The Dozen Doughnut Day

By Marie LeClaire

Kate was running late. She was always running late. Today, in particular, she had tried so hard to be early, and yet, here she was, running around at the last minute. “But today is important,” she scolded herself. “You’d think you could get your shit together for one freaking day!”

She’d changed her cloths a dozen times trying to get the best look she could. The more-than-a-few pounds she’d gained over the last year left her feeling fat and unattractive in everything she put on. She finally decided on a dark peach suit that almost fit. She knew the day was going to be bad no matter what she wore. Today was court day.

She grabbed her purse and ran out the door, deciding to get breakfast somewhere between home and the courthouse.

Dan’s Doughnut Den, right around the corner, had the best coffee around she told herself as she swung the car into the drive-up lane. She wasn’t planning on buying anything but coffee, but when she pulled up to the window and saw all those lovely treats lining the wall, she lost her resolve.

“A large black coffee and a dozen doughnuts. Mix’em up,” she barked to the girl at the window.

A moment later, the clerk passed the coffee and doughnuts through the drive-up window. She put the pink box on the seat beside her, set the coffee in the holder and drove off. Eating in the car had become the norm. In fact, she ate most of her meals that way. The Dashboard Diner a friend of hers called it. “What happened to my life?” she thought as she reached into the box beside her for her first nourishment of the day. The chocolate covered doughnut, the age-old standard of morning pastries, emerged delicately pinched between thumb and forefinger. It tasted particularly sweet today. It brought forth years of memories from childhood with her dad on Sunday mornings. They religiously stopped for doughnuts after church. Her dad ordered a baker’s dozen, a dozen plus one, so she could eat one in the car before they got home. She always picked chocolate covered. This morning, she allowed the sweetness of the doughnut and the loving memories to calm her nerves.

*   *   *

She hadn’t laid eyes on her husband for months and she wondered what he would look like when she saw him in court. He had mandated that all of their communication had go through their attorneys. Everyone thought it was better that way, but was it really? Was it better to destroy someone’s life without having to look at them? Easier maybe, but not better.

She never wanted this divorce. She tried everything to save her marriage. She still didn’t want it, even as she was driving to the courthouse for the final decree. She started to cry and reached over unconsciously into the doughnut box. The sugary morsel was inches from her mouth before she even realized it. “Fuck it,” she thought. “Today of all days I’m not going to worry about a few extra calories.” She bit into the honey glazed chocolate doughnut knowing it would steady her nerves and help her regain her composure. Once again, she felt the comfort of an old friend ease the pain just a tiny bit.

They tried counseling, to no avail. At first, she blamed the counselor for not fixing her marriage, but in her heart she knew it was already too late. “I can’t help if you are not both invested in making it work,” the therapist said when she closed their file. In her darkest moments, Kate ranted that the counselor didn’t know what she was doing or that counseling doesn’t work anyway, but she knew the counselor was right. Her husband was already emotionally gone by the time they got to their first appointment. In fact, the only reason he went at all was to prove that it wouldn’t work. Well, he proved it.

Kate brought her attention back to driving as she approached the courthouse. She took a ticket from the parking attendant, irritated that besides everything else she had to pay for parking. Time on the ticket: 8:58 AM. She had two minutes to get inside before she was technically late.

*  *  *

Kate returned to her car less than an hour later, divorced. She was shocked at how quickly the whole thing went down. Thirty-two years of marriage and of her life, wiped out in as many minutes. Her future got wiped out too, she thought. Past and future, both gone. Now, seated behind the steering wheel, she felt like she was standing still in time. “How did this happen?” she asked herself for the hundredth time. She looked down at the papers in her hand and burst into great sobbing tears.  Why wouldn’t he listen? Why wouldn’t he try? He never did give her a clear answer and yet, here she was, divorced. She tossed the papers into the back seat, her pain turning to anger now.

She pounded her head on the steering wheel, as if trying to derail her thoughts from their current course. She needed to get herself together. She had to go to work for the rest of the morning. She’d already taken too much time off and was worried about her job on top of everything else. She needed to do something to shake herself out of it. She spied the coffee from just an hour ago. Half full and still hot. She gulped it down, glad to have something else to do. The warm liquid was soothing.

