How to Make a Dogpatch Cake
or, Baking Something Out of Nothing
By Allie MariniBefore anything else, you will need to search the cupboards. If need be, knock on Gretchen Revell’s screen door. She always has at least 1 can of cherry pie filling socked away somewhere—God knows why—the woman don’t even bake. Who knows, maybe she buys it just because you come knocking so often & always bring her back a big scoop in a washed-out olio tub. If the cabinet doesn’t turn out anything worth having, then turn up all the cushions on the couch & collect every coin secreted in the cracks. Check the bottom of the La-Z-Boy where the cat hides. Sometimes quarters fall out of pockets. Check the console in the car till you rustle up enough to head down to the Dollar Store & buy 1 box of yellow cake mix. Another 50 cents will get you a can of ginger ale or Sprite from the Coke machine out front.
When you get home, preheat the oven to 350°, then take off your shoes & bra because the oven heats the whole trailer. Enjoy the cool of the linoleum under your bare feet while you can—grease up a baking dish & dump the cherry pie filling into the bottom while you watch your stories. Scrape out the can & swirl a finger of tapwater around the bottom of the can to get every last cherry & every blessed slick of syrup out of the embossed rings of the can. If your momma calls—& she always seems to know when you’re in the middle of something to call you—twist the phone cord around your wrist like one of those bracelets you used to save your allowance for in elementary school. Don’t say uh-huh too much or she’ll know you’re watching Guiding Light instead of listening to her & then you’ll really get an earful.
Though you’ve never seen real snow, turn the dry cake mix into a blizzard, & sprinkle it evenly over the cherry pie filling. By now the oven should be good & hot, your forehead should be springing a sweat, & it looks like Reva might be driving her car off a bridge, so get off the phone right quick so you don’t miss out. Crack the tab of the Sprite & take a drink, but not too much or else the cake won’t come out right. You could use a can of crushed pineapple or diced peaches with the syrup instead of soda. Pour it on top of the cake mix & fruit but don’t mix it. Light a Winston & turn on the fan, point it towards the La-Z-Boy. Settle in & see what Reva’s at this time. Chain-smoke & watch the dust motes flitting against the setting sun coming in through the Levelor blinds. Bake for 45-60 minutes, till the top is brown & looks a little like the top of a cobbler.
When it’s cool, rinse out an olio tub & scoop up some for Gretchen. In a couple hours, after it gets dark, the trailer will cool off again, but till it does, go visit for a spell & sit out on Gretchen’s porch. If you’re lucky, she might have some ice cream to share. Swat away the mosquitoes, feel the beads of sweat needle through the armpits of your t-shirt, & listen to how nature shouts back from the holding pond: barred owl, tree frog, cicada, cricket. Further off: shotgun blast, 18-wheeler, highway traffic. Further still: somewhere else, somewhere different. Away from Dogpatch. Away.