Love, Death and Doughnut Holes

by Stephanie Scarborough
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Robby Ringwald owned the only drive-thru funeral business in Texas. It was located right across the street from Wanda’s Donut Hut, my humble place of employment. Business has been slow, so I’ve had a lot of time to stare out the front window and watch drive-thru proceedings when I’m not working my way through the latest issue of True Crimes. Robby’s is a pretty entertaining place, with its neon sign that reads “Robby’s Drive-Thru Funeral Parlor” in flashing pink script. It’d been a car-wash before Robby got a hold of it. He painted the trim turquoise, put some pink flamingos and garden gnomes in the flower bed out front, and really made it into something classy. The dearly departed were brought in in a vintage pink Cadillac hearse, complete with pointy tail fins. It pulled into Robby’s drive-thru while I was thumbing through my magazine. Since things were slow, I helped myself to a blueberry doughnut and watched the proceedings. Friends and family who had been noshing on hors d’oeuvres gathered around the vehicle. The hearse’s convertible top slid back, revealing a shiny white casket. Everyone bowed their heads and looked appropriately somber. Then Robby appeared in his powder blue tuxedo and pencil-thin mustache. His black hair was slicked back with plenty of Wild Root. I sighed. I always sigh when I see him. He gave a lively sermon. I couldn’t hear it, but I could tell from his hand gestures and facial expressions that it was a good one. The mourners occasionally nodded as he spoke. I did too. The man has charisma.

When it was over, the convertible top went up, the crowd dispersed, and it was off to the cemetery. Robby didn’t go, though. After each funeral, he always retreats to what I assume is his office, but today he walked across the street and straight to the order window of Wanda’s Donut Hut.

There he was. At my window. In all his polyester tuxedo-wearing glory.

He smiled. His teeth were the color of banana cream. I smiled back and opened the window.

“Good morning, Mr. Ringwald,” I said, setting my True Crimes magazine aside. “How was the funeral?”

“Exhilarating,” he glanced at my name badge, “Lulu, absolutely exhilarating!” He seemed awfully excited for someone who’d just been at a funeral. I always figured I was the only one around here with a morbid fascination with death. He eyed my magazine. “Have you read the story about the woman who killed her husband with a toothpick?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “And how about the lady who collected all her victims’ brains in pickle jars in her basement?”

Robby shivered, smiling.

“I love that one!”

Several seconds of odd silence passed.

“Can I get you something?” I finally asked. “Bear claw? Jelly donut?”

He leaned against the window, thinking.

“What do you recommend, Lulu?”

“The blueberry doughnuts are my favorite.” I wiped down the counter, trying to look busy and not too infatuated, because I was. “The chocolate ones aren’t bad either.”

Robby pursed his lips, thinking, a finger tracing that thin mustache. He wore a gold nugget ring on his middle finger.

“I’ll take a dozen of each,” he said. I smiled and boxed up his order. I also threw in a bag of doughnut holes, just because.

“That’ll be ten dollars,” I said. He smiled and slid an Alexander Hamilton across the counter, along with a couple singles.

“Keep the change, my dear.”

“Thanks.” I slid ol’ Alexander into the cash drawer with the rest of his presidential friends.

After Robby disappeared into his office, I checked the clock on the wall—it was almost eleven. Wanda would be here soon. I straightened up and tended to what few customers wandered by. When she walked through the door, I tried to look busy, which can be difficult to do in a tiny doughnut shack with no customers. Wanda’s built like a truck and has a black beehive of hair piled on top of her head. Her wardrobe consists of floral muumuus and clogs, and she stuffs her eyelids with enough blue eyeshadow to smother a small country.

“Lulu!” She exploded through the back door, the flimsy floor creaking with each step. “Lulu, how’s business? Why do we still have so many cherry-filled doughnuts? And don’t you have any clothes that aren’t black?”

I shrugged, not very interested in answering her questions. Wanda grunted and pushed past me to the window. She wrenched it open and looked across the street at Robby’s.

