At first, Les thought Mig never told anyone about his parent’s donut shop because he didn’t want the whole school asking him for handouts. And that’s why she thought he only told her. Not just because she was his girlfriend but also because he knew she wouldn’t want anything to do with what they offered.
“They have sandwiches too,” he said.
“I just don’t do bread.” She said to him from his shoulder when he made the invitation to meet them and the inadvertent revelation of what they owned. They were alone in the quad and the stone bench they sat on was still damp from the morning sprinklers. Mig held Les and her hand fell just short of his belt and made her think of how far everyone else had gone in 9th grade. Everyone was talking about getting to bases, but she didn’t know anything about baseball other than the long sequences between the pitcher and the batter. The white lights coloring the field and making the night warm. Her head swam with vague ideas. She was certain if she learned the rules she’d know what they all meant.
“I’m sure there’s something you’d like there.”
“It’s not a matter of liking,” she said, her hair falling in her eyes as she shifted closer, her thoughts racing quietly forward. “It’s just not good for me.”
“So, you can eat, but you won’t?”
“Yeah,” she said and kissed him until he was quiet and didn’t ask after her anymore.
“Do you think your parents will like me?” Les asked Mig after school. It was the first time she had seen him drive. It had been three months since they started dating and it was the first time sitting in his car. It smelled like burnt leather and worn cassettes. It was old enough to still have one of those holes that lit cigarettes and the cranks to roll the windows up and down.
“Yeah. They like everyone,” Mig said, his hands on ten and two. The other cars went around them and sped off, but Mig kept at his own pace.
“That’s good,” Les said, but she wasn’t relieved about it at all. She played with her seatbelt. It was so loose on her it folded in her lap. She pulled it taut.
“My mom will especially like you. She’s especially sweet on girls. Dad’s nice but,”
“He’s just really shy. I told him you were coming though, so he should be fine.”
“So, you told them about me?”
“What are they like?
“You’ll see,” he said, and, after waiting for a red light to turn green, added, “It’s hard to explain.”
Mig’s family donut shop was on the whole other side of the valley, about a town and half away from their school. It was easy for Les to see how Mig had kept it a secret. No one at school ever left town or went further than they needed to. It was too far for any of them to want to be.
Les met Mig the first day of school, but it wasn’t until the start of Spring Semester they talked. Her mother always gave her rice dishes for lunch and she hated it. Les felt bloated just thinking about the calories alone, so she only ate a mouthful and threw the rest away. But seeing the empty Tupperware only gave her mother the wrong impression, and, instead of giving her less, she packed more and even included a banana. Les was in the middle of dumping her corn beef and onions when she noticed the quiet presence of someone hovering over the trash can with her. In hindsight, Les was glad Mig was cute, otherwise she wouldn’t have acknowledged him at all.
“You going to eat that?” he said in his Mig way, only it was the first time Les heard him speak, and she didn’t understand yet he always sounded cool and wasn’t trying to impress anyone.
She stopped pouring and looked up across the small chasm between them. “What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re throwing it all away.”
“I’ll eat it if you don’t want it. I love corn beef,” he said, and she learned he loved everything else she would bring for lunch too. He loved the spam and rice, the beefsteak and rice, the tilapia and rice, and even the banana. He loved anything she gave him.
Eventually, she stopped sitting with her friends and ended up at his table. Everyday, she watched him devour everything she had and savor every morsel. The way his eyes closed and the elation on his face started a pounding in her chest, a warmth that drained down her throat and filled her empty stomach. Eventually, she told him she liked him. It was only after he finished her lunch that he told her he liked her too.
The donut shop was tucked on the corner of a shopping center right by the entrance from the main street. The whole place had been built on the natural slope of the mountain, so what rose behind it looked like a curtain of trees and stone. There was a dry-cleaner, a T-Mobile, a water shop, a real estate office, a Denny’s on the corner, and Mr. Donut, their donut shop. Everything on the lot seemed to take on the same forlorn, old-fashioned, off-white the early evening sun imposed just after four.
