She is seven years old and it is past her bedtime. But the adults are having a party and there is cake. The birthday smell of blown-out candles mixes with the sweeter smell of their cigarettes, and the air in the basement apartment is cloudy with smoke. The smoke makes her sleepy but she can hear music and the sound of their laughter and she can hear forks against plates and she feels her mouth water. She gets up off her mattress on the floor and opens the bedroom door, careful not to wake her little brother, and walks down the hall to the kitchen and asks please can she have some cake? And because it is a celebration they let her have some and then send her back to bed.
She wakes up a few hours later with a feeling in her stomach that she tries to make go away by holding her hands firmly against her belly. Trying to keep it in, keep it down. And then suddenly she knows, although she can't say exactly how, and she jumps up and runs to the bathroom and feels the cake coming up. Her stomach clenches and she is crying and she tastes that sour taste in the back of her throat and feels the warm, thick mess in her mouth before she vomits chocolate cake and mandarin oranges into the toilet bowl. She feels the heat in her stomach and it clenches again and she gags and up comes more cake and more oranges in a stinking brownish flood, stinging her throat and making her nose run. She spits and cries and then her mother is there with a glass of water and she swishes the water around in her mouth and spits it into the toilet but she can't quite get rid of the taste. She flushes the toilet and watches the water wash it all away and the toilet bowl is cool and she folds her arms across the seat and rests her head on her arms and her mother places a cool cloth on her forehead and she feels better.