“That Robby Ringwald is one sick man,” she said. I joined her. Another funeral was in progress. “What kind of sicko hosts drive-thru funerals, right there in front of God and everybody? That’s probably why business is so bad. People are repulsed by that sideshow he calls a business!”

“I think he’s nice,” I said. “He bought two dozen doughnuts today.”

Wanda grunted again and waddled to the other side of the hut.

“Well, I still think he’s a sicko, and I hope he never comes here again. You be careful. And push those cherry-filled doughnuts! I don’t wanna have to throw ‘em out this afternoon!” She examined the bin of doughnut holes. “You haven’t been giving away doughnut holes, have you?” She eyed me suspiciously.

“No, ma’am.”

“Good. I don’t want people thinkin’ this is a charity hut. If they want doughnut holes, they gotta pay for ‘em, damn it!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She made a move for the door.

“Now, you keep this place clean! Sell those cherry-filled doughnuts, and stay away from Robby Ringwald. He’s a deviant!”

With that, Wanda left. Alone again, I watched the remainder of the funeral proceedings. On the hood of the hearse, I saw the doughnuts I’d sold to Robby sitting on a large silver platter. Occasionally, a mourner would take one, and I’d swell with pride. My funeral-watching was interrupted by a group of blue-hairs picking up doughnuts for a Bible study. I tried to push the cherry-filleds like Wanda requested, but no dice. They were all about plain and glazed. I threw in some free doughnut holes. I couldn’t help it; I’m a giver.

Wanda’s Donut Hut closes at 3:00, but I’m usually stuck there ‘til 4:00 or so cleaning. While I was counting down the register, someone rapped on the window. I shoved the cash drawer under the counter and turned to the window. Much to my delight, it was Robby.

“Hello, Mr. Ringwald. Can I help you?”

“I don’t mean to bother you,” he said. “I just wanted to tell you that the doughnuts were a huge hit today!”

“That’s great, Mr. Ringwald.”

“Call me Robby, my dear. You’ll be seeing me a lot more in the days and weeks and years to come! I’m going to start serving doughnuts at every funeral.”

“That’s awesome … Robby.” I leaned against the counter. “What made you think about doughnuts?”

“Well, I used to have fruit trays at my funerals, but they never really went over all that well. It was a real waste. Then it hit me a few weeks ago when my girlfriend left me for her yoga instructor—when you’re horribly depressed, you’re prone to emotional eating, and when you’re eating emotionally, you don’t want fruit—you want starchy, sugary, fried atrocities! You want junk! And what food is more representative of starchy sugary, fried, atrocious junk than doughnuts?”

“You have a good point, Robby. I’m sorry about your girlfriend.”

He shrugged.

“Her loss.” He switched gears, going from looking mildly poignant to manic. “Lulu, can you reserve five dozen doughnut for me in the morning? I’ve got a big funeral first thing tomorrow.”

“Any particular kind?”

“Oh, just a WASP-y family from the suburbs. Nice, but neurotic . . .”

“I mean the doughnuts.”

“Of course! Whatever kind you see fit, Lulu! If your taste in doughnuts is as good as your taste in literature, I have no fears! Until then, I bid you good evening!” He bowed and left. I watched as he walked back to the funeral parlor, wondering what the ceiling of his bedroom looked like.

Over the next few months, Robby dropped by every morning and picked up doughnuts—sometimes just one or two dozen, but often four or five or six dozen. I always threw in a free bag of doughnut holes, despite Wanda’s constant orders not to. Whenever I had an idle moment, I’d watch whatever funeral was in progress. He had a different color suit for every day. Today he wore a mint green tuxedo jacket with emerald green satin trim and a matching ruffly tuxedo shirt. The funeral parlor was too far away for me to hear his sermon, but he always looked like he said it with such conviction. The doughnuts were gone by the time the funeral was over. Today, after he finished speaking and the Cadillac had left the parking lot, he looked my way and our eyes met for a split second. My cheeks flushed hot cherry red, then I pretended to look busy wiping the counter. I’d never felt so odd before in my life. Seconds later, Wanda arrived for her daily inspection. Inspecting is about all she does. I’ve never seen her actually make a doughnut.

