When we were both ten, Anna told me the reason my wishes never came true was because my birthday cakes were made using margarine, not butter.
“But I blew all the candles out,” I said, after a few moments’ mulling, “and that’s what counts. I blew them all out with one breath.”
There were some who argued that if it took more than one puff off air to extinguish your candles, your wish was made null and void. My peers and I never reached a consensus on the matter, but it’s always best to be on the safe side.
“It’s only the cake that matters,” Anna said.
“Why?” I asked, as though she wouldn’t go on to tell me.
“It’s the sacrifice,” she said, “to the birthday fairies. If you give them cheap cake made with cheap stuff, they get offended, and they won’t do anything for you.”
“But they don’t eat it anyway,” I said.
“It’s symbolic, though. That’s what the candles are. Symbols. The Greeks used to burn the bones of their animals – which they didn’t use anyway – and then eat the meat all the same. It was a point of principle.”
“It showed willing to the gods.”
“That’s like eating all the Milky Way Buttons and giving you the bag as a gift.”
“No it isn’t.”
“How is it any different?”
“Because I’m not magical or powerful. When you’re magical and powerful, you see things differently.”
I rubbed my chin, like I knew smart old men with beards did when they were deep in thought.
“It seems a mean thing to care about.”
“Who are you to question the ways of birthday fairies?”
No-one but a girl whose mother used Sainsbury’s Baking Block, with its sinister yellow wrapper. Did it even count as margarine, or was something else; some new depth to which fat could sink.
“What if it was carrot cake?” I said, at last.
“What difference would that make?”
“They’re oil based,” I told Anna, like any fool knew that.
Anna was stumped a little. “Well if you used just plain vegetable oil, it would be the same as using margarine. But if you used olive oil –”
“It wouldn’t taste any good,” I butted in, “it would taste like olives.”
I didn’t know if this was true, since we didn’t have any extra-virgin or even virgin or even slutty olive oil in the house. I don’t know what made me say it, I really was never one to tell fibs. Anna was still considering her response when Miss Hopkins rang the bell and we all had to go back to class.
She wasn’t quite right, of course, but even as a little girl Anna seemed to see the link between the stuff in our fridge and the fact I never got to go to Disneyland. I wonder what kind of woman she grew up to be. I would wish her well, but we both know what use wishes are.
Laura Yash was born on the fourth of July in Chicago (her mum went into labour at a parade). Patriotic birth aside, she moved to the UK aged three months, and is now a Londoner with a confusing accent. Recently, Laura has been spending some time writing flash fiction around the subject of margarine.