Chocolate Cake Stories: A Father's Gift

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Wordsmiths and Talespinners

A birthday cake, a mother's love and a father's dreams help their late son bring his two families together, so that he can rest in peace.

The Chocolate Cake Stories, Two

A Father’s Gift

By Catfish Waterdancer

Mrs. Jensen looked at the calendar, and was surprised to discover that tomorrow would be her son’s twenty-sixth birthday. It seemed like only yesterday Michael had left to serve his country. Well, she thought, time flies. The war had ended 5 years ago.

So many lives lost forever. And it wasn’t even a real war – not officially, that is. Not like World War II. Men, thought Mrs. Jensen, have no common sense. No common sense at all. But thank God, she mused, that her son did.

Michael had a family of his own now. He’d taken a job overseas. Very secretive about it, he was. Mrs. Jensen was certain it had to be important work, or else why would he not answer her questions about it, instead of simply smiling? And it was strange that, no matter what his job entailed, he’d always be home for his birthday. Strange, but sweet. And so like Michael. She’d tease him that he really only came for the cake.

He loved chocolate cake! As a boy, after he had tasted it for the first time (she’d made it from a Betty Crocker mix) he only wanted chocolate cake for his birthday. No other kind of cake would do. These past few years, her arthritis had prevented her from making it herself, so she bought one from the supermarket: the special one, with the rich frosting and sinfully moist layers.

She couldn’t understand why Michael insisted that his father not be at his birthday celebrations. It made no sense at all. Michael had always been strong-willed, so she let him have his way. He did tell her that he met with Henry regularly.  Once, she had asked Henry about that. Henry thought she was kidding, and when she told him to stop teasing, he had gotten quite angry and began shouting. He then left the room in tears!

The next day, he took her to a doctor, who performed many tests and asked her too many questions, most of them personal and some of them insulting. He’d prescribed some dreadful tasting pills that made her dizzy. She stopped taking them, and never spoke to Henry about Michael or his visits again. But she worried about his state of mind. Men, thought Mrs. Jensen – I’ll never understand them!  Only last year, Michael had asked her to learn Vietnamese.  It was important, he said. 

Strangely enough, there was a class being taught at the local community center.  She’d attend on days that Henry was at work – best not give him something he’d complain about, saying it was a foolish waste of time and money.  She sighed, left Michael’s old room, and went to bed.

<><><><><><> 

Henry Jensen kissed his wife as she passed him, just as he had every day since they had first bought this house back in 1952. He watched as she turned the corner, towards their bedroom. From a closet, he pulled a cardboard box. Tonight, he would put Michael to rest.

He sat down in his oversized chair – Emily teasingly called it his ‘Archie Bunker’ chair – and looked around the living room. The walls were a photo gallery of their life together.There was the picture of their first date, and of their snowy wedding day; Michael as a newborn, looking right at his camera; Michael on the baseball team, the debate team, the math club, the science club; Michael on the football team, Michael’s college graduation. Henry fought back tears.

It was now six years since Michael had been declared M.I.A. and the Veteran’s Office had told him that, in all likelihood, Michael was dead. Emily still hoped, and each year she prepared a small celebration for his birthday. It was too much to bear. Their friends were worried that she might be going senile, or worse yet, that she had gone crazy with grief. Worst case of denial he’d ever seen, the psychologist had said.

As he reached for the first picture, and began to put it into the box, he stopped. Just for a moment, he felt the eyes of his son staring at him, from every photo in the room. Henry Jensen was not a superstitious man.

As he stood there, holding the picture of Michael in his uniform, he reminded himself that, just maybe, he was crazy as well. He had never told Emily about his dreams. Last week, an image came to him so clearly that, the next morning, he’d immediately drawn it and brought it to the Veterans office. As he was waiting, a General entered the office, and Henry felt compelled to thank him for his service. He told the general why he was there, and showed him the drawing.

“Have you ever studied maps of Vietnam? No? You saw this in a dream?” asked the man.

“Yes, and my son’s hand rested right there!” Henry answered.

The General told him that there had once been a small village there, unknown to any except the natives and the military, but it had been destroyed by air strikes. No one had been found alive. But he promised Henry that he’d have it looked into.

Henry placed the photo back onto the mantelpiece. I will do this, he thought…some other night.

<><><><><><> 

It was his last visit. Mrs. Emily Jensen listened carefully as he explained why – helping her to understand – and Henry, too, reuniting his family, and of course, the cake. His birthday cake gave him something to hold onto, a memory that gave him the strength he needed. That, and her strong maternal bond. And today, on his very last birthday, he was giving her a gift.

“Goodbye,” said his mother. And the doorbell rang.

<><><><><><> 

Henry opened the door to three strangers. One was a soldier in uniform, one was a woman, and the third was a child. He tried to speak, but the words stuck in his mouth.

“Mr. Jensen, my name is Private Amanda Perez; I’m a friend of General Hightower. He sent a team to investigate the area you drew in your map, in hopes of finding information regarding your son.”

“Please, come in and sit down.” When they had settled, the soldier continued. “It seems that some refugees from a neighboring village, that was also destroyed in the same air strike, found Michael alive, but barely. They took him with them and saw to his wounds. I am sad to say that, several months later, Michael died.”

At that moment, Emily came into the room, and saw their guests. She smiled broadly, and said, “Quan-Li, Chào m?ng ??n nhà c?a chúng tôi, con gái! (Quan-Li, Welcome to our home, daughter!) Và b?n, ít b??m, ph?i ???c Ni-Tsao! (And you, little butterfly, must be Ni-Tsao!)”

Private Perez’ jaw dropped. Henry himself was dumbfounded! He watched in disbelief as his wife and the strangers embraced, laughing and crying simultaneously.

“Mr. Jensen, did our office tell your wife any of this? And why didn’t you say your wife spoke Vietnamese?”

“No, and she doesn’t speak it! Would someone please tell me exactly what is going on here? Who are they?”

“The woman is Quan-Li, your son’s wife. And the little girl is…”

“Our granddaughter, dear,” continued Emily. “Michael’s daughter, Ni-Tsao. Ni-Tsao, ?i và cung c?p cho ông n?i c?a b?n m?t cái ôm l?n! (Go and give your grandfather a big hug!)”

When she had stopped hugging the breath out of him, Henry held her at arm’s length. And saw Michael’s blue eyes in his granddaughter’s face. Around her neck were Michael’s dog tags.

<><><><><><> 

He watched from the kitchen as his families united. The light beckoned him: it was time to go. But as he turned away, he saw the luscious piece of chocolate cake on a plate, and thought he could be forgiven for this last act. The last word he thought of, as he licked the frosting off of his plate, was “heavenly.”


Submitted: September 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Catfish Waterdancer. All rights reserved.

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