“My goodness, Lulu, why are you so red?”

I rummaged through a drawer, trying to look busy.

“Oh, it’s just kind of warm in here,” I said. Wanda walked over to the window a/c unit that occupied the one other window in the hut and smacked it, then checked the doughnut inventory.

“I don’t know what you’re doin’, Lulu, but keep it up. Our sales have never been this high. I might even think about giving you a raise.”

How considerate. It might have been my imagination, but I think she eyed the doughnut holes suspiciously before she finally started to leave. As she stepped out the back door, someone rapped on the front window. It was Robby

“Oh, god,” Wanda gasped, “you’re not going to help him, are you?”

“He’s one of our best customers.” I slid the widow open. “Hi, Robby.”

“Lulu, quick, I have a doughnut emergency. I need six dozen doughnuts. I have a monstrously huge funeral in less than half an hour. I’ll take any flavor you have!” He rifled through the massive stash of bills in his pink leather wallet. I got to work boxing up the doughnuts while Wanda watched, awestruck. I’ve never figured out what her beef is with Robby.

I had to dip into the cherry-filled inventory, but I was able to fill Robby’s order. I started to stuff a small bag with doughnut holes, but Wanda was watching me like a hawk. I placed the stack of boxes on the counter to the left of me, then leaned out the window so Wanda couldn’t see or hear me.

“I can’t give you free doughnut holes today,” I whispered. “Wanda’s here, and she’s watching. I’m sorry.”

Robby peered into the hut, a sly smile curling his lips.

“I’d also like to purchase three dozen doughnut holes!” he announced loudly. “You’re quite the saleswoman, Lulu!”

I bagged three dozen doughnut holes and mouthed the words, “Thank you,” to Robby as he left. I slid the window shut and let out a deep breath. Wanda left in a huff, saying nothing. Twenty minutes later, the bubble gum-hued hearse arrived, followed by hoards of mourners. The doughnuts were piled on several ornate silver trays. My funeral watching was interrupted half-way through by an Icee-slurping, middle-aged man who could’ve used a full-body wax.

“Welcome to Wanda’s Donut Hut. How can I help you?”

“Dozen doughnuts,” he mumbled. “Cherry-filled.”

I boxed up a dozen cherry-filled doughnuts—the only flavor we had any real quantity of after Robby’s order. I also bagged half a dozen doughnut holes, just to be nice.

“I didn’t order no doughnut holes,” he barked as I gave him his change.

“They’re free,” I said, “just a small token of our thanks.”

He grunted and left. I ended up missing Robby’s sermon. The hearse departed, and Robby retreated to his office. I still had two hours ‘til closing time and nothing to do but stare at the wall. I slid the latest copy of Gruesome Homicides out from its hiding place under the register. I was in the middle of a story about an actress who was bludgeoned to death with nunchucks by her midget son when I saw Robby at my window.

“Hi, Robby. How are you?”

“Absolutely exhilarated! I see you have the new Gruesome Homicides!”

“Yeah, it’s amazing. Have you made it to the midget story yet?”

“Yes! It’s absolutely wretched! Sick! Unbelievable!”

“It’s so sick I can hardly stand to read it,” I said.

“Those stories are the best ones!” Robby was glowing at this point.

“I know,” I said. “Can I get you any doughnuts?”

“Oh, no, Lulu. I just saw that you were reading the new Gruesome Homicides, and I thought I’d drop by and see how you liked it.” Robby suddenly looked distracted. He was staring down the street, and his Chernobyl-esque glow faded. “Looks like Wanda’s on her way. Perhaps I should go.”

I nodded. He lingered for a second more, then headed back to the funeral parlor.

I hid my magazine and began rearranging things on the counter right before Wanda barged in. In her left hand she held a grease-stained, white paper bag. My stomach tightened. She didn’t look happy.

“Free doughnut holes?” she started out quiet, then gradually crescendoed. “A ‘token of our thanks’? Did you or did you not give these away to a certain Icee-drinking customer? For free? After I told you a million times to charge for them?”

“Where did you get those?” I asked. I figured playing dumb was my best defense.

