Confessions of an Ex Vegan Donut Baker | Lindsey Danis
I gave away a thousand donuts to the wrinkled old church ladies who brought their grandkids to the Holy Roller Sunday school next door. I stood outside in my borrowed apron, sugar glaze crusted over my hands and said as He did, take, eat.
A shrunken man in a little league jacket shuffled over, worn shoes stuttering across cracked concrete. He took two chocolate peanut donuts and asked me for beer money.
Up the block a woman leaned out of the apartment and yelled. On the sidewalk, the contents of a plastic trash bag scattered. Empty pint bottles, thick sweatpants, cigarette butts, nothing that even a meth addict would want.
I traded coconut donuts to your friend from down the block in exchange for half a Mexican coke.
The first thing I broke by accident. One day a rough metal screw fell off the glazing trough and into the donut glazer. It disappeared in the thick white glaze faster than you’d think. Without it, the trough hiccoughed glaze unevenly across the hot-now-cooling donuts. So I scooped glaze with a baker’s comb and then with my bare hand.
The glazer was a mammoth contraption, its surface flecked with spatters of yellow, brown, and pink glaze. The sides of the glazer crusted over with dried glaze; the bottom wore a jacket of crystallized sugar that would never come up. I wondered if it would ever turn bad.
Two days later I found the screw stuck on the dried-up sugar bed. It took me two more days to get the screw back into place using a cleaver handle for leverage but I didn’t tell you any of this.
This is what I did on a normal morning, after getting to work a half-hour late: Filled the fryer with organic palm oil, turned on Energy 92.7, finished my coffee and checked email while I made the batter, put the donut hopper together, dropped donuts. Filled the fryer with twenty, pushed them backward with drumsticks before dropping ten to fifteen more. They looked like alien UFOs as they fell from the hopper to the fry oil and sank briefly out of sight.
When the dough bubbled and turned the color of a greasy paper lunch bag it was time to flip the donuts with a drumstick. One stick through the O-ring and one on top, man under. Repeat. Vanilla, blueberry, chocolate. Frozen blueberries popped in the fryer oil.
When the sink fell apart in my hands I plugged my fingers under the valve, and when I couldn’t stop the gushing water I ran outside to feel the sun on my chilled fingers. One minute I’d been washing the dishes and the next minute the faucet came off in my hand and water started spraying straight out. That time I called you, I think I’m gonna flood the donut shop, you might wanna get down here. Me running around looking for a clean towel cause I didn’t wanna touch the valve with bare hands.
Then I used the long-handled broom to push the water, slop slop slop, from one end of the kitchen toward the only drain in the center of the room. Hit it too hard and the water careened toward the back. The floor never looked so clean. I crossed the Bay Bridge half-naked in boxers and an old tee that had been kicking around the car.
I ate nothing but Cheetos and coca cola from the bodega next door. Earthquake weather started, those flat dry days made hotter in the dark shop. I worked with the lights off so I wouldn’t have to look at the grime. We’d run out of ammonia, then bleach, then soap. I did dishes with hand soap, washed the floor with water, left you voice messages of inventory lists, tried not to use the word again, tried not to breathe as I walked to get the mop, the sweet-sick stench of rot by the utility sink.
I watched a pregnant woman suck a cigarette as she waited between the bodega and the Holy Roller church, outfitted in a yellow stretch jersey and gold lamé leggings.
One day my hand started rotting, a thick bumpy brown patch on the fleshy pad of my thumb. I burned through a pack and a half of gloves and soaked my hands in apple cider vinegar and water until the rash went away. I thought about calling OSHA then, or the health inspector, but the health inspector had already dropped by.
I gambled on whether you’d come by the shop when I locked up early for a walk break. Around the corner prefab condo units with faux tin siding placed African grasses in ornamental urns, but the graffiti on the street corners name-checked Malcolm X and Johannes Meserle. Walk too far and you’d hit the freeway. It was hot outside and dry, and I’d stop in the shade of the park and watch kids shoot hoop. Back in the shop I’d lock myself in and watch the light slip away.
This is what I did in the afternoons: Pulled sheet trays from the baker’s rack, stirred the glaze. Dipped, waited, checked the run of the glaze. Added more 10X sugar if it ran fast and water if glaze puddled in the donut hole. Dip, dip, dip. At night I’d find glaze in my elbows, pants pockets, smeared on my iPod and in the whorls of my ears. Finish a flavor, repeat.
One day I let your girlfriend take me to the farmers’ market while I was supposed to be at work. She’d cut a lock of my hair, which was buzzed except for bangs that fell into my face and made me look like an anime heroine or a cheap Tank Girl knockoff. Did she tell you that?
I dropped paper-bag beers when the cops rolled by and would not give away my change to the stooped man in the baseball jacket who had the DT’s.
It was Memorial Day weekend when I quit and July when I traded in my key for my last paycheck.
This is what I did in the end: Packed the donuts in boxes for your supermarkets and cafés, labeled the boxes. Swabbed the counters with a dirty towel dipped in bleach and water or vinegar and water or sometimes just water if we were out of everything else. Washed the sheet pans and drip racks, swept the floor, held my breath to fill the mop bucket. It always smelled sweet like dead things. Washed the floor with ammonia and water or bleach and water or sometimes just water. Turned off the lights, locked the door, tried not to cry.
Lindsey Danis is a freelance and creative writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her fiction has been published in journals including The Furnace Review, The Blueprint Review, The Square Table, and Word Riot. She is forever working on a novel. When not writing, she enjoys hiking, home brewing, stand up paddleboarding and travel.