I was only nine years old when I found the dead man and the doughnuts. The exact time of year is questionable; my memory summons visions of I I was only nine years old when I found the dead man and the doughnuts. The exact time of year is questionable; my memory summons visions of early spring, 1973, in upstate NY.
It’s raining, annoying drizzly rain that lingers. The greyness and quiet of the day are comforting, balanced between a deadly storm and the excitement and enthusiasm a sunny day brings. The sidewalks are slick when I set out to walk to the Valley Plaza around eleven a.m., but the streets hold baby puddles here and there, more rooted in the potholes. I secretly thank God no friends have come along, knowing they would have wanted to stop in the vacant lots and search the standing water for tadpoles.
The traffic is light; my mind wanders, I’m wondering what I’ll spend my money on and looking forward to finding something special at the Five & Dime. Still, mostly I’m thinking about going to Carrols for a burger and fries. The fries are the best. They cook them in lard. Now, the government insists restaurants use healthier oils to fry foods. Assholes.
I was coming up to the Sixty Now Pharmacy. I’ve never been sure what that name meant. Sixty Pills? Sixty Minutes? I began walking faster because I was almost to my destination. Still, my eyes were scrutinizing the clouds, and I kicked something that nearly tripped me up. Doughnuts scattered the sidewalk. The box I’d kicked came to a stop at the end of a dead man’s shoe.
I froze, except for my face. It was busy duplicating the dead man’s horrific, wide-eyed, scrunched brow, open mouth; I just saw the devil expression fixed permanently on his face. It seemed like I stood that way forever, but I’m sure it was no more than a split second.
The door to the pharmacy opened, and a couple walked out. The woman is in front of the man, and her eyes meet mine as she steps onto the sidewalk. Her eyes follow my stare to the dead man, she begins screaming, and quickly turns and buries her face in the chest of the man behind her. They are together because he pulls her close, shielding her from the sight of the dead man, and he pets her hair.
The man yells at me, “who is he? What happened?”
My head is shaking, informing him of my cluelessness. I can’t find my voice, I’m dumb, only a kid, and I’m scared. Somebody has to do something, but no one is moving. I want to scream at these people, tell them to help him. But they are busy comforting each other. So, I drop down onto my knees beside the man. Crazy thoughts enter my head. Who were the doughnuts for? Did he have a family? What a waste of fresh donuts. God immediately tells me the last thought is horrible. My stomach turns from the shame I feel for thinking the selfish thought.
How average he looked, almost like my Dad. Dad often carried doughnuts home after a morning spent drinking coffee and socializing at the Mister Doughnut, a couple of blocks away. A deep sadness punches me in the gut at the thought of my father splayed out this way. Dead on the ground, no one helping. I looked up at the couple holding each other. The man must see the pleading in my eyes. He begins to remove his overcoat, but the woman places her hand over his, stopping him. Her mouth curls in distaste. She gives him a secret look, as she shakes her head. He pulls the coat back on.
My sadness is hollowing out my chest, and I feel weak imagining my Dad all alone on the ground like the dead man. I reach out and take the dead man’s hand. It’s cold against my skin. I hold it tighter, and I’m not afraid of him anymore. I’m fearful of what I have seen in the grown-up’s responses. They thought he was nobody. I’m only nine, but I know he was Somebody.
The ambulance pulls up, and two attendants hurry over to the man.
The tall, lanky one shakes his head, turns to the couple and says, “The man’s a drunk, he frequently sleeps in one ally or another. He was bound to end up this way.”
The couple nod in unison as if all is well after hearing he was a drunk. I leave the adults who have become animated, with lots to say about the dead man, and I continue my walk to the Valley Plaza.
As I take my first bite of the skinny, crisp French fry that I’ve been craving all morning, I imagine it’s my last. It’s the best one I’ve ever tasted. I swing my feet under my chair. I know about death now, how quickly it can sweep in and take someone. So, I promise myself to wear clean underwear, always. Incase death sneaks up on me. And I’ll keep my secrets in my head, not a diary. So no one will ever find the horrible ones out.
I look around and catch my image in the window; my cheeks are squished up into a fat smile, as I remember my Dad won’t end up like the dead man for a long time. My mother says he’s such a miserable bastard he will outlive us all, and I’m still young enough to believe that mother’s never lie.