By Brenda Miller
Featured Art: Alpine Scene in Thunderstorm by Frederic Edwin Church
You can see storms in the desert from a long way off: dark clouds building, wind picking up, lightning bolts flashing and touching ground. You listen for the thunder growling up behind, wait for the moment when everything will be synchronized—and then you’re in it, in the thick of it, trees bending and shaking, something rattling the roof, the lightning and thunder now one animal trying to get in. The only thing between you and the storm is the sliding glass door, and you see the jackrabbits going for cover, and you know the power will go out, and you know you’ll have to find the flashlight and batteries and candles and matches, and you’ll try to eat all the food in the fridge before it spoils, before your boyfriend gets home and blames you for the storm. You’ll still have to get up at 4 a.m. and drive your truck into town, dash from the cab in the rain and wind, knock at the locked glass door frantically for the baker to let you in, the baker who had looked you up and down, said: why does a college girl like you want a job like this? You had no answer for that question, but you still got the job because you were white and sober and scared, and so now you run inside, put on the big white apron, start pressing fresh donuts into frosting, sprinkling them with chocolate jimmies and coconut, scooping out the powdered sugar and glaze.
You clean the glass cases, squeaking your rag over the slanted panes to get out every last smudge, then slide the trays of perfect donuts inside, listening to country music or Fleetwood Mac, the baker grunting softly in back, hazy in a cloud of flour. You set up the big coffee pot, and you unlock the door, and you wait behind the counter, your wet hair now dry and dusted with sugar, and you pick up the donuts with wax paper, hand them to the waiting men, all of them saying quite a storm last night, and you echo back, quite a storm, the careful smile on your face, and you look out the windows to see the light blinding from the puddles on the street. Your mouth tastes like sugar gone sour, and you keep stooping to pick out the donuts the men request, sliding them into bags or boxes or just on a napkin, taking their money, some of them handing the coins over with shaking hands and breath potent as ammonia, and you keep murmuring quite a storm. . . .
Later the women and children arrive, and so you squat and reach deep into the case to follow a child’s pointing finger, nab the right ones, the heft and warmth of the donuts between your fingers a comfort, and a comfort too, the way some of the women nod at you, and the way a few of them meet your eye, and the shy smile of a girl with powdered sugar on her nose, and then they’re all gone too, the children off to school, the women back home, the men at their jobs, and you lean on the counter a minute and look out the window, see that it’s going to be one of those crystalline days after a storm, the sky blue as the turquoise the Navajo women peddle on the streets, the red rock of the mesa sharp and edgy, a little breeze that carries the scent of disturbed earth, and you feel the way your body has changed—how it has learned to move so quickly, to fetch what everyone needs, to bend.
Brenda Miller is the author of five essay collections, including An Earlier Life (Ovenbird Books, 2016), which received the Washington State Book Award for Memoir. She also co-authored Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction (Third Edition, 2019). Brenda’s collection of writing on writing, A Braided Heart: Essays on Writing and Form, is forthcoming from University of Michigan Press in 2021. Her website is: http://www.brendamillerwriter.com
Originally published in NOR 6