Muffins and a Sweet Tart

Muffins and a Sweet Tart

Dave visits a neighborhood cafe for a blueberry muffin and is surprised with a lemony tart.


Literary fiction


James Wassom (United States)

Blueberry muffins, cigarettes. Why am I so stupid? Jennifer Jones. I knew I shouldn’t have taken a break from work, and for what? Muffins. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
My cousin, Bob, and I are partners in a painting business. We’ve had a good run painting remodeled apartments in that gentrified neighborhood near the downtown post office. When we arrived to begin a new job at Park Place Apartments this morning, we found the property owner hadn’t delivered the paint they had promised.
“Too bad we aren’t getting paid by the hour,” I said.
“Maybe we could bill for extra pay this morning,” said Bob.
“Go ahead. Send a bill. You’ll never get anything for it.”
“Nothing to do until they get here.”
“Maybe I’ll go get something to eat. I only had one egg for breakfast and now I can’t think of anything but eating. I’ll just go over to Evelyn’s café, the one next to Lincoln Park. They’ve been advertising a special price on fresh muffins. Now I’m thinking I need a blueberry muffin.”
“Why do you need a blueberry muffin?”
“It’s part of my plan to stop smoking. If I don’t smoke, I treat myself to something else I like. Today I have a craving for a blueberry muffin.”
“What if the paint comes when you’re gone? It’s a big order. It could get ripped off if it’s left outside.”
“Couldn’t you just wait here? Lay out drop cloths or something. I need my muffin.”
“Make it quick.”
I’d never been to Evelyn’s café before. As I walked in, a bell over the door jingled. Inside was a lunch counter, booths, and tables – a survivor from the 50s. Sitting at the counter, I watched a waitress serve a blueberry muffin to a woman at a table. Something about her attracted my eye, even though she was seated facing away from me, but it was the muffin that commanded my attention. When the waitress came to take my order, I asked, “could I get a coffee and muffin to go?”
She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language, impatiently tapped her notepad with a ballpoint pen, and said, “To go? Sure, if you carry it in your stomach.”
“Right. I’d like coffee and a blueberry muffin.”
“I’d love to bring you a blueberry muffin, but I just served the last one. We still have bran muffins. Guaranteed delicious.”
“Oh. Just the coffee.”
“Cream ‘n sugar?”
Then the customer with the last blueberry muffin turned enough for me to recognize her. Jennifer Jones. Jennifer works at Blue Skies Realty on State Street. That’s how I met her. Last fall she hired me and Bob to repaint some apartments in a building Blue Skies was managing. Sitting there, I remembered when I went to pick up our final payment for the painting job. I planned to ask her for a date, but walked out saying only, “Bye.” I walked a block to my car, turned around, went back to Blue Skies, and sheepishly said, “Would you like to go out to dinner Saturday night?”
“I was planning to . . . Sure.”
So we went to Maxine’s in the restored Commerce Building. It was a pleasant October night, and lots of people were downtown. Some were going to eat or see a show, others were bar hopping. Anyway, half way through the meal a girlfriend of Jennifer’s happened upon us, drunk and on the verge of being sick, and Jennifer ended up taking her home. Now it’s spring and I’m at the café wondering if I should speak to her. I sipped on my coffee, thinking . . . I’ll ask Jennifer to share her muffin with me. Then strike up a conversation. And ask if she would go out with me again. So, I walked over to Jennifer’s table and slid into the chair opposite hers. I was trying to be casual, but barely managed to say, “Hi Jennifer. I haven’t seen you around lately. How are things?”
Jennifer looked up with a slight smile, “Things are OK,” then she frowned and said, “I don’t recall inviting you to sit here.”
“I’ve never been to this café before. Now I’m glad I came.”
“I’m not sure I am.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“What do you think?”
“You act like I did something to make you mad. OK maybe I did, but it wasn’t totally my fault. Anyway that was six months ago.”
“My girlfriend was sick and you were rude to her.”
“She was drunk, and interrupted our dinner.”
“She was sick.”
“I was anxious to have the date go well. I over reacted. I’m sorry. Maybe we could have dinner again. I could try to make it up to you.”
“No, Mr. Suave.”
I was feeling clumsy and didn’t speak for a minute. I sipped my coffee and began to think of the muffin.
“Well, maybe you could think about it. Could I have part of your muffin?”
“You jerk! You just wanted to bum a muffin off of me.”
“Just half.”
“No! Go get your own.”
“You got the last one!”
Then she took a bite of her muffin, chewing it slowly, and making a big thing of how she enjoyed eating it said, “This is the best muffin I ever ate. Mmm. I bet you wish you had one.”
I took out a cigarette and said, “I guess I’ll go outside and have a smoke.” I wanted to be cool about it, but I couldn’t find a match. So I asked Jennifer, “do you have a match?”
She perked up, and looking very pleased and sassy, said, “A match? Yeah. Your face and my ass.”
So, I’m flustered and a little ticked off, and I abruptly stood up, which knocked my chair over backwards. She started to laugh, then tried to hide it by covering her mouth with both hands. Everyone in the café stopped talking and just stared at me. Feeling embarrassed, I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my wallet, tossed it on the table, and mumbled, “For my coffee.”
I stomped out. The door jingled behind me.
After I had walked about ten paces, I heard the jingle of the café door, and Jennifer called, “Davey, phone me!”
That was half an hour ago. Now I’m rushing back to work. I’m late. Bob will be irked. And I feel like an absolute fool. I march down the sidewalk, striking the pavement with my heels, pounding ahead, beating the pavement, and punishing my feet. My heels are beating out a staccato warning and other pedestrians turn to look at me. After a block or so some of the energy fades from my stride and I begin to think again. I stop at an intersection, waiting for the light to change, and I notice two women next to me, one elderly and frail and one a generation younger, maybe mother and daughter. The light changes and they step off the curb, the younger woman casually puts her right arm around the older woman’s back and waist and with her left hand lightly holds the older woman’s left hand to steady her.
I slowly wake up to see that it isn’t a bad day.
I’m still overheated, though, and say out loud, “Jennifer Jones thinks she is so funny.”
Then I walk another block and think, Actually, it was pretty funny. As that thought percolates through my mind, I smile a little. A customer steps out of Marguerite’s Florist shop and returns my smile as we pass. It’s late May, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, and there really are birds singing in the park.
I reach the apartment, go in and pull on my coveralls. I find a book of matches in the coveralls, take a cigarette from the pack in my shirt pocket and light up. A moment of relief. Damn cigarettes. The air smells of fresh latex paint. Bob is opening a new bucket of paint.
“I was beginning to worry that you might be lost,” said Bob. Looking at the cigarette he says, “How is that ‘quitting smoking’ thing going?”
I ignore his comment. I’ve had enough hassle over cigarettes already today.
“Yeah, I’m late. I practically ran over to that café and back. I don’t know why, but I thought I needed a blueberry muffin. I didn’t mean to be gone so long. When I was at the café I spoke to Jennifer Jones, you know, from Blue Skies Realty.”
And then I give him the rundown on the whole story including my angry exit.
“Davey? I haven’t heard anyone call you Davey since you were ten years old. Sounds like she got you good, Mr. Suave. That’s what you get for running around when there is work to do.”
“I was kind of mad at first, but now it seems pretty funny.”
Jennifer thinks she is so funny. She did look sassy. Beautiful, actually.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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