Somewhere a woman is howling about the devil and lost change and her father who left her here sometime ago. Alone. Nina and I look up from making dough. We can barely hear ourselves think from her screams, “Get by me Jesus.” The shouting plops down right in the middle of the frigid night.
This is Bob’s Donuts, the place you go for a pack of smokes at 1 a.m. I’m one of two bakers. If that’s what you’d call us. My job is to create magic out of flour and water and whatever goddamned thing Raphael tells us.
Yes. There’s no Bob. Bob died three weeks after opening the shop. His widow sold it to three middle easterners who turned it into bakery that failed, because someone found a middle finger in the mixer.
Nina tells me about the ultrasound as she pushes a thick lock of blond hair out of her eyes. It wasn’t the best review she’s ever heard. I ask her about the details. Was her wait-to-cash-that-check husband there? No. In my mind, she must have looked great laid out with the white sheet barely covering her shy snowdrift. Her eyes always reminded me of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It’s a song that turns dark in the middle of the night.
When we opened shop, we had nothing but the basic stuff. You know glazed, unglazed, cake and…damn I have no idea… uncaked. The boss had the decorum of late Sunday night. It was all about business. No play, no jokes, no tips. He came in each day announcing five new flavors. I would look over at Earl and ask him what the hell was a guava. He’d shrug his shoulders and stare at the exodus of ants marching from the display case. “Sign on the dotted line, Janet” he’d always say.
A few years ago, Earl murdered some fifteen-year old boy trying to break into his car. He says the whole thing introduced perfect misery in his life. Twice a day, he sadly slumps into a stool. I’ll poke a donut in my mouth and shake my head. Sometimes it feels like life is as useful as hell.
People must have been attracted to the neon lights. The place buzzed. Customers wanted to talk about the weather or time of day or gun found across the street from the park. Clean or dirty, I pressed my apron every day to look official.
Nina snapped up a training manual for the deep fryer from her church’s flea market. We had no idea the miracles it could create. Here, we were simply using it for frying.
The baby is due in days. I think she’s put on ten pounds. I’m not sure how much of it is baby or butter, but her hips spread out like a butterfly. She grabbed me by my shirt one night and pressed up against my chest. Her breasts felt hot from the oven. She told me that we could do better than this.
Apple spice cheddar, potato onion glaze, maple butter something…I’m telling you the list we created was right on. Around midnight a week ago, two business suits stopped by after hearing about the shop from some local television show. I was staying late helping Nina practice her breathing. They wanted two of everything. Not the pumpkin oregano. The ones with the strange names were never wanted. They gave us a hundred dollar tip. Nina and I split it and then I stuck my half in her purse.
She never operated on a plan. Twice a week, I sat on a curb across the street with a stray cat watching her on her shift. I didn’t know what would come first the baby or trouble. Me and Sam (the cat) watched her laugh and throw her hair back like it was making a new kind of punctuation. I had a Toyota, but replaced it with a green bike missing a wheel.
Live on less, I told myself as I walked over to her house. Life is a silent fire, I said to the weather. Snow fell as powdered sugar across glazed ice. Her house looked like it was once painted white. A lone shrub blocked me from their view. Through the window, I saw Nina cradling her husband’s curly head next to a fire. In other words, it was as domestic as dreams after a big meal. They owned a cat bed, but no cat.
I wedged the truck money under a rock and left. It was 12 degrees. I had a chicken thawing on top of the refrigerator and a hunger sparked by grief, but I went to the shop. Twelve new breeds of donuts were sitting in the display. The boss got some business ideas from visiting the local dump. He had three faucets, two sinks and a broken dishwasher showcased by the counter. I wondered who in their right mind would buy this junk. He said to me, “Jane, do you ever get used to being alone?” I told him that across town might be a good place to open a shop. He replied, “Jane is a very common name, you know.”
Nina had been stealing the whole time. It’s fair to point out that I just watched her slide one bill after the other into the warm crevice of her purse. She finally had her baby. I heard about it from a nurse who came by to pick up some banana creams. My chest ached for a week over the thought of not knowing his little face.
That kid was a bad recipe. He had a weak heart. So weak that her husband spent unemployment check after unemployment check on hospital bills. He’d finally had enough. On that day, we introduced what we called “junior partners” which were really little donuts. Earl came in with a split lip wanting a pack of smokes and a slice of pie. I always hand him a walnut jelly donut. It’s our worst one.
The boss had an expired health permit. We were on alert for the officials for a week. Nina thought that maybe they could help find her husband. A little extra dough and maybe they’d look into it, she’d say. As it turned out, they paid us a visit. The one wearing the leather coat asked her out.
For the first couple of days, I just watched them snuggle on her couch. Today, I finally came around to doing something about it. The harvest moon balances on top of the shop’s roof. It’s a perched cardinal that reminds me of spring leaves and how each one patiently waits. The woman is hollering again across the street, “Don’t you need me daddy Jesus. Devil, get behind me.”
Earl’s sitting in front of the shop. “Don’t you control me evil sky. Purify, purify, purify.” the woman’s red-faced shouts get louder. By then, I’m thinking about that rotten-ingredient of a baby. I hear his heart beat. It sounds like the galloping sobs of a fat man. Earl helps me with the gasoline. “If you want out badly enough, you’ll find a way,” I tell him as I light a match. There’s a word for it. The whole mess. I haven’t found it yet, but nested in that word is eternity.