Everything Stuck To Him: “A Box of Donuts”
Ray had been working on the new poetry manuscript at a manic pace that gray November morning. He had already outlived the estimates of the experts, the oncologists and all the other diagnosticians who had given him a six-month expiration date, like some fucking thing on a grocery shelf. He proved their words were lies and now he had to defy their collective medical wisdom and hang on long enough to complete what would be his last book of original poetry.
When she went to Safeway that morning for their dinner shopping, Lorraine later recalled, she bought a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, glazed, for Ray as an appreciation for all the hard work he was doing, not just on the book but on staying alive. She had conflicted emotions over the thought that she would be the one reaping the financial windfall, a posthumous release of new poetry by Ray after a three-year absence would be an immediate bestseller in its genre, a limited genre in terms of the buying public, to be sure, but the utility bills would remain paid for at least a year. She knew she was never going to find another man after Ray passed and she had no inclination to change the course of that river.
On that morning, Lorraine told one of Ray’s biographers, she picked up a box of Krispy Kreme donuts for Ray. When she returned home with the groceries for that evening’s dinner — beef chuck pot roast, red potatoes, carrots, salad — Ray took a break from assembling the manuscript and put on a pot of coffee while Lorraine put the groceries away.
Ray was delighted by the donuts (“delighted as a child” Lorraine told The Paris Review in a 2006 interview) and immediately poured himself a cup of coffee and pulled a small plate from the cupboard for his donuts. He examined the box, smiled softly, and read aloud: “Krispy Kreme cake doughnuts: Doughnuts and coffee since 1937.”
Ray sniffed at the air as if absorbing the scent of the sweetest rose. “Ah, doesn’t it make you long for the old days?” Ray said, the donut box still clutched in his hands. “You go into a diner and get a sinker and a cup of joe for a nickel and you talk up the day’s events with Doris, the blonde waitress behind the counter, the one who’s always bored and has nothing to say about anything anyway. Those days …”
Ray quietly put the donut box down on the kitchen counter and looked absently at the tiled floor, admiring the deep red hue for the first time. “What am I saying? Those aren’t my memories, that was someone else’s life.”
It is said that readers shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, books such as Nicole Matthews’ and Nickianne Moody’s Judging a Book by its Cover (2007) suggest that covers have more significance than we acknowledge. In a time when brand authors and branded books are becoming commonplace, it is always refreshing to see a bit of thought put into the cover of a book. Below are a few of the more intriguing, clever book covers from literature that utilise an aspect or theme from the story itself, while others are just simply amusing.
There are very many sexually-suggestive covers for this infamous book, whose first edition was simply a blank hardback. This cover from Corgi Books ads a touch of humour to a story renowned for its lyricism and dark humour.
This playful yet subtle cover designed by Jamie Keenan explores the theme of innocence, uncertainty and deception.
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Last evening a kind reader sent me $15.00 via Paypal with a simple and graceful note attached that read: “A small contribution to a great writer.”
Some days fifteen bucks looks a lot like one hundred bucks.
Seven Questions About the Boy
Lorraine was sleeping soundly and motionlessly. When she slept like that, Ray knew, his wife was usually dreaming. She was never plagued by nightmares, instead Lorraine was visited in her slumber with walks through lush redwood forests with cascading waterfalls or a journey over the tops of palm fronds in an Amazon jungle as she rode upon the beak of some great winged creature.
“Your dreams,” Ray once told her, “are the stuff of romance and fantasy novels. I’m surprised there aren’t kindly dragons whisking you away to Camelot.”
“Does a griffin count as a dragon?” she had asked in reply.
Ray sat up painfully on the side of the bed, deposited his cold feet into the fuzzy brown house slippers on the floor, and groped for his bulky gray bathrobe at the foot of the bed. He left the room as stealthily as possible, though when Lorraine was in dreamland with her griffins and friendly ogres there was very little that could awaken her.
He crossed the hall and entered the den, turning on the green-shaded banker’s lamp on the desk. He pushed aside boxes of paper clips, ballpoint pens running low on ink, and a stack of postcards from the coast as he rummaged the desk drawer for a sheet of blank onion skin paper. Ray laid the paper flat on the blotter and sat down in the leather office chair, pen poised in hand, and considered the questions he must ask Juditha about the child, about the boy. By no means, he had explained to Juditha on the phone earlier that day, did he need the information, he simply wanted it. Needing something and wanting something are two different things, he had emphasized. She accused him, as always, of playing a game of semantics.
Ray lit a Gauloise with a monogrammed gold lighter and began to scratch at the paper with the pen.
