Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2010 Results




The Hole in the Doughnut

Copyright © John Revington 2010


It was a nice day, and then his guy I’d never seen before sat down and dipped his doughnut in my coffee.

There was a warty thing on his nose, and his canines gleamed like the fangs of a predator. He looked around, then leaned towards me. “There are two kinds of people in the world,” he said.

And I said, “Uh huh.”

And he said it again, “Two kinds of people.” Then he said, “There are those who accept the roles allotted to them in life, and there are those who question the roles of those who allocate the roles.”

I sighed, put the quick crossword to one side, and looked at the ocean. I hoped my silence would deter him, but I wasn’t very optimistic – I could tell he was after more than a soggy doughnut.

The sun was warm and the sea was blue. Down on the beach a kid was yelling “You’re a weirdo, you’re a weirdo.” There was a clatter of plates and a guy at the next table asked for another flat white, please. A woman laughed, and I wondered if she was laughing at me.

My intruder came at me from another angle.

Two kinds of people – there are those that subscribe to dualistic thinking and those that do not.” He sat back. He might have been announcing checkmate.

All I wanted was to sit in the afternoon sun, watching the sea, watching normal events unfold in the approved manner. Instead, there were crumbs in my coffee and a lunatic at my table.

“And which kind are you?” I had to ask eventually. Trouble with me is, I’m too polite.

“Ah,” he said.

“Well,” he said.

“Now,” he said.

“What you are asking me,” he said, “is a matter of categorisation.” He said it slowly so I understood: c-a-t-e-g-o-r-i-s-a-t-i-o-n. Got it?

“And when it comes to c-a-t-e-g-o-r-i-s-i-n-g,” he raised a lecturing finger and I imagined it going up the hole in his doughnut, “there are two kinds of people: there are those that include themselves in one of their categories, and there are those that claim their categories apply to everyone else, but not to them.”

My head hurt. Was that three lots of two kinds of people so far?

“And which kind are you?” I asked again.

Me?” he said. His eyebrows played a starring role in his look of surprise. “Well, I’m not someone who can see the point of putting people in boxes.”

“Ah. Well. Now,” I said, waving my finger at him, “I think there’s a good case for it in some circumstances.”

His eyebrows sagged. He shook his head. “When you cling to rationality, you are clinging to the bars of your prison.” Where did that come from, I wondered. He obviously saw himself as a Zen master.

He took a bite of his doughnut. If he dunks it in my coffee now that he’s chomped on it, I thought, I’ll know he’s just plain weird. But he topped that.

“But,” I said.

He sniffed and rolled down his right sleeve.

“What,” I said.

He blew his nose on the cuff of his sleeve.

“Erk,” I said.

Then he rolled his sleeve up again. Yes he did.

At the counter they charged me for his doughnut. And when I glanced back at him he was already drinking my coffee, reading my paper. I turned to see if the waitress was smirking, but her gaze was locked on the sea.

When I’m bothered, I go for a walk. The more bothered I am, the longer the walk. I’ve had a lot of exercise, the last couple of years.

Being on those cliffs, watching the Brahminy kites glide on motionless wings – they are things that usually make me feel like I belong, like I’m a ball bearing in the cycle of life, but now they just made me feel unwanted, like a grain of sand scratching at the eyeball of a vengeful God.

It was sunset when I sat down for a rest at a picnic table right out on the headland. It’s a wonderful view, usually, those jagged hills with the sun going down behind them, but right then all I could see were rows of teeth devouring blood-red clouds. I sat for a while, but I could tell I had more walking to do.

I’d received a shock, and I didn’t want to deal with anything else unexpected. I looked down at the table. FUCK YOU it said in big, angular letters. Nothing unexpected there. But then I looked at the fine print just underneath FUCK YOU. This is what it said, right there on the picnic table, in a small blue script:

The sky is an upturned bowl of blue
And the stars are holes where the light gets through.

That got me walking again. Poetry. You could string together a series of cryptic crossword clues, and it would make as much sense. Maybe I’ll do that some time and submit it to a literary magazine before it goes broke.

Cryptic crosswords – when Susan left me, I had to stop doing them. There was always at least one clue I couldn’t get, and I couldn’t stop wondering what it meant. Closure, you see – when Susan left, I couldn’t handle the lack of closure anymore.

The sky is an upturned bowl of blue. I wished I’d never seen those words, but now it was too late. I couldn’t stop myself wondering what they meant. And the stars are holes where the light gets through. It was true that ever since Susan left, I was constantly looking for illumination of some kind. Could this be some kind of clue?

As I went along the road next to the beach, a woman about the same size and shape as Susan gave me a self-satisfied smile. The bumper sticker on her BMW said, 'Another beautiful day in paradox'. I could tell she was laughing at me. I imagined scraping a broken bottle along the side of her car, something I would have loved to do if I’d been a different kind of person.

I imagined my doughnut dunking sabre-toothed intruder waving his finger at me and saying, “Ah, but if you were a different kind of person, you wouldn’t need to damage her car.” He had stolen my coffee, my paper, and my peace of mind.

It was two years ago Susan left me. She’s an accountant, but she said I was boring. Not in as many words, but the message was clear. She has long blond hair which she keeps naturally blond with bottles of stuff that I used to trip over in the shower every morning. That’s one problem I don’t have any more.

I had been appalled when Susan told me Salvador Dali was more sane than I was. That’s when she’d started looking at me different, and burning giraffes and melting clocks began to invade my dreams. Two difficult years, and I was just getting to the point where I felt like I was in control again, when along comes this lunatic with his doughnut and his stupid kinds of people.

Two hours later, it was dark and I was tired. I came to another picnic table. A shadowy figure was sitting there, but just as I approached, he disappeared into the night. I was glad to see him go, because I wanted to sit down, and unlike some people I’ve met, I wouldn’t have intruded on someone else’s privacy. The black sky was full of unholey stars and their light was not illuminating anything for me. There were a hundred insects circling the nearby street lamp, aimless and urgent as a herd of poets.

You won’t believe the next bit, but I’m telling you anyway, because my legs are tired and maybe you’ll be able to help me find closure. Right there on that table, on a greasy paper bag, there was a doughnut with a bite out of it. The hole in the middle was gone. There was a blue pen lying there with the cap off, and in small blue letters, right there on the table top next to where it said KYLIE SUX, someone had written:

The sky is an upturned bowl of blue
And the stars are holes where the light gets through.
A paradox is a star in your mental sky,
And it shines for those who

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Bio:
John Revington lives in an intentional community near The Channon on the north coast of NSW. He has a masters degree in social ecology and edited an international journal on rainforests for ten years. He works as a freelance editor and proofreader (www.correctionalservices.com.au) and has never won first prize in anything before.