The cake was melting. In its deep Tupperware, carefully packed the evening before by Jess’ mother, it was surely sagging, sloping one way or the other, layers sliding out in both directions like a cartoon character’s feet on banana peels.
Jess tapped the accelerator gently, and stomped on the brake.
It had been like this for thirty minutes. Before then, she had been rushing down the road, another motorist hurrying to get where she was going. The flutter of her anxious heart had made her foot heavier, earning tiny slivers of a minute, two, three, little pieces of time that would make her a little less late for the party. Now they crawled a few more feet and stopped again.
Even if she had been on time, her mother still would have found something to criticise or berate; at least this way it would be her choice of route rather than something more personal.
Forward, stop. One roll of the wheels, and they halted.
Jess’ head snapped back against the seat, the entire car shuddering. In the rearview mirror she saw the driver behind her, suddenly much closer than she had been before, slapping the steering wheel.
‘What the hell were you doing?’ The woman had emerged from her car, and she rapped on Jess’ window as she spoke.
Jess climbed out to join her on the asphalt, the cars behind them already blaring their horns.
‘Stopping,’ she said. Then, without any heat, ‘Because the car ahead stopped.’ She could see a fresh dent on her car, and offered to exchange insurance information.
‘Are you kidding? I need documentation.’ The woman pointed at a two-inch long scratch on her front fender. ‘That’s your fault.’
‘Take a picture?’ Jess suggested.
‘I don’t have a camera. I’ll need to call my husband.’ The woman put a smart phone to her ear and, already snapping at the person on the other end, got back into her car.
Together the two women edged out of traffic onto the grassy shoulder of the road. Jess slowed, her foot tapping the brake, and came to a gentle stop. A moment later, her head jerked forward again.
Jess turned to see the woman striking her steering wheel with her phone, any restraint abandoned. But on the back seat the cake, once so rigid and straight, was leaning. She lay back against the headrest and smiled, imagining how it would ooze across plates.