1. When, exactly, was the boy born? Day, date, and year. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten. It must be the meds they have me on or simply advancing age or, well, you know the rest.
2. Who do you think he favors the most in terms of, say, hair color and eye color? Temperament? Any hints yet at what he will be when he grows into a man?
3. As an addendum to number two, please keep the boy away from Jesuit schooling. You know full well what it did to me. But if you must do the Jesuit thing I understand and in that case I ask that you consider Georgetown. I do believe they have a scholarship in my name there. The memory is hazy at this hour but, yes, I think it is Georgetown … or Dallas Jesuit.
Ray paused and took a long drag off the rich French cigarette, squinting through a haze of blue smoke at what he had written. Approving the words he surveyed, Ray continued writing:
4. The boy should not consider writing or any of the arts for a career. Too much uncertainty and we already live in a woefully uncertain world. Isn’t that so, Juditha?
5. Is he exhibiting an aptitude for sports? If so, help him choose, if you must, baseball over football, basketball over hockey, if you desire that he keep his natural teeth.
6. Do you have any thoughts on his sexual orientation, premature as that may be? If he grows up to be gay, be as supportive as you can. If he’s straight, don’t meddle in his relationships. Women are hard enough without outside interference.
Point seven, the final point, was the most difficult. Ray snubbed the cigarette out in a large glass bowl ashtray, lit another, and wrote it as simply as he could:
7. Please do let the boy know, always, that if I could have loved him … if circumstances were different and I might have got to know the boy … well … shit. You know what I’m trying to say.
Where She Was Calling From
On days like this, when the snow was gently flowing over Denver like a cold kiss from a gray angel, Ray would sit peacefully in the den with a cup of coffee laced with sugar and cream or strong unsweetened black tea and contemplate the awards and certificates of honor that lined the unglazed terra cotta walls and he would understand, without remorse, that it all added up to nothing. Two years ago the surgeons offered him one more year of living and breathing and enjoying. Ray defied their prognosis. He did not belong here, he knew that. He was a squatter in his own life.
He contemplated a poem that afternoon, a piece about the death of his daughter’s dog by a hit and run driver when she was ten years old, a meditation on mortality and the poet’s manipulation of reality to create art — if that was what he was indeed creating. It didn’t matter in the long run, he supposed. His publishers assured him that he would enjoy a long shelf-life after he was lowered into the grave but it was received by Ray as a cruel sort of solace.
He sat at the old, creaky oak desk, poised a pen over the fresh legal pad, and began to write. The first word had barely begun to flow from thick blue ink to yellow page when the telephone rudely startled him from his thoughts.
“Ray ..,?” It was Evelyn, his ex-wife, the third, the sole refugee from his haphazard life he was still on speaking terms with. “Is everything alright?”
Ray lit a Winston 100 with a slim gold lighter engraved with his initials, a gift from the Harvard Poets Society. “Why would you assume otherwise?”
Evelyn was hesitant, as always. “I … I got a letter from Lorraine yesterday. She insinuated that there had been some kind of incident.”
“An incident, Ray.”
Ray frowned and blew a ring of smoke into the telephone receiver. “It was an accident. Completely unintentional. It could have happened to anybody.” He swiveled in his chair to observe the snow flurries outside the window of the den. “All I tried to do was pull her up off the floor. A momentary loss of muscular coordination. I mean … a few extra pounds of energy, per second, per second, Evelyn.”
“You don’t sound like yourself.”
“I don’t?” He drew hard on the cigarette. “Maybe that’s because I was quoting Stephen King. The Shining. I can cite you chapter and page number if you want to hang on for a sec.”
“You’re quoting Stephen King? That’s not like you. Denver is doing bad things to you.”
He sipped his cold coffee from a ceramic mug. “I’ll try Wordsworth next time but I’m not sure he wrote about the subtle nuances of domestic violence.”
“So you did hurt her?” Evelyn sighed. “God, Ray …”
“The hand is healing nicely. But the bruise on her thigh. Jesus God, Evelyn, the bruise on her thigh. It fucking haunts me, every night when she pulls back the sheets in bed and I have to look at that awful, sickening bruise, all black and blue and yellow. And Lorraine doesn’t blame me, not completely, she understands the stress I’m under. How’s the old town? How’re things there?”
“Where you’re calling from.”
“I’m not in Portland anymore. I moved to Los Angeles three months ago. Ray … are you alright?”
“Right as rain.” He snubbed the cigarette in the ashtray and watched the snow drift outside the window. “Goddamnit it, Evelyn … goddamnit all to hell.”