Honesty: you know you are going to stop at the bakery. You are sick today and feel like nothing but hiding under the velveteen purple blanket on your lumpy living room couch, but you had promised your first-grade daughter she could be a car rider after school, and she holds your promises in a death-vise; if you don’t pick her up, she will never let it go. You slouch out the door, shift your aching body into the high minivan seat, and remind yourself: No sugar till Thanksgiving. Even as the words roll through your mind, you know they are useless and false.
When you finally pull up on the school sidewalk at the end of the creeping car line, your girl hurls her body into the back seat like a pack of hounds is behind her. The first words out of your mouth? “Let’s go to the bakery.” She can hardly believe her luck—because sugar is as bad for her ratcheted emotions as it is for your forty-something waistline—but you don’t care. You are driven by base emotional need today; you are letting yourself be driven.
In the parking space ten minutes later, munching a pimento-and-ham biscuit behind the steering wheel while your daughter savors some dense gluten-and-icing confection in the back, car windows down to the world, or at least to the autumn breeze, you hear a hearty guffaw at your daughter’s window—a lanky, white-haired fellow, over 65, stands startlingly close. You can see immediately that this man is like a grandpa who’s too friendly to be true.
“Hi there, little girl!”
You assure yourself your daughter is safe. He is outside; she is in.
“What are you eating?”
It’s none of your business. You wish him away but can’t produce the voluble words. Then the worst—he shakes his head as your daughter laughs and laughs along with him, eyes shining at this character who elicits delight.
“Women shouldn’t eat too many donuts, you know.”
And then he and his sly eyebrows and finely groomed handlebar mustache are gone.
You breathe, and for the next several minutes, you shake your head against the chill that creeps down your spine, pit-stopping at your heart, before turning your stomach on behalf of your girl. But before you are finished thinking it through, the fellow himself re-emerges from the bakery door. Roll up the window. You don’t instruct yourself fast enough, and so he is able to lean into the back window for his final delivery:
“You’re mighty pretty, anyway.”
He is gone.
And now it’s a balancing act, requiring not a quick assessment and response, but a measured walk-through with your daughter, finding the words to help her see why he was not a nice man, even though he smiled; he was not friendly, even though he made her laugh. You will struggle for the rest of the day and the week and the year and your life to find the words you might actually have said to him and the resolve to lift the small black plastic lever to close his face behind glass, as if you can do it all over again. You will tell your husband the story, reliving and realizing anew how wrong it all was, and you will suddenly remember the words that did exit your mouth in the moment at the bakery parking lot before the man disappeared from your life:
“We eat as many donuts as we like,” you told him.
“We love baked goods!” Uttered like a battle cry.
Small, that defiance, but it was something. It was more than you would have said three, ten, twenty years ago. It was the beginning of a reset, one in which you choose which stories are allowed through the door, or the car window. You remember to be proud of yourself. Now you look to your daughter’s heart. How will she be able to see that, on the one hand, humor does not equal kindness, but, on the other, there is no shame in laughing along or agreeing when you don’t agree? No shame. How can she hold in tandem the becomingness of herself alongside the frailty, and stay safe and secure meanwhile? How did you? It was just a frosted butterhorn and a ham biscuit for goodness’ sake, you tell yourself. You were always going to end up at the bakery. You will have a difficult time letting this go.
About the Author:
Rebecca D. Martin hails from suburban Atlanta, Georgia. She studied literature in Athens, Georgia; and currently resides, writes, gardens, parents (two shimmering young children), snuggles (the children and two unusual cats), stims (Tai Ji for the adult autistic win!) and reads (like she’s running out of time) in the hill-steeped, history-dense, furiously-fraught city of Lynchburg, Virginia. She has published essays and poetry in a variety of literary and cultural journals, including Relief Journal, Tweetspeak Poetry, Proximity, the Curator, and the Brevity blog. Her memoir, a lyrical consideration of houses in books, rooms in houses, and ways they do or don’t house us well, will be out with T.S. Poetry Press in 2023. Find her online here.