“Your last customer,” she said. “Also known as my brother.”

“Well, maybe I did give them to him for free,” I said. “They’re just doughnut holes. It’s called good customer service, Wanda.”

Wanda laughed.

“Lulu, I don’t care about customer service! I just care about selling doughnuts and making money!”

“But no one ever buys doughnut holes.” It was true. I might sell a dozen here and there, but if I didn’t give them away, they’d just go into the dumpster after closing.

“I told you to sell those doughnut holes! And you didn’t listen! So you know what I’m going to do, Lulu? I’m going to fire you! Scram!”

I removed my apron, retrieved my magazine, and left. A funeral was in progress at Robby’s. He gestured enthusiastically behind his magenta pulpit, occasionally pounding it with conviction. I decided to join the crowd of funeral-goers. I needed some inspiration, though I felt a little strange hanging out at a stranger’s funeral. Robby looked right at me at one point, with definite surprise in his eyes. When his sermon was over, everyone departed but me.

“Lulu!” he exclaimed, approaching me. “Did you know Mrs. Wugglesworth?”

“Oh, no.” I rolled my magazine into a tube. “No, I just needed some cheering up, so I thought I’d drop by and listen to your sermon.”

“A good funeral always cheers me up,” he said. “Do you feel better now?”

I shrugged.

“Not really. Wanda fired me for giving away doughnut holes.”

“That bitch,” he spat, placing his hands on his hips. “Just proves my theory.”

“What’s your theory?”

“That there’s a big lump of ice where her heart’s supposed to be.”

“Good theory,” I said. “Is that why Wanda seems to hate you for no reason?”

He laughed.

“Oh, Lulu, Wanda doesn’t hate me. She just wants me so bad she can’t stand it, and she knows she can’t have me! That’s all.”

“Really?”

“No.” He smiled. “She just better not expect any more business from Robby Ringwald. The only reason I ever went there in the first place was to talk to you. Not many girls around here read True Crimes.”

“Really?”

“Really. All my last girlfriend ever read was Prevention and McCall’s.” He shuddered. “Always reading about the latest cabbage diet or better sex articles obviously written by celibate monkeys.”

“I don’t read those.”

“Of course you don’t, Lulu! You have taste.”

“Robby, do you like to go to the drive-in?” I figured I had nothing to lose at this point.

“Do I!” He lit a cigarette. “You know, Killer Virgins From Space is showing tonight.”

“What would you think about going?” I asked. “With me?”

“I’d be delighted, Lulu! We can take the hearse when my driver brings it back.”

Wanda was watching us from the doughnut hut window, eyes narrowed, sneering. I looked into Robby’s eyes and he looked into mine. I grabbed the lapels of his polyester tuxedo jacket and pulled him toward me, pressing my lips against his. His arms slid around my waist, pulling me closer. I quickly found out that Robby was a very adventuresome kisser. The hearse arrived just when I thought my lips were going to go numb. The driver stepped out, and Robby opened the passenger door for me.

As I got into the hearse, I glanced at the doughnut hut one last time. The look on Wanda’s face was priceless.

6 Responses to “Love, Death and Doughnut Holes”

  1. [...] 18, 2009 · Leave a Comment You can read my story “Love, Death and Doughnut Holes” online at A Fly in [...]

  2. haven’t had time to read the story yet, but i love that title!

  3. Mannyr says:

    Well done, great pace. I liked the characterization. Just the right amount of conflict. send more.

  4. Kerk says:

    Fantastic work. It really is. Everything was very well put together. It was definitely very funny, and you really broke away from the norm with it. The characters were so much more interesting and original than what you usually see.

  5. Mike says:

    Not my typical read, but you’ve got some really great lines in here that kept me hooked.

  6. Really got a kick out of the story. It was fun. The line that kept me reading was: “He painted the trim turquoise, put some pink flamingos and garden gnomes in the flower bed out front, and really made it into something classy.”

    Yep, definately classy. Oh, and I learned never to give free doughnut holes to an overly hairy fellow.

    Great and creative story, Stephanie Scarborough!

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