Cupcake

by A.N. Block

If I’ve ever been booked, Junior asks.

Come again? I fold my hands and force a smile, to show how polite I am, to create an impression.

You have a record?

I’m like: A record? Of what?

Arrests, convictions. Don’t lie, he says, I can look it up easy.

Look, I tell him, all’s I’m doing is answering an ad.

I have to ask this, he says. In the business I’m in.

Go ahead, Mister, it’s all on that paper, my entire background.

Student protests? he asks, winking. Any sit-ins?

I put all truthful answers, I’m clean as a whistle.

He picks up the grayish application form at which point I tug my hem down to cover the scar on my knee.

Mmm, yeah, I dig those boots, he says, laughing, slapping the arm of his chair. Whoah! Yeah! Where’d you get those?

I clear my throat and reach down for the pepper spray.

Training starts once the finger prints come back.

Locked in a basement, “for your own protection,” Junior emphasizes, midnight to 8, surrounded by iron bars, monitoring electronic beeps and calling our burglar alarm investigators on the walkie-talkie at the first sign of trouble. I keep the pepper spray on the table, just in case. This is all my fancy degree amounts to on the current job market, Ma, I explain. My Epistemology classes.

I fix sandwiches with almond butter I hand grind at The Coop, (part of a new self-improvement campaign) smeared over slices of coarse grained organic pumpkin seed bread, I fill a thermos with dark roasted coffee. Nights pass without an alarm ringing, not even one tripped by a cat.

The chain letter I threw away from Dad’s crazy cousin, is that it? Back and forth, pacing the concrete floor, wondering where I went wrong. Climbing up to snap pictures of the rusted bars, the highlight of each shift.

Soul searching all night. The truth being, whatever you accomplish after 3 a.m. is of questionable value. Jeff, Eric, Robbie, trying to put names to the faces. Whispers, raised legs and the scent of fresh mint leaves That grad student twerp from the Midwest somewhere, who even remembers?

Pericles is darting up and back across the street by the time I get home. Seething, penned up in this concrete yard right by my window, baring his long choppers and hurling his flank against the chain link fence whenever a leaf blows. Not the end of the world, I tell Mom, staring out the window, but whenever I’m about to drop off he starts freaking out.

Five days later the headaches begin. So I ring Fritz’s bell and take a deep breath.

Girlie, he says, patting his bowling ball belly, you know your left eye’s halfway shut. You don’t look right.

Well, if you must know, I explain, it’s Pericles.

Dog was here first, he goes. He takes off his yellow tinted glasses, loops his thumbs in the straps of stained undershirt. Don’t like it? Move!

Thanks.

I smother my head under pillows but there’s no blotting out Junior’s thin creepy mustache, the pistol he wears in his gross shoulder holster. Or the way he keeps winking, saying “you New Yorkers.” Fritz either. I stagger to the kitchen thinking, there’s no way out. Pericles throws a conniption, hoarse, yelping, it’s frightful to listen.

I stretch out on the couch, light a cigarette stub, open this Diane Arbus book I got for my twenty-third birthday and end up staring, trying to absorb some random page of text until the walls start revolving. Pondering, Is patience a virtue? And, whose idea was this?

So? You’re a “late bloomer,” my mother says, don’t worry, Cupcake. Make the most of it.

Yeah? Who’s to say there’ll be any blooming?

It’s an in-between period, she suggests, in the midst of some phase.

From what though to what? Is that not the question?

The shadowy upstate winter descends, bitter, interminable.

Pericles fades into hibernation.

And me, I can’t stop reading the news, I can’t get over it. How I don’t trust that Rose Mary Woods for one second. With those prim little dresses, how she’s so full of it.

Slick with sweat, eleven o’clock, no way to adjust the heat down, with the windows rattling, laying here, stuck in this Tundra, losing track of exactly what day it is, who I am, where I come from, how to get from point A to point B, because none of it matters now that I’m all out of aspirin.

 

Weeks pass, everything’s frozen, the sun’s just a mockery.

It’s not the end of the world, Dad says, let’s not make a big deal out of it.

What? I said into the phone. It is a big deal though. The biggest!

Not really, he says, his voice wavering.

But how could this be? In the blink of an eye? Both of you? Gone?

It’s inevitable.

I can’t hear you? What?

Stop and think, he whispers, there’s a lot worse things. After a while you learn to adjust.

But wait say, kicking my legs, eyes flickering. Wait!

 

A.N. Block is a master of wine from Wellesley, Mass. who has published dozens of non-fiction pieces on wine and food.