Gary yawned and blinked, he would have liked a bit of a stretch too, but then he remembered he was a cake in a box, so that would not be possible. At least he could see through his cellophane, which was some relief. A swoop had taken place while he was asleep and a shelf raider had finally cleared away Victoria Sponge. Not before time too, judging by that date of hers. Why she’d been plonked on top of him in the first place, he couldn’t fathom. Not even the same brand and she had weighed a ton, threatening to permanently warp his front top.
‘Halloo Carrot Boy!’ Uh, it was his fellow shelfie, the annoying pink Battenberg.
‘Hi Pinkie. How’s things?’
‘Ooh, you are such a tease, calling me Pinkie, you make me blush even more pink–’
‘Uh–well, I don’t want to unsettle your crumbs, mate–I know it’s a tough life being the only one–’
‘Don’t worry, Carrot Boy–I like being the one, makes me feel special. We own brands must stick together, eh? We do our best to look good no matter what. We’re not deluded into thinking we have better chance at shelf life because we are a McVitie or a Mister Kipling–’
Uh, he was off again. The carrot cake didn’t need to be told that the big name brands on the shelf above were a snooty bunch. Special? Hmm. Yes, he knew he was special in a weird way.
Own brand, premium range, hand-baked somewhere in the West Midlands and his name was actually Gary, not Carrot-Boy or Cakey, whatever. He didn’t really know why he knew all this, either. Made his cream cheese almost curdle just thinking about it.
Gary knew he’d have to be consumed one day, that was the whole point, it was called Apotheosis. Ah, the day of selection, when a customer would pick you up and put you inside their wire crate, swinging from side to side, making you queasy and your corners a bit dented if you didn’t watch out. He’d learnt as far back as cake factory, that way beyond this land of shelf life and blessed aisles, there was a weirdly different world, where the customer is a person, but he didn’t like to ponder too deeply about it. The all important thing was achieving lift off, via the altar of confirmation and passing through the red eye, to be bagged up with others and hauled away somewhere–hopefully not in the same bag as the frozen peas or it would make your cardboard all soggy. Out into that mysterious world, destined to be masticated inside some lucky person’s cake-hole.
The best Apotheosis you could hope for was to be consumed by a family of four, at least it was quick. That’s what poor old Ginger Loaf had told Gary on the day he arrived. Poor Ginger, he’d remained on the lower shelf perilously near his deadline and eventually the raiders had come for him and he’d ended up in the bins round the back, being pecked at by seagulls. That was the trouble with being a Value plastic-wrap. At least Gary had his box and his trusty shield of cellophane and the added consolation he’d be reduced for quick sale.
‘Ach, Carrot Boy–you and me are one of a kind–not like the others. That stupid bunch of primrose yellow idiots, look at them! They are my tribe but they won’t speak to me. Just because I’m pink! But I don’t care, they are just a dumb bunch of squares!’ Here the Battenberg tipped his corners towards his alternatively coloured brethren, stacked eight-deep.
Hmm, being the only pink one left had gone to his head, mused Gary. Must be down to all those emulsifiers and the high sugar content. Could be dangerous being the only shelfie of your kind–made you a target for the raiders. There were four other premium own brand carrot cakes besides himself, with exactly the same best before, but none of them had said a word since delivery day. Perhaps the Battenberg was right after all. Not all cakes were made the same. After all, he was ‘hand-finished’ and that must make a difference–something must have happened on the production line. Something a bit odd, it couldn’t just be down to the pasteurised free range whole egg, surely.
‘Yeah, Pinkie it’s you and me against the world,’ said Gary, at the same time wondering why in crumb-nation he’d said this.
It had been a day of low activity. The damn custs rolling or swinging their wire crates didn’t seem to be in a cake mood and the aisle was practically deserted. At times like this Gary wished that the pink Battenberg would be less of a drama queen and just shut up so he could doze for a while.
He was fond of a nap, gave him time to settle his crumbs and ponder for a bit. She’d arrived on the third day of his shelf life. Placed next to him, shortly after poor Ginger’s departure. Red Velvet, she was called. A new range in the same premium brand, with cream cheese frosting, but kind of all over. She was like him in other ways too, she could talk and no doubt feel stuff. After lights out at ten thirty and the last of the shelf raiders had departed, they had the place to themselves.
Shelfies always made the most of those precious hours. He didn’t really know what went on elsewhere, but the cake aisle that ran all the way to biscuits could be relied on to be entertaining. The Eccles cakes told funny stories while the water biscuits cracked jokes and the Swiss rolls held a competition between them to find the one who could jump off the shelf and roll the furthest. The butterfly cupcakes played charades with the shortbread, while the blueberry muffins just goofed around.
‘Hi I’m Gary,’ he whispered. He was confident her real name would be Rachel or Valerie or similar, but she just whispered back, ‘Call me Red.’ Then she commenced to fill him in on her unique ingredients in a husky voice and he listened, enchanted. Her cocoa mass, her colouring (cochineal) the fat content of her frosting. Oh, how he wanted to press his rich nubbly crumbs up against her luscious sponge. He almost wished there was no cardboard separating them, just the skimpy plastic wrap of the Value range.
‘And when I’m selected. I want it to be a couple–lovers. Sharing me. Relishing every morsel, licking every last blob of frosting from each other’s lips. You know what I mean Gary?’ she murmured.
‘Um, yeah, I know what you mean,’ he replied. For a second his cellophane misted over, but it soon cleared again.
