Friday, 16 April 2021

Jelly Donuts

 

by Steve Carr

red wine

 

An icy breeze blew in through the front glass door, being held open by Rose, who waited as Mrs. Lewinsky tried to persuade her dachshund to enter the building while tugging lightly on the dog’s rhinestone studded leash.

‘Now be Mommy’s little precious, Filbert, and come inside,’ Mrs. Lewinsky cooed to the dog as she raised her ankle-length fur coat to her calves and knelt down, almost face-to-face with the pet.

It seemed intent on standing absolutely still and watched its owner purse her heavily rouged lips and blow kisses like an over-excited goldfish.

Rose wanted to laugh, but on the first morning of the new job, she knew better. ‘May I offer some help?’ she said.

Mrs. Lewinsky looked up at Rose. ‘You’re that new concierge I met when my honey-poo and I left on our little morning walk, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I’m Rose,’ she said. ‘I used to be a dog-walker so I may be able to help you out.’

Mrs. Lewinsky peered at Rose, thoughtfully, her left eyebrow raised. ‘Filbert isn’t just any dog that obeys just anybody,’ she said. ‘Sweetums and I have a very special relationship.’  She turned back to the dachshund. ‘Don’t we kissy-face?’ she said.

The dog sat on its haunches and stared blankly at Mrs. Lewinsky. 

Rose shivered as a cold wind swept over her. ‘Have you tried ignoring Filbert to see what he does?’

“I could never ignore my little lamb,” Mrs. Lewinsky said. ‘Did you ignore the dogs you walked?’

‘Well, no, but that was diff . . .’

Mrs. Lewinsky cut her off with a wave of the hand. ‘I’m sure it was much different, but that is my point, exactly. Filbert isn’t just some ordinary dog that can be walked around by just anyone.’

A UPS van pulled up to the curb. The driver got out holding three packages in his arms.

Thinking about ways she could get around Mrs. Lewinsky’s logic, Rose watched as the driver walked up to the doors, looked first at Mrs. Lewinsky, Filbert, and then at her.

‘There a problem?’ he asked.

‘Mrs. Lewinsky can’t get her dog to come inside,’ Rose said.

The driver shifted his packages to one arm, leaned down, picked the dog up with the other arm and walked into the building lobby, leaving Rose and Mrs. Lewinsky staring after him, their mouths agape.

Mrs. Lewinsky rose up, pushed past Rose, and ran in behind the driver. She grabbed Filbert from him, and with a loud ‘harrumph’ turned and stormed across the lobby to the elevators and pushed the elevator buttons on the brass plate on the wall. She placed the dog on the floor beside her, the leash shortened and wrapped around her arm, and tapped her foot impatiently as she waited.

Rose closed the door, and uncertain if she should try to assuage Mrs. Lewinsky’s outrage or tend to the packages being delivered, she turned to the driver. ‘You had no right doing that,’ she hissed, her voice just above a whisper. ‘Clearly she loves that dog.’

He chuckled. ‘Oh that,’ he said. ‘I’m well acquainted with Mrs. Lewinsky and Filbert. That’s not love. It’s a power struggle.’ He paused for a moment. ‘You must be the new day concierge.’

‘Yes I am,’ she said, trying to sound more self-assured than she felt.

‘Pleased to meet you. I’m Tony Milan,’ he said. ‘This is my first stop almost every morning.’

‘I’m Rose Gentry,’ she said. ‘I assume those packages are for residents in this building?’

He grinned, showing off a beautifully white, perfectly straight set of teeth. ‘It’s why I carried them in.’

She blushed, turned, and walked towards the concierge stand. Over her shoulder she said, ‘I meant . . . er . . .oh never mind.’ She went behind the stand and waited and watched as he placed the packages on the table next to the stand. She wondered if his legs got cold in the shorts he was wearing, but stopped herself from asking.

The bell on the elevator rang and the door opened. Mrs. Lewinsky entered the elevator, dragging Filbert in along with her. As the doors closed she glowered at Tony.

Tony leaned on the stand and eyed Rose up and down as if inspecting her. ‘You’re much prettier than the previous concierge,’ he said.

‘The previous concierge was a man,’ she said, crossing her arms. ‘Now that you’ve made your delivery, I’m certain you have other packages to be delivered elsewhere.’

‘I know when I’m being given the heave-ho,’ he said, laughing. He pulled his coat tight around him and walked to the doors. Before going out, he asked her, ‘What do you prefer, bear claws or jelly donuts?’

‘I’m a vegetarian,’ she said.

He burst out laughing and went out the doors.

‘I’m a vegetarian,’ she said aloud several times hearing how ridiculous the non-sequitur sounded as she smacked her forehead with her open hand.

