Birthday Blues


Photo by Tori Burris

Luke Bellinger, Staff Writer

It’s 8:40 pm, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. I get home after an hour of driving practice and silently step toward the kitchen. I am fatigued, after eight hours of school, three hours of work, and an hour of driving. A 90-page packet lies in front of me. I look up a recipe on my phone: “Chocolate Cake in a Mug”. I move through the empty kitchen in complete silence to the pantry. I take a bag of flour, a sachet of cocoa, and nothing else. The recipe calls for a 12-oz mug. I fill a mug with water and pour it into a measuring cup. Eight ounces. I rummage around a cabinet and find a large mug, beige in color, stamped with the words “Franciscan University of Steubenville”. I fill it with water and pour the water into the measuring cup. Twelve ounces. 

I empty the measuring cup and add flour and cocoa powder. I turn three paces to the right to find an old can of baking powder on the cold granite countertop. I add the baking powder and shook some salt into the dry mix. I walk to the refrigerator and pull out a carton of milk. I add equal parts of milk and oil to the cup. I go through a cabinet in the back of the kitchen to find a plastic bottle of sucralose simple syrup and add about a teaspoon. I rummage through the pantry to find a bottle of red coco pandan extract. I add a glug of the suspiciously viscous extract to the measuring cup, and I mix the ingredients with a fork. 

I moved out of the kitchen with the packet and put it on the cluttered dining room table. I returned to the kitchen and slowly poured the cake batter into the mug. I spilled a little on the sides. I turned around and grabbed a paper towel to clean up the spilled cake batter. I turned to the microwave with the mug full of cake batter. 9:16, it reads. I nuke the mug for a minute and a half while silently staring at the mug spinning around. After the microwave dings, I grab the mug by the handle and quickly shuffle to the nearest counter and let go of the mug. I run my hand under some water. I run over to the laundry room and look in an old and dusty drawer and find an ancient bag of birthday candles. 

I sneak back to the kitchen with a single white birthday candle. I take the mug and sit down at the table. The room is illuminated by a slowly dying yellow light. The dining table is covered in random miscellany, from condiments to old papers, and random stuff. I reach above the refrigerator to grab a lighter. I plant the birthday candle into the steaming hot cake. The birthday candle barely pokes above the sides of the mug. The cake is about eleven ounces short of twelve ounces. I light the birthday candle in silence. I sing myself happy birthday silently. I blow it out alone. I have repeated this ritual many times before, I have never blown out a birthday candle alone.  I take out the birthday candle to see that the bottom of it has melted. A glob of wax sits on the cake.  I run to my room and take out a regular scented candle. I stop in the kitchen and grab a small teaspoon. I scoop the melted wax out of the cake and light the second candle.