Ten days before her wedding, Lydia still hadn’t ordered a cake. Brendan had originally asked her to book the photographer, but changed his mind when she suggested a friend who used to photograph child soldiers in Sierra Leone. And now Brendan refused to go to the bakeries on her list, just because one of them mentioned “erotic desserts” on its website, as if Lydia would order a penis-shaped cake just to spite him.
Finally, they drove to a bakery in Newport Beach whose color scheme alternated between cream and eggshell. Brendan pointed to a wedge of chalky cake behind the curved glass display.
“White is a color, not a flavor,” Lydia said. “A chocolate cake would taste much better.”
“People will get chocolate in their teeth, and who’s going to pay to get that Photoshopped?”
“Yeah, we’d look like we’re eating cockroaches and poo.”
“Is everything a joke with you?” he asked, looking at her through rimless glasses, as disappointed as Lydia’s father had been when she was a girl. “It’s a joke, right, that you wanted a war photographer to shoot our wedding?”
* * *
They headed back home after Brendan ordered the lemon cake. He must have felt guilty because he turned on to Pacific Coast Highway without Lydia asking him to take the scenic route. She looked out the window and watched the blurry white line separating the sky from the ocean, heaven from earth, or just two slightly different shades of blue. She wished it could go on forever, but the sky was already darkening and they would soon arrive in their apartment.
A year ago, Lydia watched the same view from the backseat of a car that her married couple friends were driving. By the time they reached Malibu for the hike, they met up with another couple who also brought their single friend.
Brendan was clean-cut and worked in corporate America, the type of guy the folks would love if Lydia had folks, the kind who prompted people to wonder out loud why he wasn’t attached. But he answered that question the moment he opened his mouth, correcting people for misusing “I” for “me,” inquiring if they were color-blind for wearing the wrong seasonal color. Still, Lydia had never met anyone who watched the obscure documentaries they’d only show at the revival theater, the same dark space where she must have sat near him before they even met.
Over the years, people had also said to her, “You’re so lovely, how can you be single?”
Sometimes, Lydia wondered if she was marrying Brendan to avoid the question, since she would end up confiding that the love of her life had been taken far too soon. If they pressed further, she’d smile and tell them that it was still too painful to talk about.
The truth being that it happened when she was young.
And it wasn’t a person. It was a pair of woodpeckers.
Made of rubber.
* * *
Lydia had lived in Seattle with her parents until the car crash left her an orphan at five years old. She was the one who had begged them to drive to the video store that rainy day after they had argued all afternoon. Lydia hadn’t cared about the Disney movie she’d thrown a fit over. She only wanted to stop her parents from fighting and to see her friends, the woodpeckers, again.
Perhaps they were just wipers, but in the rain Piyu and Pecker came to life, as if the windshield were their stage. Pecker always poked his pointy head up first, followed by Piyu, who got his name because he was always getting a whiff of Pecker’s butt and saying “pee-yu.” He explained this to Lydia when they first said hello and immediately started cracking jokes.
“What do you want to do right now?” they asked her in unison that day.
“I want to fly away,” Lydia said.
“Ah yes, flying was a grand old time, remember, Pecker,” said Piyu, who whipped himself into a frenzy, clearing the gauze of rainwater that kept smearing the view of the road ahead.
“You’re woodpeckers,” Lydia pointed out. “You can fly away anytime you want, so why are you stuck here?”
“We are not stuck,” Pecker said. “We’re eating rain for breakfast.”
“Yum,” Lydia said, just as Piyu started singing.
“In one hole, out the other, easy on the drinks,” he squawked out a tune. “Cuz pee-yuuu, man, your butt really stinks.”
Lydia’s mother turned her head back from the passenger seat.
“What’re you laughing at, sweetie?” she asked, sounding tired.
In a few moments, Piyu had stopped singing. He lay motionless against the windshield as if he had been bobbing his head above water all this time only to slip quietly beneath its surface. The rain quickly obstructed the view on her father’s side. He swore and gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles hard and exposed. Her mother urged him to pull into the parking lot of the liquor store up ahead, and for once, he listened. After he parked and stepped out of the car, Lydia watched his blurred figure hover over the windshield, and before she understood what he was doing, her father grabbed Piyu, yanking him so hard he broke his neck. Lydia screamed, watching her friend dangle in the air from a hinge.
She wanted to run outside, but the door was locked. She pulled and pulled at the handle until a piece of the plastic broke off.
“Look what you did,” her mother yelled at her now, as if resuming the fight they had left behind in the house, except that in the place of her father was Lydia.
When her father returned to the car, he was holding Piyu in one hand, and Lydia lunged forward and reached for him. Her mother slapped her and told her to sit down, but Lydia had managed to touch the very tip of Piyu. He was cold and rubbery, like he was dead. Her father threw him in the trunk and slammed it shut.
“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” Lydia yelled until she wore out her voice.
Just how her father lost control of the car after he drove off the parking lot, she didn’t know, but she remembered Pecker urging her to look at the view he was clearing just for her. She wiped her eyes and did what he asked. All around, lights illuminated the raindrops. She remembered the lit store signs, the car blinkers, but most of all, the stoplights that appeared fractured and dreamlike, as if glowing pieces of red, yellow and green had lost their way and attached themselves to puddles along the road, creating entryways into another dimension.
* * *
It began to rain on Pacific Coast Highway, and Brendan immediately flicked the bar to the right of the steering wheel. The wipers streaked dust and condensation across the windshield, as the drizzle soon fattened into raindrops, beating a steady rhythm on the roof of the car.
He put a hand on Lydia’s knee. Navigating a rain-soaked mountain road with only his left hand was apparently his way of saying sorry.
Now it was her duty to diffuse the tension so he could put two hands back on the wheel again, not compromise their safety, the rest of their lives together. She pretended not to notice and kept looking straight out of the bleary window, at the wipers whipping back and forth, where the one on the right seemed to wink, as if to say, “What do you want to do right now?”
The rain kept coming.
Eventually, Brendan’s touch began to drift from her knee, but before he could withdraw completely, Lydia took his hand and held on to it for as long as he would let her.
Sandy Yang is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. Her stories have appeared in Santa Monica Review, The Los Angeles Review, Flyway, South Dakota Review, Monkeybicycle and other publications. She holds an MFA in fiction from The University of Arizona. Visit her online at sandyyang.yolasite.com.