Don’t eat that donut. If you touch that last donut, I swear to God I’ll throw this coffee in your face.
Meg’s cup was little more than room temperature, but she willed it to bubble like deep-fryer grease, imagining splatters of molten brew searing the flesh off of Janey’s Nordic cheekbones.
Janey pinched the pastry box top with scarlet fingernails. “Boston Creme. Hmmm.” Her lips, pursed in thought, still had a smudge of powder from the last of the apple-jellies.
I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you-I’ll kill you-I’ll kill you. Meg slurped another spoonful of leftover fruit salad, spongy and slightly fermented from a week in her mother’s fridge. Fruit, then the donut. Fruit, donut.
She’d been surreptitiously arranging the pastries all morning, always keeping her favorites in reserve so that there might be one left by the time the rest of the staff had had their fill. It was all about the angles; a lemon tart here, a twist of the box. Another chocolate glazed gone, a twist of the box. Angles and smiles, and Meg’s co-workers each made harmless choices, following her plan without even realizing it.
Janey swiped the powdered sugar from her lips and arched an eyebrow. I’ll kill you, Meg thought again, spooning fruit salad down her throat.
“Listen,” Janey said, sinking into a chair. “I want to ask you a favor, but only if you really have the time. Tell me if you don’t, and I’ll get Sam to do it. But I’d really prefer that you did this because you have a much keener eye for detail. So, we’ve got to get the sale fliers to the printer by tomorrow and we need them proofed…” she paused to take a sip of her own coffee and grimaced. “Ugh!”
“What’s wrong? Bitter?” Meg dropped her spoon into her bowl and bustled to the supply cabinet. “Bill made the last batch, I’ll bet. He never measures. Three-quarters cup is all it needs, but he just heaps it in…”
With a heavy sigh, Meg set to assembling all the brew parts along the counter in order of use: canister, measuring cup, liner, basket, pitcher. The pitcher handle faced the sink so that all she had to do was lift with her right hand while she turned the faucet with the left, then swoop the full brew basket into the machine while she poured.
Janey’s nails began to click against her mug. The sound sent spikes of rage along Meg’s spine. She nearly dropped the pitcher.
“Oh, Meg. You take such good care of us.”
Meg turned and smiled, daring a quick glance at the donut box. The Boston Creme was still there. She relaxed into her chair and sipped from her own coffee, now cold as well as bitter.
I hate you.
“So can you do the proof before you leave tonight?” Under the table, Janey re-crossed her long legs so that her stiletto heel dangled inches from Meg’s shin.
Meg reached for her spoon and tried to keep her hand from shaking. “Um,…” I’m up to my neck in receipts since you told me you want the accounts in numerical order now, not chronological, and I’m behind in that because Alan and Trish and Fester all called out today so no one is handling the special orders and someone needs to revise the schedule, which I’m sure as hell you won’t trouble yourself over…
Janey beamed. “Oh, thank you. God, that’s great.”
Meg nodded, hiding her eyes behind the bowl as she brought it to her lips. She emptied noxious, pinkish liquid into her mouth and swallowed.
Janey unfolded her legs and clipped Meg’s knee with the toe of her shoe. “Oh! Gosh, I’m sorry,” she purred.
Meg clenched her teeth. “It’s okay. I’m okay. Really.”
Janey turned away. Meg watched her dump her coffee into the sink, splashing muddy droplets onto the counter that Meg had just wiped clean. Then she pulled the carafe from the brew-maker, still in mid-cycle, to pour herself a new cup. Meg squeezed her eyes shut again as new coffee dripped onto the hot-plate. She imagined Janey’s prone body pressed inside a giant waffle iron, each drop and sizzle a part of her percolated death-rattle.
“You’re not going to eat this, are you, Sweetie?” came Janey’s voice, syrupy sweet in Meg’s ear.
Meg’s heart lurched at the sound of the donut box sliding across the table and the wax paper heralding release of the last Boston Creme with a gentle, almost melancholy crinkle.
“No,” Meg whispered.
Shannon Connor Winward is the author of the Elgin-Award winning chapbook Undoing Winter and winner of the Delaware Division of the Arts 2018 Individual Artist Fellowship in Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Pseudopod’s Artemis Rising Series, Star*Line, PerVisions, Strange Horizons, Killing It Softly 2: Best by Women in Horror (Digital Fiction), Gargoyle, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. In between parenting, writing, and other madness, Shannon is a foodie, a Celt, an armchair anthropologist, a dragon mother/advocate, and a nerd (by marriage). She is also a poetry editor for Devilfish Review and founding editor of Riddled with Arrows, an online journal dedicated to metafiction, ars poetica, and writing that celebrates the process and product of writing as art. Shannon’s first full-length poetry collection, The Year of the Witch, is forthcoming from Sycorax Press. Find out more at her website.
Author-in-hiding, Digital Artist-in-training, Student-in-perpetuum