by Tameko L. Barnette
Teacake crept downstairs while her parents were asleep. She looked at the stereo in the living room; it was midnight. She walked softly into the kitchen. As soon as she felt comfortable enough to turn the light on, she hit her knee on one of the chairs at the dining room table. She didn’t let that stop her. Teacake grabbed the peanut butter and jelly out of the refrigerator, got a clean glass from the dishrack in the sink, and sat down at the table with a butterknife. She ate two sandwiches and swallowed a big glass of Kool-Aid. She let out a sigh filled with a strange mixture of comfort and sadness. She kept thinking about what happened to her earlier that day in school.
Teacake sat quietly in class while twenty of her classmates yelled and screamed at the top of their lungs. Miss Moss, the beautiful Jamaican teacher with the exotic accent, tried to keep them quiet, but how could she? Christmas break was right around the corner and the kids were filled with holiday joy and tons of sugar. When Miss Moss scraped her nails across the blackbroad, all of the kids including Teacake sat in silence with their eyes widened, waiting on her to speak. As Miss Moss greeted the third grade class with a few holiday songs and poems, their eyes kept wondering towards the back of the room. There was a huge table with all kinds of delicious foods on it. Teacake was overjoyed and a little impatient. She knew her mother had cooked most of the food on the table, so there was no doubt in her mind that the food would taste wonderful. Pretty soon, the kids were tired of the holiday poems and their impatience took over in a big way.
“When can we eat, Miss Moss?”, Michael asked. He sat next to Teacake and always tortured her with spitballs.
“Yeah, I’m hungry, too,” Nikki yelled from across the room. She and Teacake would always do each other’s hair on the weekends.
Eventually, the entire class joined the protest except Teacake. Miss Moss knew she was fighting a losing battle, so she caved in and let the kids enjoy their holiday meal. “I want everyone to walk to the table, line up one behind the other, and get your food quietly,” Miss Moss smiled as the kids did the exact opposite of what she explained except Teacake.
“Move out the way, Michael,” Nikki yelled.
“No, you move.”
“I will not. I got here first.”
Both of them screamed, “Miss Moss!”
“Both of you, be quiet. Get to the back of the line and wait for everyone else to get their food.”
Teacake was already at the end of the line. Michael and Nikki kept tugging and pulling at each other until they saw Miss Moss staring at them.
“Hey, Teacake. Did your mom make all this food?” Nikki asked.
“You don’t talk a lot, do you?” Michael asked.
“She think she too cute to talk to us,” Tasha said as she shoved a fried chicken wing in her mouth.
“She’s too fat to be cute,” Eileen laughed.
Teacake held back her tears. She grabbed the last plate on the table with a vengeance. She piled fried chicken, potato salad, biscuits, and a couple of desserts she couldn’t identify on the plate and stuffed her face while sitting at a desk in the corner of the classroom. While the other kids were talking, laughing, and singing distorted versions of Christmas carols, Teacake sat alone, as usual.
When the bell rang at three o’clock, all of the kids ran out of school yelling and screaming. Finally, their Christmas break was in effect. They had two whole weeks to drive their parents completely crazy. Teacake dragged her short, plump body across the field towards the apartment buildings where she lived. She saw her mother standing on the steps waving at her. Teacake felt terrible. She ate two huge plates of food and on top of that, she had to carry all of the empty containers and her textbooks home with her. Her mother was glowing with excitement as she watched her baby fight the urge to fall down on the cold dirt.
“Give me those containers, Teacake,” her mother said, “Did everybody like the food?”
“Nothing. I just wanna go home.”
“Okay. You should be happy. You got two whole weeks at home.”
“I know,” Teacake’s face became as cold as the winter breeze that kissed her cheeks. Teacake walked a little faster. She didn’t want her mother to see her crying. She wanted something to eat.
Teacake hated dinnertime at her house. Her mother would tell stupid stories about when she grew up. Her stepfather would tell stupid jokes he heard from someone at his job.
“Mom, can I eat upstairs and watch television?”
“Sure. I’ll bring your drink upstairs, okay.”
As Teacake walked away, she heard her stepfather talking.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know. She’s been like that ever since I walked her home from school. But I’m not going to force the issue. When she’s ready to talk, I’ll be here.”
Teacake sat on the floor in her bedroom watching Tom and Jerry cartoons and eating her dinner. One of her favorite meals: steak and a baked potato. She loved potatoes. She thought about her junk food stash in her secret box under the bed. After she finished her dinner, she reached under the bed. She shook her head in disbelief because she couldn’t find the box. Before extreme panic had time to settle, she felt relief as her hand touched the secret box.
She leaned back with a big smile on her face as she ate a king size Snickers bar. Halfway through the candy bar, Teacake fell asleep. Ultimately, she fell into a dream. For Teacake, it was more like a nightmare.
She was sitting at the table in her classroom at school. All of the food looked so delicious. As Teacake started to eat the food, gobbling down one dish after the other, her classmates jumped out from every corner in the classroom. Everyone was laughing at her. Pointing and laughing. They were making strange animal noises at her. She didn’t let them sway her from eating. She kept stuffing food in her mouth. Nikki and Michael were skipping around the table, laughing at Teacake. Then, all of the kids started to repeat in unison, “She’s too fat to be cute. She’s too fat to be cute.”
Teacake woke up in a cold sweat with a half-eaten Snickers bar melting in her hand. She looked at the clock on her bookshelf; it was almost midnight.
As she sat downstairs in the kitchen licking the rest of the peanut butter off of the butterknife, she started to cry. Maybe I am too fat to be cute.