She looked over and saw the doughnuts. She wasn’t going to get lunch today and the courtroom conclusion had sapped whatever energy she had mustered this morning. She reached over for an old fashion doughnut, rationalizing that at least it had less sugar than the others. The sensation of food in her body helped her to feel grounded, closer to normal. She took a deep breath and started the car.

She fought back tears as she drove away by insisting that her brain think about the immediate issues. She would get to work by 10:30 if traffic was in her favor. It would be nice if something went her way today. Check emails, make sure copies were made for the meeting at 11:00, check in with staff regarding yesterday’s crisis, and send invoices to billing. That ought to take her to 1 pm. As she parked her car at the office, she reached over to the box and grabbed the coconut crunch doughnut with a napkin to take in with her knowing she would be glad to have it as she worked through lunch.

*  *  *

Leaving her office promptly at 1 pm, she sat in the car for a moment before heading home. Gripping the steering wheel, she tried to settle the wave of tears that she’d been keeping at bay all morning. Tim was coming by the house at 1:30 to collect the last of his personal things and a few pieces of furniture identified in the divorce agreement. Kate’s attorney, Chelsea Rayburn, had done her best. Kate had refused to negotiate at first, hoping that time would change the tide. Chelsea had continued to advocate for Kate in spite of it and had pounded out a respectable agreement in the end.

Kate envisioned the gaping holes that Tim’s last visit would leave in her house and her life. It’s not like he wasn’t gone already. He hadn’t lived there in over six months. But now, his absence would be permanently visible. She felt exhausted. Will this day ever end? She didn’t have time to stop for lunch so she reached over to the box and grabbed a jelly-filled doughnut. “It’s kind of like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, right?” she thought. She took the first bite as she drove out of the office parking lot.

*  *  *

She had already decided that she wasn’t going to help him. It was her final act of resistance in the face of defeat. She had to let him take his things, but she certainly didn’t have to help. He’d already taken everything that really mattered anyway.

As she got closer to home, her anxiety about this last meeting with Tim began to mount. What will she say to him? What will he say to her? What is there left to say? She tried to envision her future. Nothing. It was like standing in front of a giant white wall that went out in all directions, a blank canvas demanding that she begin to paint. But she couldn’t. She had no vision, no plans, no hopes, no dreams. They were all gone as of today. The court dealt the final impersonal, unemotional blow. Her mind tediously began to rethink all the things she had been mulling over for months. Why did her mind insist on doing that? It was so pointless. None of this made any sense and she was starting to accept that maybe it never would. That realization was hard to wrap her brain around. What had she done to deserve this pain? How could she make it right? According to Tim, there was nothing she could do, had done, should have done that would change things. “I just don’t want to be married to you anymore,” was all he ever said.

She reached over and grabbed doughnut number six, blueberry, thinking how ridiculous this whole doughnut thing had become today. The idea of eating half a dozen doughnuts almost made her smile even in the face of the current situation. She knew that her life had suffered from all the stress. Not only had she gained weight but her job performance was suffering and she had isolated herself from all her friends. “Fuck it,” she thought again. “What’s the harm now. I just need to get through this day any way I can.”

*  *  *

The U-Haul was parked on the road opposite the house. At least he hadn’t backed it in to the driveway. Somehow it felt respectful to her that he waited on the street till she got home. Maybe he does still care, she thought. Maybe this isn’t over. Then she caught herself playing the game she’d played for months, taking one little insignificant detail and weaving all kinds of hope around it. This time she allowed her logical brain to override the storyline. In reality, there would be no surprise happy ending.

She got out of the car and headed into the house without looking back. She needed to get to the safety of her kitchen, a place where she had always felt peaceful. It held happy memories of their years together, their children’s laughter still echoed off the walls. There hadn’t been any art on the frig for years but she could see it now with her mind’s eye. How could he destroy it all for nothing? Not another woman, or even another man, for that matter. As far as she could see, he hadn’t traded up in any way, living in a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town.

