.....A sound like a fly repeatedly flying
into a windowpane accompanied the flashing of the red neon sign. "Donuts...
Donuts...Donuts..." Ethel was wiping the front counter down. It didn't
really need it, but no one had been in for hours, and she needed to keep
busy. It passed the time.
.....Her eyes were on the task she had made
for herself, but she wasn't seeing the rag or the damp arcs it left on
the counter. She was sipping from a lifetime's cup of recollection. She
felt there was no present for her. She thought of herself in the past
tense. The Diet Pepsi clock told her it was nine; she knew that meant
it was nearly 5:AM. Two hours left to her shift, and then she could sleep--
two hours that she knew would feel like years, and that would be remembered
like seconds. The furrows on her forehead deepened: she was tired of yesterdays.
.....In the back, a nagging buzz announced
the donuts. The sight of them bobbing new-tanned in boiling oil was all
too familiar. More familiar than her own face in the mirror; when she
thought of herself, she saw herself when her hair was still a raven black
cascade, before her blue eyes were buried in wrinkles, before the liverspots
discolored her hands. How had she ended up like this?
.....But she had stopped asking questions
years ago. Perhaps she didn't want to know the answers. They could do
her no good, for she was here. She had been here for years, and nothing
could change that. It was time to glaze the donuts.
.....Why are the signals so harsh in such
places? Better not to ask. The door jangled, and he was there. She tried
not to, but she remembered him.
.....She remembered the fumbling in the drive-in,
the sense of stealing a secret and forbidden pleasure, the desperate quest
for something nameless before the emotional hypothermia set in. She perhaps
understood it all less now than she had then.
.....She remembered necking hours through
on the porch swing, struggling to supress her sighs, to keep them from
reaching her parents overhead-- losing time until, too late, she realized
he had left, that he wasn't coming back. And her mother, and her grandmother,
seemed to beckon from their graves, whispering their ghostly histories.
And she would never discover what she had needed, and she could never
.....When she looked up again, he was half-gone,
packing his Winstons on a wrist, his face bland, worn and leathery. There
was no sign if he recognized her, and suddenly she wasn't sure it was
him after all.
.....As he climbed into the ancient pickup
truck parked out front, her eyes underwent some sort of change-- it was
like fireflies winking out at twilight. The neon glow washed her pale,
careworn face with its brutally impersonal red light, and the donut buzzer