When they parked in front of the shop, the slight incline pushed their backs to their seats, as if an invisible force were pulling them away from the place. To Les, it was a bad omen. Mig knew better, but he had experienced it enough times as not to mention otherwise. Les discovered later this was a bad habit of his.
Mig opened the door for Les and the two stood in front of the array of generic food posters on the store’s glass windows. Besides the neon open sign and the tally for the Mega and Super Lotto, the windows were completely covered. The Mega read 522, and the Super, 144.
“We’re out of boba,” Mig said, pointing at the poster advertising “bubble drinks.” The girl there pinched the tip of her straw and smiled at something far off in the distance. Les wondered whether it was a flyball or a homerun or a foul she was looking at while Mig continued.
“And I don’t think we ever sold these,” he said, knocking the part of the glass where a picture of cups of fruit faded. It read “Sweet Dreams.”
As they passed through the doors, an electronic chime rang and the inside appeared as Les expected. Meager helpings of the standard selection were the only things left by the end of the day. Still, there were a few cakes, and twists, and donut holes, and everything else that she tried to avoid. Their intoxicating smell made her skin itch, their glow nearly made her faint.
“Welcome,” Les heard a hollow voice say from the back room. It sounded both near and far away, as if the voice was coming from the opposite end of a tunnel.
“It’s just us, Dad,” Mig said and leaned his arms on the glass display. His shadow bent over two cinnamon rolls.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the voice said as Mig’s father quickly came into view. He was taller than Mig and muscular, an apron hugging a wide chest, the makings of a blue Pepsi shirt stretching over broad arms. He wore a brown rubber horse head with an open mouth painted black and holes in the eyes, just a black void where the insides should be. He extended his hand across the counter. Les saw it was covered in flour. “It’s nice to meet you, Les. You can call me Mr. Don’t,” Mr. Don’t said. His voice sounded like it was still in the back room. Les would discover later that his voice would change positions based on which head he put on. “Can I interest you in a donut?”
“Don’t?” she said and took Mr. Don’t’s hand. She couldn’t remember Mig’s last name, but she knew for sure that Don’t wasn’t it. She imagined their future. Les Don’t.
“So you don’t want one?”
“No, thank you. Nice to meet you,” she said and took her hand back. Mr. Don’t’s fingerprints peppered her wrist like an invisible hand was still holding on. The horse head waved and wiggled. His mane fluttered. Les shot Mig a look. Mig shrugged.
“You’re skinny, aren’t you? It’s a joke. Really, you can have one. Free!” Mr. Don’t said, his tongs already in his hands.
“She doesn’t eat this stuff, Dad,” Mig said and pushed off the display. The cinnamon rolls glistened in the fluorescent light. Les licked her lips.
“Really? Mr. Don’t said, clapping the tongs. “Are you vegan? I have a few behind the old fashioneds.”
Les took her eyes away from the rolls but didn’t know where else to look: the door to the back or into the horse’s mouth. “I’m fine. Thank you. I’m trying to limit my sweets.”
“That’s too bad. They’re really good,” Mr. Don’t said and Les’s eyes couldn’t help but fall on the door where he had come from.
“Where’s Mom?” Mig asked, making his way around the counter. He waved for Les to follow him.
“She’s upstairs. Just finished a fortune.”
“Fortune?” Less asked, but the question sounded more like an offer. The word felt more natural for her to give than receive, if such a thing could’ve ever been done about it.
“My mom tells the future,” Mig said, taking her hand and guiding her beside her father and through the back door.
The horse’s eyes, or lack there of, followed her as she passed. “Well, gee, what does she tell the future? You’re late?”
“I don’t get it,” Les said, smiling, trying to be nice. In the back room, the vents quietly purred. There were fryers and ovens and racks and refrigerators and mixers and a large steel table covered in flour. A small carton of blueberries rested open on a corner. A ball of dough deflated beside it.
