There’s a café along the boardwalk of Hillarys Boat Harbour that sells Death By Chocolate cake. Or there used to be. The tape slashed across its entrance blocks only as much as a passer-by can see, but I’m standing close, nose nearly touching the glass, breath creating an opaque circle.
The wall is riddled with chairs stacked against its creamy wallpaper, but the tables still stand in the exact same spot they’d been in all those years ago. Along the furthest wall, where cream becomes glass, there leans a table, a small island looking out onto the quay. That was where I’d sat as a little girl.
I close my eyes and picture the serene ocean and a blasting heat on the tail end of a harsh summer. There’s a girl walking alongside her father, a tall man but robust in the middle. They arrive at the counter, a glass display filled with cakes and bite sized tarts. The girl is tapping on the glass, pointing to a small slice sitting in the back corner. Her father nods, palms a twenty-dollar bill, and passes it over.
My pocket vibrates and I’m back at the empty café, glass still misty with my breath. My phone’s screen is lit up with ‘祝你父親節快樂!’ – Happy Father’s Day.
It’s the 20th of June, Father’s Day in Hong Kong. I quickly copy and paste the same message, add a few emojis, and hit send. I would’ve been on a plane back home right now, but instead I was in Perth. Although restrictions have eased, most are still too apprehensive to leave the house, and so I find myself reminiscing alone.
Every summer my siblings and I would take turns to visit our family in Hong Kong. One year, with the Hong Kong heat sticky against my back, I went on a mission to find the perfect gift. The underground MTR was a maze to someone with tourist status like me. With a map clutched to my chest, I navigated my way to a promising bakery. It was filled to the brim with light puffs and cakes packaged into convenient mouthfuls. I was looking for a chocolate cake, something like an éclair, or perhaps a cheesecake, though I wasn’t sure. I was fishing from a hazy memory.
I pass by rows of tarts, all glazed over and topped with fruit, before my eyes alight on neat triangles of cheesecake.
On my way back, I held the paper box carefully against my stomach, navigating the layers of escalators until I reached the apartment.
‘Dad, I got you something!’ I proffered the box up to him, gums stretched wide.
I lifted the lid, exposing the small cakes, all shiny, all perfect in their little paper cups.
There was a short pause, a moment when all was still. Then his eyes turned inky sharp.
‘What a waste of money. Who’s going to eat this?’
The lid fell back into place, hardly making a sound.
I never brought home cakes again.
‘Mum, I’m home!’ I shout into the hallway, keys jangling in my pocket.
Mum rushes out, her hair still twisted up in a towel. ‘豬豬! You didn’t tell me you were coming.’
I give her a quick peck on the cheek. ‘Actually, I wanted to grab something.’
‘Have you eaten yet? I’ve just steamed some sweet potato.’
‘It’s okay, I’m not hungry.’ I shrug off my jacket. ‘Do you know where my diaries are?’
‘It might be in the garage somewhere. Go have a look. I need to dry my hair.’
I turn the garage light on and scan the arena. There are boxes piled high, some even reaching the ceiling. Squeezing past the car, I dust off the first box I find to reveal a label taped haphazardly on the front. ‘Christmas decorations’. The next ones underneath are labelled kitchenware, rice cooker, bookshelf in the living room. At least I can thank my family of labellers.
I pull out a storage box, taped all over with professional grade sticky tape. It’s dusty from years of hiding in the garage. Big, childish script is plastered on the front saying ‘Do NOT touch’. Carefully blowing the dust off the top, I peel a Stanley knife across the tape and unclip the sides securing the lid in place. A layer of diaries fall out, decorated with fluffy pink pom poms and glitter.
After a bit of scrambling, I locate the small A6 journal, barely held together by a small lock. It’s thick, filled with photos, tickets and other paraphernalia. Memories from a seven year old. Gingerly, I unclasp the diary and open to the first page. It’s titled: 2nd February 2003. And underneath: Today I had death by chocolate cake.
There’s a little scribble, outlined in brown marker, a pseudo slice of cake covered in chocolate buttons. I chuckle, and picture the serene ocean, a blasting heat at the tail end of a harsh Australian summer. There’s a girl scanning a dessert display, eyes squinted and lips wet. The display is filled with sponges of all shapes and sizes, but she points at the lone slice hidden in the back corner, dripping in its own decadence. ‘Death By Chocolate’ is printed on a plaque, wedged in the middle of the slice so that chocolate pools around it.
At the table, father sits across from daughter. His eyes are scanning the Blackberry in his hand, her legs are swinging back and forth.
‘A Death By Chocolate, and a long black?’ The waiter arrives, proffering the goods to the pair.
The father nods, then takes a sip from his cup. The girl already has her spoon stuck in the cake’s thick goo.
‘Can dad have a bite?’
The girl beams and pushes the plate over. ‘Yes, but if you eat it, you’ll die!’
‘That’s why it’s called Death By Chocolate cake!’ She watches as he spoons a morsel into his mouth.
He gives a thoughtful chew before swallowing.
‘So? Does it taste like poison?’
He pushes the plate back across the table, eyebrows raised. ‘No, but it tastes like chocolate cake. Delicious.’
‘You could die any minute now.’
He shakes his head. ‘No, silly girl.’
‘Will I die too?’ The girl is smearing chocolate from the spoon over her mouth, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
But he’s already making a clack-clack sound on the screen of his Blackberry.
‘Mum, I’m heading off now.’ I lift the box of diaries into the boot of my car.
‘Already?’ Mum’s voice is muffled. The fridge door closes, and she follows me out. ‘Here, take some sweet potato with you.’
‘Mum, I said don’t need food.’
‘Just take some with you.’ She presses the steaming bowl into my hands.
‘Alright.’ I give her another peck on the cheek. ‘I’ll see you soon.’
The engine is running but I sit for a while longer. Taking out my phone, I type out another message underneath the one I had copy and pasted earlier.
‘How are you?’
I let the cursor blink a few times before hitting send.
Tiffany Ko is a Chinese-Australian emerging writer living and practicing on Whadjuk Noongar boodja. She explores identity and belonging in her work, especially within an Asian-Australian context. Her creative pieces have appeared in the Singapore Reviewof Books and Pulch Mag, and is forthcoming in the anthology To Hold the Clouds by the Centre for Stories. You can find her on Twitter @tiffanykowrites.