#

The apartment Rose was given to live in as part of the payroll package for being a concierge was on the sixth floor. It was furnished expensively and the apartment itself was more luxurious than she was used to, so she spent the first few hours after getting off work mostly just walking around, examining everything while making a halfhearted attempt to unpack her boxes and put things away. She spent an extended amount of time at the window that looked out on the river, returning to it any time she needed to reassure herself that she wasn’t dreaming: she had an actual view! There was ice on the river and the trees were bare, but while holding a hot cup of tea and wearing her favorite fluffy slippers, she felt like she was living in paradise. Before going to sleep and lying on the bed, she called her best friend, Rachel.

‘I met this most annoying guy today, named Tony,’ she said, starting off the conversation. She then went on to describe his dazzling smile, thick curly black hair, muscular but hairy legs, deep baritone voice, and how he exuded so much self-confidence.

When Rose stopped to take a breath, Rachel said, ‘I think you have a crush.’

‘Nonsense,” Rose said. ‘Didn’t you hear me tell you how annoying he was?’

After the phone call, Rose placed the cellphone on the stand next to the bed, turned off the lamp, and rolled onto her side, cuddling a pillow.

The sound of her alarm clock beeping startled her into awaking, not remembering when she had fallen asleep. She sat up, mumbling to herself. ‘Rachel’s insane. Me having a crush on that jerk. Ha!’  She crawled out of bed, showered, ate a small breakfast, and dressed for work, all the while thinking about Tony. The only piece of clothing she had to wear that signified she was the concierge was a dark green jacket that had brass buttons, She slipped it on over her pale yellow dress and glanced at herself in the mirror. Feeling okay about how she looked, she left her apartment. By the time the elevator reached the lobby she had forgotten about her talk with Rachel and about Tony. The night concierge, Patrick, barely exchanged two words as he stepped aside and she took her place behind the stand. He had made it clear during her hiring process that he had wanted the day shift position.

She spent the next hour opening the doors for the tenants leaving for work and sweeping away the dead leaves that were carried in on icy gusts of wind each time a door was opened. When Mrs. Lewinsky stepped out of the elevator with Filbert in tow on a jeweled leash different from the day before and crossed the lobby, Rose almost stumbled trying to reach the door first, hoping extra kindness and attention would repair any damage that had been done the day before. Mrs. Lewinsky walked past her taking no notice of her, tightening the grip she had on Filbert’s leash as he bolted ahead, quickly seeking a place in the small area of grass just outside the front doors to take a poop.

Tony’s UPS van pulled up to the curb a few minutes after Mrs. Lewinsky and Filbert were no longer in sight. He hopped out of the van carrying one large box. A white paper bag hung from his clenched teeth.

Rose watched him walk up to the door, but remained behind the stand as he momentarily struggled to open the door until he hoisted the box onto one shoulder and held it there with one hand while opening the door with the other. He walked across the lobby and placed the box on the table and then took the paper bag from his mouth and placed it on the stand. ‘I brought you something,’ he said cheerfully.

‘What is it?’ she said, hiding her annoyance that he didn’t seem irritated in the least that she hadn’t opened the door for him.

‘Open it and see,’ he said as he leaned on the stand.

She opened the bag and peered in. ‘That’s a bear claw, isn’t it?’

‘Yep. Just for you.’

‘Bear claws have almond paste and I’m allergic to almonds,’ she said. She wadded the top of the bag and handed it back to him.

He appeared crestfallen for a moment and then quickly rebounded. ‘I’d like to take you out sometime,’ he said with a huge smile.

She couldn’t look away from what she was certain was actual twinkling in his eyes. ‘Why?’

‘You intrigue me.’

A movement in front of the building drew her attention away from him. Mrs. Lewinsky was coming up the walkway. She was walking backward and tugging on Filbert’s leash. The dog was tugging the other direction.

‘Uh oh,’ Rose said louder than she meant to. She rushed to the door and opened it. ‘Do you need any help, Mrs. Lewinsky?’ she said.

Mrs. Lewinsky turned her head and scowled. ‘Dearest Filbert is being a bit peevish this morning,’ she said. She turned back, facing the dog who hadn’t budged an inch. ‘C’mon dumpling, show this young woman what a treasure you can be.’

At the stand, Tony was laughing hysterically.

Rose could feel her teeth chattering as the cold air washed over her. She turned and mouthed the words to him, ‘Do something!’

He opened the bag, took out the bear claw, and walked to the door. He bent down and held out the pastry. ‘Here ya go, Filbert old boy, a treat just for you,’ he said.