“Dad, I’ll go upstairs and see if Mom’s ready for us. Be nice,” Mig said and kissed Les on the cheek before letting go and disappearing further back. Less continued to look at the blueberries. She wondered if getting to second base and stealing second meant the same thing.
“You can have some,” Mr. Don’t said. He sounded like he was right beside her even though he was still in the doorway.
Les should’ve refused, she thought, but they seemed harmless enough. Besides, they were good for you. “Really?” She said, already walking over to them.
“Sure. They came from a guy I know on the east coast. Flat land by water is best for ‘em. You hear the one about bringing a horse to water?”
She picked one up and put it to her lips. It was leathery and cold like she was kissing a baseball goodnight. In her mouth, the sweet tart melted on her tongue. Her eyes widened as the ball went over the fence. “Horse to water?” She asked, already chewing on another.
Mr. Don’t walked beside her, but his voice didn’t sound any closer than before. “You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t mean they know how to swim.” He laughed and Les was disappointed it didn’t sound like neighs. She chewed. “You really like those, don’t you?”
“I do,” she confessed.
Mr. Don’t nodded. The Horse’s head bobbed up and down and up and down. “It’s real magic. They’re the kind of fruit that has one of those tastes that don’t need too much to let you know it’s there. You don’t taste any more or less of it no matter how many blueberries you put into the dough. Just a few is enough, really.” He drew a couple from their carton and put them on the table then pulled a dough cutter from his apron pocket. He took the cutter and swept the ingredients together.
“What are you going to make?”
“I almost forgot!” He said and stuck the cutter in the middle of the dough. He disappeared into the hallway.
After a long while, Mig appeared. “Want to come up? My mom’s ready.”
“Where’s your dad?” Les asked. By then, she counted six homeruns (or was it grand slams?) and fifteen blueberries. She made a mental note to log the calories later.
Mig shrugged. “Is he at the front?”
“He disappeared where you came from.”
“He’s probably in the pantry then. He’ll get lost in there sometimes.”
“What’s with, you know.” Les waved her hand above her head. She could smell the faint musk of blueberries still on her fingers. She tucked her tongue in the corner of her mouth where their taste still lingered.
“The horse mask?”
“Yeah. You didn’t tell me!”
“Sorry. He’s got a whole gang of them.”
Mig looked at the table. By then, the cutter had fallen on its side, sinking into the dough. He held Les’s hand. The one that smelled like blueberries. “My mom’s face got real messed up in a fryer accident before I was born. Dad got real sad about it. He felt like it was his fault. So he gave her his face and took what’s left of hers. Mom’s been buying him horse masks ever since. Is that weird?”
“My mom’s face got–.”
“No, I know what you said. They switched faces, like Nicholas Cage and Jon Travolta?”
“Yeah. Like ‘Face Off.’”
Les imagined switching the heads of two Legos. “I didn’t know they could actually do that.”
“You ever see your dad’s face?”
“All the time,” Mig said but it wasn’t the face Les meant.
“Why horse masks?”
“It’s an inside joke.”
“Is it about bringing a horse to water?”
“I think it was something about my dad joking around too much. Right, Dad?”
Mr. Don’t came in from the hall. Les didn’t notice his footsteps. “What are you talking about?” Mr. Don’t said in Les’s ear. She tried to imagine his face and then his wife’s face and then his wife’s face on his face. She imagined a woman with a man’s voice under the mask.
“The reason why Mom buys you horse masks.”
“It’s because I’m a jackass.” Mr. Don’t laughed and walked to the table. He brought up a tiny bottle to the light. It was purple and the words for what it was were printed too small for Les to read.
She squinted. “What were you looking for?”
“Ube extract!” He said and held it in Les’s direction. “You don’t need very much. Like blueberries, a little bit goes along.”
