Thoughts are appreciated :)
“Is there any cauliflower left?”
That was the first thing Clara Christenson ever said to me, and I was not really sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, I was glad that she was being friendly. On the other hand, what sort of person asks about the cauliflower left over from dinner?
“What?” I said. Until that second, I’d been reading at the kitchen table, waiting for Mom to finish her meeting with Mrs. Christenson.
“Is there any cauliflower left?” Clara repeated.
“It’s in the fridge,” I said. “I think I saw someone wrap it up. A lady…”
Clara went over to the fridge and peered inside. “That was probably Lucy. Your mom’s the doctor lady? What’s her name? What’s your name?”
“Her name’s Gloria,” I said. “And I’m Ave.”
Clara took out the plate of leftover cauliflower. There was clear plastic wrap covering it. She set it down on the counter and turned to look at me.
“Are you black or white?” she asked.
I blinked at her.
“I, uh, well, I’m both,” I said. “My dad was white and my mom—you saw Mom at dinner.”
“Oh. Okay.” Clara pulled the clear plastic wrap off and wadded it into a ball. “My mom’s probably gonna give your mom the money she wants, I heard her talking to Dad. She liked your mom’s essay thing.”
“I didn’t meet your dad,” I said.
“He’s not here, he’s on a trip,” said Clara dismissively. “Anyway, what does your mom want money for? I saw her charts and stuff but it made my brain go blah.”
“It’s a research grant,” I said. “She’s not a doctor doctor, she’s a scientist doctor. She’s going to cure cancer.”
If anyone had the money to fund a cure for cancer, it was Mrs. Christenson. The Christenson family had a huge house, the biggest I’d ever seen. It was on the top of a huge hill with a long driveway, and I’d counted three floors when we first drove up. It was all made of pale stone, with big white windows and a fountain in the front. And when we’d eaten dinner, it had been in the dining room, which had a chandelier and a piano and a long table that had been way too big for just me and Mom and Mrs. Chirstenson and Clara.
Clara hadn’t said one thing during dinner, but neither had I.
Now she held the plate of cauliflower out to me. “Do you want some?”
I made a face. “I don’t like cauliflower,” I said. Broccoli is okay, but I really don’t like cauliflower. I don’t like the taste and I don’t like the way it feels in my mouth.
“I don’t either,” said Clara. “Come on, I’ll show you something cool.”
I got up. “What?”
“We need to hide,” whispered Clara, glancing around like the police were going to burst in or something.
“Why?” I whispered back, because whispering is contagious.
“We just do,” said Clara.
“Under the table,” I suggested. There wasn’t a tablecloth on it or anything to cover us, but I thought the legs of the chairs might act like a forest and keep us hidden.
Clara scrambled for it, giggling like a crazy person, the plate of cauliflower still clutched in her hands. She almost hit her head on the underside of the table, but managed to catch herself in time. I followed after her, slowly.
It was pretty cramped under the table, especially with all the chairs pushed in. But Clara didn’t seem to mind. She set the cauliflower down in between us.
“You’re not allergic to anything, are you?” asked Clara.
“No,” I said. “Well, I don’t think so.”
Clara cupped her hands together over the plate. I couldn’t tell what she was doing because it didn’t look like she was doing anything at all. Then I realized that the cauliflower was beginning to change, all by itself. The pieces were starting to meld together. At first it was just a mush, but then the mush started to become smooth and take a cylinder shape. It lightened from pale yellow to pure white.
I looked up at Clara. She was chewing on her bottom lip and staring down at the plate intently. The transformation was slowing down now, and I had a feeling it was almost over.
Then she exhaled loudly, like she’d been holding her breath for a long time, and put her hands down. She looked up at me. I looked down at the plate. On it, where the cauliflower had been, was a tiny cake with vanilla frosting.
“Uh,” I said. “What is that?”
“It’s cake, duh,” said Clara. She used her finger to pull a piece off and put it in her mouth. “Vanilla. Can’t do chocolate, it’s too complicated. Sorry.”
“How did you do that?” I asked. Was it a magic trick? Had Clara been hiding the cake the whole time? But where? Up her sleeve? And she’d switched it out with the cauliflower? How? I’d been looking at it the whole time, hadn’t I?
Clara didn’t answer me. She just went on eating.
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Clara with her mouth full. “It’s gonna turn back into cauliflower in a few hours, but who cares? It’ll be in your stomach by then. You’ll never even know.”
I tried some of the cake. It tasted exactly like cake.
“It’s good,” I said, very surprised. It was not as good as Mom’s cake, but still pretty good considering that it had started off life as a bunch of cauliflowers.
“Yeah, I’ve been practicing,” said Clara. “Mandy Allen—from school—she thinks she’s the best thing ever because she can do things with fire, but everyone wants to be friends with me because I have the cake. I am the cake queen. I have a kingdom of cake. I’ll turn you into a cake!”
“You will?” Suddenly I was sort of scared. I wondered what it would be like to be a cake. Where would my brain go? Would I be able to see? Or hear? Or would it be more like falling asleep, where you don’t even know it’s happened until it’s already over?
“No. People are way too complicated to turn into anything,” said Clara. “Too many organs and stuff. And even if you manage to do it, they’ll change back eventually.”
“Not if someone eats you right away,” I whispered. “Then you’d all be in bits. In someone’s stomach.”
“That’s gross!” said Clara.
“It was your idea!”
Clara suddenly burst into hysterical giggles
“I like you,” she said. “Let’s be friends.”
“Okay,” I said, because how often does someone who can turn leftover vegetables into cake ask to be friends with you?