Filbert lifted his snout, took several sniffs, and then ran past Mrs. Lewinsky. When he reached the door, Tony took a few steps back, waving the bear claw, drawing the dog inside. Still holding onto the stretched leash, Mrs. Lewinsky followed behind.

‘Don’t give that to my Filbert, you awful man,’ she said.

Tony put the bear claw back in the bag and placed the bag back on the stand. ‘It was her idea,’ he said, pointing at Rose.

‘No it wa . . .’ Rose started to say in protest.

‘Pick you up tonight at eight?’ he said interrupting her, smiling from ear-to-ear.

She nodded, hesitantly.

He started toward the door, but stopped to kiss Mrs. Lewinsky on the cheek before going out.

#

When Rachel called at six, Rose didn’t mention she would be going on a date in two hours with Tony. All day she had thought of canceling the date but didn’t know how to contact him and she didn’t like standing a guy up. She wasn’t entirely certain why she had even agreed to it other than he made her knees go weak. She listened to Rachel blather on endlessly about her job as a florist. Rose liked flowers, especially given that she was named after one, but as she curled her hair for the date, they weren’t what she wanted to hear about at all. She really wanted to talk about the effect Tony had on her.

After the call and with her long auburn hair coiffed to perfection, she sat at the window and stared out at the lights from the city on the other side of the frozen river while sipping on a glass of wine. She rested her head against the back of the chair and slowly drifted off to sleep.

Her eyes snapped open. Bleary-eyed she glanced at her watch. It was two hours past the time she was supposed to have left on the date with Tony. The half empty glass of wine had fallen into her lap, leaving a large stain on the dress she had planned to wear. She jumped up, looked around for her cellphone hoping there would be a text message, then she remembered they hadn’t exchanged numbers. She ran to her door and threw it open, wondering if he had knocked and she didn’t hear him, and had left a message pinned to the door, but no, the evening concierge would have stopped him in the lobby and then called her. She slammed the door closed, tossed the phone onto the sofa, and ran into the bedroom.  At the vanity dresser mirror she gazed at herself, horrified. Her hair was as disheveled as if she had spent an entire night tossing and turning in bed. Her lipstick was smeared, giving her face a clownish appearance. She sat down on the edge of her bed as tears streamed down her face.

‘I’ll kill him for standing me up like this,’ she muttered.

#  

The next morning, still feeling bruised by being stood up by Tony, Rose stood at the concierge stand flipping through menus from local restaurants. The only remotely kind words Patrick had said to her since their initial meeting as he tossed them to her, was, ’You better be informed about the local restaurants. Tenants sometimes want recommendations on where to eat out.’

Forgetting for a few minutes to keep an eye on the elevator and who was coming out of it, Mrs. Lewinsky had gotten almost to the door before Rose looked up from a menu and saw the woman and her dog. Rose dashed across the lobby and pushed the door open just in time.

Pulling Filbert along behind her, Mrs. Lewinsky glared at her, wagged her finger at her, and said, ‘You better be careful or you’ll be next.’ She went down the walkway ignoring Filbert’s desperate attempt to be allowed to poop in the grass.

Rose closed the door. ‘Be next?’ she mumbled aloud. ‘What does that mean?’ Just as she began to turn to go back to the stand, the UPS van pulled up to the curb. She gave thought to locking the door and leaving Tony out in the cold, but when a different driver got out of the van, she was suddenly overcome with concern for Tony. When the driver reached the door carrying two small packages and a white paper bag she opened the door for him. ‘What happened to Tony?’ she blurted out.

‘He was fired yesterday. Some customer from this building called and said he had threatened her dog. The lady put out a restraining order on him. He can’t get within a hundred feet of here without facing being arrested.”

Feeling nauseous and guilty, she leaned against the plate glass window next to the doors.

‘Tony asked me to give you this,’ the driver said, handing her the bag.

She quickly tore it open, already suspecting what was inside it. A jelly donut.

Also in the bag was his cellphone number written on a heart shaped piece of paper.

#

Six months later Rose and Tony sat on the grassy bank of the river tossing pebbles into the slowly moving current. The scent of dandelions and buttercups hung in the air.

‘Now that Mrs. Lewinsky is moving out and you got your old job back we can live together in that building after we’re married,’ Rose said.

‘Who said we’re getting married?’ he said as he put his arm around her and pulled her close to him? ‘There you go assuming things again.’

‘What have I assumed?’

‘That I fell in love with you at first sight.’

She batted her eyes playfully. ‘You did though, didn’t you?’

‘It was just a crush. But I don’t go around bragging about it,’ he said with a chuckle.

‘Well, we have to get married now,’ she said.

‘We do?’

‘Yes, I finally found a bakery that will make a wedding cake that looks like a giant jelly donut.’

About the author

Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 500 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. His novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

      

     

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