“It’s ‘a little bit goes a long way’, dad.” Mig corrected.
“I didn’t know they made something like that. I love ube,” Les admitted.
“You know, for someone who’s avoiding sweets, you sure sound like you like them a lot.”
“It’s not about disliking,” she explained and gripped Mig’s hand, “It’s just not good for me.”
“Sometimes avoiding what you like is also not good for you.” Mr. Don’t said and twisted off the cap. A drop fell on the table and slid to the edge like a grounder. “Then again, my wife always tells me to stop horsing around.”
The room upstairs was dark except for fake candlelight fixtures that lined each wall, three at a time. There was a curtain that led further back, but Les found it rude to ask what was there.
They sat in four violet chairs that rose just above their heads. Resting hands gripping orbed canes were carved into the arms and traveled down the two front legs. They were identical except for the one Les sat on. The hands were fuller while the others seemed gaunt. Les thought this might have just been the trick of the eye when in fact they were probably all the same. Later, she would wonder what they all looked like in stadium lights.
Before her was the matron, Mig’s mother, Madam Don’t, sitting in front of tarot cards and a cheap crystal ball with the wire running down a circular, satin-cloaked table. Introductions had been quick, and before Les knew it, they were already midway in conversation. Her face, as Mig had explained, his father’s.
“He’s quite proud of his collection,” Madam Don’t said. She had long, puffy hair that seemed to blend into the dark. She wore a white blouse and long red skirt with embroidered beads of silver and turquoise that jingled when she moved. When Les had shaken her hand, there was a tattoo of a horse running out of a forest that started from the top of her arm and ended at her wrist.
“How many heads do you have?” Les asked Mr. Don’t, still looking at his face. In the dark she could still make out the beginnings of a mustache, the places where the tones didn’t match.
“One for every day of the week and wherever I need to go,” he said and leaned over and reached for his wife’s hand over the table. They came together over a card with an angel pouring water from one chalice into another. His face smiled back at him. “All thanks to the love of my life.”
“Get a room,” Mig said.
Les watched the horse run to Mr. Dont’s hand until the chime from downstairs blared from the ceiling and caused the horse to retreat.
“Looks like that’s me. See me before you leave. Don’t let her get away before she says goodbye now, Miguel,” Mr. Don’t said, patting his son’s shoulder, but he already sounded like he was downstairs.
“Give em extra or we’ll have more to throw out,” Mig said.
“Roger. Bye for now, Les,” Mr. Don’t said, the horse’s mouth tucking in and out with his breath.
“Thank you!” Les said, waving after him.
“He’s a good man with a good heart,” Madam Don’t said, but her husband’s face made it look like he was just complementing himself.
“Yeah, but he can’t land a joke,” Mig added.
“He’s a nice person,” Les said and pretended to pull her hair from her face when she really meant to smell the blueberry on her fingers.
“He’s too nice,” Mig said and got up and looked over at Les. “I’m going to help him down there. Let me know when you want to go. I’m sure you want your fortune taken before we leave.”
Les looked from Mig to his mother. “Is that alright?”
She smiled. “Of course! We can have some good old-fashioned girl-talk while we’re at it. What do you say?”
Les smiled and leaned in. Mig disappeared downstairs.
“Now, what do you want?” Mig’s mother said and sat up. She was taller than Les had anticipated because she nearly met the top of the back of her tall chair.
“What can you do?”
“I can do tarot, read your palm, look into my crystal ball, or I can just feel things out.” She said and placed both of her hands on the table.
Les looked at them and wondered what they smelled like. “What’s the last option all about?”
“The last option is actually the only option. All this is just a tool. The future, what’s going to happen, it’ll come whether you see it coming or not. It might even already be here. It’s just easier to gage when you douse it with a little color.” She winked and Les imagined if Mr. Don’t could wink too, or if he was constantly looking on, seeing the ball come with eyes wide open.