The following day, she was gone. Taken away mid-afternoon. A pair of customers came and snatched her up, yes two of them together. At least it looked as if she’d been granted her wish.
‘Ooh, Red Velvet, sounds lovely,’ said the female.
‘Uh, weird name for a cake,’ said the male, peering at the label.
‘It’s soooo romantic and also kind of hot, she replied, ‘I adore those red sprinkles.’
‘Uh, is it chocolate under all that um–cheesy stuff?’
‘I’m not sure–shall we find out?’
‘Oh, ok.’ Red was placed in the crate.
‘Hey, what’s the heavy sigh for?’
‘Sigh? I didn’t sigh–’
‘Funny, I just thought–oh, forget it–’
That was tough, Red saying goodbye to him. Gary retreated inside himself after that, almost willing himself to be part of the same dumb batch as the other carrot cakes.
‘Ha! This is it, Carrot Boy, it’s bye-bye time. Toodle-loo!’ Gary blinked through his cellophane. The pink Battenberg had been pounced on by some old cust wearing a matching pink plastic rain hat. Well, at least he seemed happy about it.
‘Bye Louis, all the best,’ he shouted out. Yeah, Louis that was his name.
The Battenburg hovered high above him, held in the huge claw and it seemed he couldn’t contain himself. ‘Oooh mother–please put me down before I get vertigoooo!’ he shrieked.
Gary girded his inner crumbs, willing them not to sink. According to Ginger, the older female customers had a habit of keeping your remains in a nasty dark tin until all your bits went hard.
He was still holding out for the family of four. Not long now, hopefully. His ‘Best Before’ threshold was approaching fast. Damn–and his cellophane needed a wipe. When Red Velvet left, he’d got a bit overwrought and he’d smeared some of his frosting across it, mixed with cinnamon dust and it had spoiled his look big time. Looks were everything when you were left behind on the shelf.
Most of the others were gone now. Just two carrot cakes left. It was between him and the last of the carrot shelfies in a pristine box, the smug bastard.
Oh no. Another old female swooping down–was it pension day or something? ‘Sufferin’ iced buns, I can’t look,’ he groaned. From inside his box, Gary felt that seismic shift. Oh no, he’d been picked and he was the one with the topping smear. Why didn’t she choose the cleaner box? Dammit! Stupid old bat must be half-blind. He was being lifted into a crate, luckily a rolling one which guaranteed a smooth ride. Soon he’d be passed through the red eye. Oh well, at least he’d been selected.
Hang on. The old ‘un had stopped making steps for some reason. Something was up. Gary found himself in mid air again and set down somewhere else. Placed next to something that was not compact and had no wrapping to speak of, covered in a very dense layer of soft icing that seemed to move. Very different from anything he’d seen before and it was staring back at him with malevolence. Oh, this was the pits.
‘Hey!’ He felt like shouting after the old bat. He’d been abandoned, the worst possible outcome. Oh the humiliation–not even in a confectionery or home baking aisle, the cosy aroma of almond paste was distinctly absent. It then dawned on him where he was–the toy domain, aisle number nine, the back of beyond. He’d been dumped. No apotheosis for him, he’d just sit here and go stale alongside the inedibles. Then the raiders would come and dump him in the bins at the back. What a bloody waste.
‘What’s this next to the teddies, Mummy?–’ It was one of those small customers, her arms reaching out to pick him up. He slid as if drunk, to one side of his box, as she held him at an awkward angle.
‘I’m not buying you any toys, poppet,’ said the mummy.
‘No, look it’s a cake, Mummy and it’s got a smile on its face!’ The poppet held him up so the mummy could see.
‘That’s not a smile, that’s just a messy mark on the packaging, put it back. Let those teddies have it–’
‘Aww, but I like it–it’s a happy cake. It’ll be sad if I put it back–it’s all on its own.’
‘Let me see,’ the mummy took hold of him, checking the date and the seal on the side flap. ‘Uh, I guess it’s ok, as no-one’s opened it–’ The mummy appeared to be talking to herself, ‘–and carrot cake is nutritious, I suppose.’
He was on the descent again, which was a good sign. Uh, he hated being passed around like this, it made him queasy. He felt his under-cardboard touch wire. The mummy had placed him in the rolling crate. ‘Yesss!’ He felt like punching the air, at the same time wondering why in crumb-nation he would want to do this.
The poppet clapped her hands in delight. ‘The cake’s so happy now it’s coming home with us!’
‘Yes, how nice of Mummy to invite it. Now, let’s take a look at the white socks for school.’
Phew! He’d been processed at last and was finally on course. He’d heard of cakes being abandoned at the altar, but he’d been beeped through the red eye without a hitch and he was now ensconced in a bold print linen shopper, cheek by jowl with several ready meals and a bunch of broccoli. Not quite a family of four, by the looks of it, but he was pleased all the same. He’d finally arrived, so to speak. Things like wondering why his name was Gary no longer mattered somehow, it would be all smoothed out once his Apotheosis got under way.
Shortly before the raiders came to get Ginger, the little loaf had told him not to believe the new heresy about Apotheosis being a euphemism for a non-metaphysical process called peristalsis–it was all lies. Apotheosis was real and glorious. Anyway, Gary now had his trip through the cake-hole to look forward to. He was sure it would be an adventure and he had everything to be proud of. After all, he’d made it ‘Best Before’.
Lise Colas lives on the south coast of England and writes poetry and short fiction. She has a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and used to work in the archive of Punch magazine. She generally prefers lemon drizzle cake and feels a bit guilty about that. Check out her poetry blog at:lisecolas.wordpress.com