A Dozen Doughnuts an A Dead Man

I was only nine years old when I 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, a drizzly annoying rain that lingers. The greyness and quiet of the day is comforting, balanced between a dead storm and the excitement and enthusiasm a sunny day brings. The sidewalks are nearly dry when I set out to walk to the Valley Plaza around eleven a.m., but the streets hold baby puddles here and there, deeper 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, looking forward to finding something special at the Five & Ten to spend my money on, but mostly I think about going to Carrols for a burger and fries, the fries are the best, cooked in lard that was used before the government insisted restaurants use healthier oils to fry foods. Assholes. I was just coming up to the Sixty Now Pharmacy. I’ve never been sure what that name meant. Sixty Pills? Sixty Minutes? I was walking faster, because I was almost to my destination, but 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. The only movement I was aware of was my face duplicating the horrific, wide-eyed, scrunched brow, open mouth; I just saw the devil look the man wore. It seemed like I stood that way forever, but I’m sure it was no more than a split second when 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. She follows my stare to the dead man, begins screaming, and then quickly turns and buries her face in the chest of the man behind her. It’s clear they are together; he pulls her close, shielding her from the sight of the dead man as he pets her hair. The man yells at me, “who is he? What happened?” My head is shaking; I have no voice. I want to scream at these two people and tell them to do something for the man. But I’m dumb. I’m a kid, and I’m scared. Instead, I drop down onto my knees beside the man and crazy thoughts enter my head. Whom were the doughnuts for? Did he have a family? I thought how average he looked. Just like my dad, who often carried doughnuts home after a morning spent drinking coffee and socializing at the Mister Doughnut, a couple blocks away. A deep sadness punches me in the gut. 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. The woman places her hand on his, stopping him, her mouth curled with distaste. She gives him a secret look, shakes her head.  He pulls the coat back on. I think of my dad again, reach out, and hold the dead man’s cold hand. I’m not afraid of him anymore. I’m afraid of what I see in the grown-ups responses.  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, frequently sleeps in one ally or another, he was bound to end up this way.” The couple nods as if all is well then. I leave the adults, who have become animated, with lots to say about the dead man and continued to the Valley Plaza. As I take my first bite I of the skinny French fry 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. I promise myself to always wear clean underwear, in case death sneaks up on me and I will keep my secret memories in my head, not a diary. So no one will ever know them. I think about my dad again and smile, knowing he 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.

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