial pile. She wonders if there’s a special way they’re supposed to be thrown out, like with the flag. She scoops them into a bread bag, knots it closed, and hands it to him. He seems to consider for a moment, then he pushes the bag into the drawer full of plastic and metal objects—things they can’t identify, but they keep just in case someday they figure out what they’re for.