She thought about all the meals that had taken place here, all the homework, all the birthday parties. They were happy, weren’t they? She wasn’t just remaking old memories to be better than they were, was she? She resolved to ask her daughter when she came by today. Marla was thirty now and lived in town. She had offered to stop by after Tim left, to sit with her for a while. Marla had taken the divorce hard as well. Although she didn’t take sides, she admitted that she didn’t understand what was happening. She felt like her father had somehow lost his mind. The theory could have work except that Tim continued to hold it together in all other aspects of his life. He continued to work at the same job, pay his bills, maintain his appearance and all other normal things, suggesting that this wasn’t some sort of breakdown.

She heard the tap at the kitchen door as the truck drove up into the driveway. Tim had hired a couple of moving men to help with the heavy things. Thank God. Her humiliation would have gone beyond tolerable if it had been friends of theirs helping Tim move out. This was bad enough. She braced herself before opening the door. She already decided that the least amount of conversation possible was the way to go. Their conversations usually spun emotionally out of control. She was determined to refrain from that extra pain today and maintain at least a minimum amount of dignity. She took a deep breath and opened the door.

“Hello Kate,” was all Tim said.

Her concern about talking too much proved unnecessary. As it happened, she was speechless, mute, getting more numb as the day went on. She just shook her head and looked away before Tim could see the tears forming in her eyes. As he walked by her into the house, she headed outside to get some air. She remembered the doughnuts in the car. Number seven was another chocolate covered. Once again, she felt the comfort of a child with her dad on a Sunday morning long ago. This time it was mixed with a numb disoriented feeling.

*  *  *

Kate was back in the car and on the way to the bank by 2:30. Tim insisted that they notarize the paperwork listing the items exchanged. Kate told him he didn’t have to go to all these lengths but he insisted, as if she was going to accuse him of something later. She reached into the pink box with resignation, being long past guilt or shame at the dwindling doughnut population. A cruller got her to the bank.

They sat apart waiting to be seen by the notary. Kate was spacing out more and more. Now the whole world seemed a bit remote, just out of touch. She watched herself get up as her name was called and take a seat at the desk. Tim handed the papers to the notary without comment. Maybe he was too embarrassed to explain, or maybe he didn’t care enough to. He was so calm it was disturbing. The poor bank clerk could feel the tension and tried to rush the process as fast as possible.

As she drove home, she looked forward to spending some time with her daughter who was coming over to sit with her for a while. Then she remembered there was a message on her voice mail. The call came in while Tim was in the house and she had decided to ignore it for the moment. She looked at the phone. It was from Marla.

“Hi Mom.” Her daughter sounded tired. “I know you’re having a bad day but I’m going to be late. Something came up at work and I can’t leave until it’s resolved. I know it’s bad timing. I wanted to be there so you wouldn’t be by yourself. Sorry. I’ll come by as soon as I can.”

Seriously? Will this miserable day ever be over! Suddenly she was angry at her daughter. “Damn it!” Kate cursed as she banged on the steering wheel. “Can’t I have just one person standing in my corner today? Just for one damn day?” The light suddenly turned red and Kate slammed on the breaks, jolting her out of her temper tantrum. She took a deep breath. What was she thinking? Of course, Marla had to take care of work. She calmed down with a few deep breaths and a cinnamon twist.

*  *  *

It was 3:30 when she unlocked the back door. Immediately, she sensed the missing items even without actually seeing their empty spaces. Both dining and living rooms had been pillaged but the kitchen had remained untouched. She wondered how long she could avoid the rest of the house. For a few more minutes, at least. She set the doughnut box on the counter. There were three left. She knew it without opening the lid. She put water on for tea then got a plate from the cabinet. On it she placed the two remaining chocolate covered doughnuts, her daughter’s favorite, for later.  One custard filled doughnut remained. Without even the slightest self-deprecation, she had it with her tea.

She finally got up the nerve to go into the other rooms where she busied herself cleaning out the empty places and shifting things around to disguise the loss. She was contemplating where to put the floral arrangement that had rested on the piano when she heard her daughter come in through the kitchen.

“Hey Mom,” she called out.

“I’m in here,” Kate called back, suddenly flustered, looking around for somewhere to put the flowers.

Her daughter stood in the kitchen, looking at the empty doughnut box and the two remaining doughnuts on the table. “Mom? Please tell me you did not eat a dozen doughnuts today,” she said with disappointment and concern.

Kate rounded the corner into the kitchen, smiled weakly and said, “Not if you’re going to have one.”