Saturday, August 19, 2017

Just Desserts - short story

Just Desserts




   It was after the fifth time I told my son to clean up his room and the clear indication that it wasn't going to happen that I set on the unenviable task of doing it myself. With only the sole protection of yellow rubber dish-washing gloves to keep me alive, I told my wife I was going in.
  “Better you than me,” she encouraged and pushed me in the general direction. As I entered the room, I wondered if there was ever a smell as dank as the teenage male. I also wondered if I had smelled this bad and what gas masks my parents used to deal with it.
After I had excavated several dirty dinner plates turned science experiments from the area, I came upon a small wadded up white sack, the kind you would get from a bakery. I blinked as I remembered a time long ago, toward the end of elementary school. It involved me, a girl and a brownie. A frozen brownie.

***

I guess it was while Tommy Whitzberger was playing his rendition of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on the accordion that I found out DeeAnn Smith liked me. I had just gotten off the stage where I’d performed my magic act for the 6th grade talent show at our elementary school. Getting used to the dark of the auditorium, I finally found a seat in the audience.
Mrs. McIntyre, my homeroom teacher, was emcee. She came on stage, clapping and said, “That was ‘The Great Howard’ and his wonderful magic act. Good job, Howard.” She then began the task of building up the anticipation in the audience for accordion rock wizardry.
I happened to sit next to Misty Oppenheimer, the school blabbermouth and one of DeeAnn’s friends. I really wasn't part of the “in crowd”, so didn't trade much on the gossip circuit. So I was surprised when she whispered in my ear. She told me that DeeAnn told her that she thought I was kinda cute. She went on breathlessly that she wasn't supposed to tell anybody, especially me. This is, of course, the one thing you never tell Misty Oppenheimer, but I guess DeeAnn hadn’t learned that at the time.
When I heard this I felt dizzy. My face flushed and my vision blurred. After the talent show, I went to one of the school restrooms and looked in the mirror to check myself. I was just sure I had come down with something. A disease that flares up whenever someone tells you you’re cute and you immediately start to turn ugly. A few years later, I would learn there is such a disease.
It’s called puberty.
The thought of a girl being remotely attracted to me really didn’t occur to me at all. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I was happy because as far I as knew, this was the first time anyone had expressed an interest in me. It also terrified me because I did not want to screw this up. And if my life up to that point was any indication, there was a very good chance of that happening. I really don’t think the words ‘paralyzed with fear’ would be too far from what I was feeling. After all, I had been on this planet for almost 12 years now and this was my first. Who knows when the next one was going to come around.
When DeeAnn stopped by my house after school to again tell me how much she really enjoyed the magic show, the gray brain cells that processed this sort of thing came alive for the first time and wondered what the hell was going on. Immediately, they clumsily lurched into action. The first thought was realizing that sometimes DeeAnn came by my house on her way home from school. Then, these limp barely-used ganglia and neurons thought it would be a good idea to get her something. I went to the corner market. Flowers were too expensive on my lunch money budget and cards were too schmaltzy for my preteen idea of romance. A small fifteen-watt light bulb went off above my head when I thought of the bakery. I scanned the displays and settled on a brownie. To make it extra special, I had her name written on it with pink frosting. I have no idea why I thought this was significant. Like she was going to look at the brownie I gave her and wonder, “But is this for me? I don’t know, it doesn’t have my name on it.”
All things considered, I was a thoughtful, sweet, awkward, stuttering, sweating bucket of quivering nerves. What could possibly go wrong?
Since she passed by my house infrequently, I put the brownie in the freezer, so that it wouldn’t go bad. Weeks went by as my after-school-vigil-of-looking-for-DeeAnn droned on. I was getting tired, my eyes were getting sore and my brownie was getting frostbite. Then one day, there she was.
I ran to the fridge, grabbed the brownie, sped to the front door and yelled, “DeeAnn!” She stopped, turned around and smiled. And then everything moved in slow motion.
I wondered if she still liked me. I wondered if this had all been a joke. I wondered if perhaps she was allergic to brownies. I wondered if she was on a diet and if she was going to be offended and how dare I get her a dessert. All these fearful ‘what-if’ scenarios went through my head, and I panicked.
And in that panicked moment of brain vapor lock, I hurled a dense completely frozen brownie at the only girl who had, up to that time, expressed an interest in me and slammed the door.
Because, that makes sense.
I put my head in my hands. How could I be so stupid? What did I just do? She is probably not enjoying her brownie and basking in the knowledge of what a fine and sweet young man I am. She’s probably suffering a concussion, laying unconscious on my lawn, bleeding out as her friend screams with horror about the maniac who just beaned her schoolmate with a frozen dessert.
All of this was interrupted by a knock on the door. Was it DeeAnn? Was it her friend? Was it the police? I slowly opened the door.
It was DeeAnn.
I inexplicably feigned surprise (“Ohh, DeeAnn. What are you doing here?”). DeeAnn wanted to thank me for the gift as she ate (okay, sucked on) her frozen brownie. I said, no problem.
And that was it. That’s as far as it went. The next year was junior high, which had its own share of drama, hellish  anxiety concerning the other gender and fleeting moments of fun. And DeeAnn? She went the way of every other girl who’s had refrigerated rock-hard confections thrown at them.
Therapy.
And then Tommy Whitzberger. How was I to know she had a thing for accordion players?