“So, how do we start?”
“Easy: we ask each other questions. You had your turn, so here’s mine. What do you see in my son?”
Les thought of it and the image was clear. “A bottomless pit.”
Madam Don’t snickered. Even in the dim light, she could tell her mouth was too small for Mr. Don’ts lips. “Ah yes. He’s a growing boy. He tells me you feed him. I’m sorry, with the shop and my work, there is no time to cook.”
“That’s alright. Really, it’s no problem. My mom packs too much anyway.”
“Please thank your mother for me.”
“I will,” Les said, although her mom would kill her if she ever found out she didn’t eat her food, let alone hid a boyfriend.
“Now, it’s your turn. Shoot away!”
“Wait, how do my questions determine my future?”
“Your future is my future too. The future belongs to everyone.”
Les saw their future in the crystal ball. Her lunches were bigger, but Mig still ate them, Madam Don’t still had Mr. Don’t’s face. It was the bottom of the ninth, whatever that meant. “I think I see what you mean.”
“Now, it’s my turn again since that was a question. What do you want in life? Be honest.”
“I don’t know,” Les said. In the crystal ball, as the years went by, Les began disappearing as the food kept piling up. By prom, she was transparent. Mig had grown twice his size, but he was still handsome, his mother still wearing his father’s handsome face, his father still wearing his horse head. The bases were loaded.
“Think about it. The first thing that pops into your head.”
“I want to be pretty,” she said and felt a heat well in her cheeks as if she were at bat.
“You already are, dear. And that’s not the first thing that popped in your head.”
“But it’s not what I want. I don’t want to disappear.” At their wedding, Mig pulls the veil off a floating wedding dress. Mr. Don’t wipes the tears from his face but she can’t tell which one. The crowd cheers.
“That’s a terrible thing to want, but sometimes we want terrible things.” Madam Don’t said and put a hand on the crystal ball. To Les, in its reflection, it looked like Madam Don’t holding her head.
“Is it true Mr. Don’t gave you his face?” Les asked, the future not so clear anymore.
Madam Don’t smiled and Les realized later this was the kind of expression Mr. Don’t wore everyday, underneath it all. “Yes. I see a lot of him in you, you know. You’re givers. My son and I are more alike. We’re takers. Still, we try to do what we can. We still give back in our own way.”
“I know it’s against the rules, but can I ask another question?”
“Please. The future goes on whether we follow the rules or not.”
“What did yours look like before?” Less asked, but she could see it clearly.
“It’s difficult to remember. It wasn’t much of a face,” Madam Don’t said, “Well, before.”
As they left, Mr. Don’t handed Les a purple fritter and told her to take care. “It’s a blueberry ube fritter. It’s one of a kind, for now! Eat it when you feel like it,” he said and returned to the back where he kept his voice.
In the car, Mig asked what his mother had told her, but she didn’t tell him. She had given him enough, she thought, a bit for herself was all she needed. At home, she took her time taking the fritter apart, piece by piece, dividing the total to increments. She had documented what google said was the calorie count for apple fritters and used it as its proxy, but she knew it wouldn’t be the same. One thing couldn’t possibly take the place of another. A ball and a bat. A face and a face. When she ate each piece, she rolled the numbers off her tongue until she lost track, until one thing collided with another and it was going, going, gone.
E. P. Tuazon is a Filipinx-American writer from Los Angeles. His newest book is a forthcoming novella called The Cussing Cat Clock (Hash Journal 2022). He was a finalist for the 2021 Prairie Schooner Raz-Shumaker Book Prize in Fiction and the 2021 Five South Short Fiction Prize, and one of the winners of the Berkeley Fiction Review Sudden Fiction Contest 2022. He is currently a member of Advintage Press and The Blank Page Writing Club at the Open Book, Canyon Country. In his spare time, he likes to wander the seafood section of Filipino markets to gossip with the crabs.