“You are not a pretty girl, Rhoda. Best you know the truth now.” Her mother made sure she understood her limitations, which Rhoda appreciated. “Learn to cook. Food’ll take a man’s mind off your face.”
She took her mother’s advice, throwing herself into the art of baking. Turned out, she had a knack for it. While other young people her age partied and dated, Rhoda honed her skills and fed her passion for creating the perfect croissant.
When she opened “Rhoda’s Hot Buns”, the last thing she expected was to have droves of men flocking to her doorstep, but that’s exactly what happened. Mouths watering, tongues wagging, all eager to get a taste of Rhoda’s hot buns.
“Mom, you were right. Delicious baked goods do attract men.”
“Of course I was right, Dear. How do you think I got your father’s attention?”
“But, Mom, why aren’t women attracted to my hot buns?”
“They’ve probably given up carbs. Don’t worry, Darling. It’s just a phase. Your scrumptious baguettes will attract the perfect person for you. Genitals don’t really matter when it comes to enjoying a buttery croissant.”
Rhoda’s buns were so popular, that a line of eager men greeted her before she opened in the mornings. A constant overflow of famished males kept the bistro full with a queue often wrapping around the block. There was no way she could handle all those hungry boys on her own, so Rhoda hired a helper.
Chrissy had little experience baking delicious buns, but that didn’t matter because Rhoda did all of the baking. It was immediately obvious that the customers adored Chrissy— that’s why Rhoda hired her.
The line to get inside the bistro was down the block the day Chrissy came in for an interview. Flabbergasted, Rhoda saw every man in line turn to watch Chrissy walk past. Not only that, they gave her compliments, whistled, and made noises Rhoda had never heard before.
“Mmmhmmm, that’s what I’m talkin bout, baby.”
“I don’t like it when you go, but I sure like to watch you leave.”
One of the gentlemen was even so generous as to offer Chrissy a place to sit if she so desired. Another one promised to deliver some sort of special meat to her.
That wasn’t all. As Chrissy entered the bistro, a group of females joined the line waiting to taste Rhoda’s hot buns. Chrissy, as it turned out, attracted people in droves, just by being herself.
Rhoda hired her on the spot and the two became fast friends. Other employees came and went, but Chrissy became a long term accessory to both the bistro and to Rhoda. Time flew when they were together and work turned into fun. The two of them flowed seamlessly, functioning as a blissful team during open hours. After closing, Rhoda and Chrissy often talked for hours or sat quietly listening to the sounds of the bustling city beyond the bistro doors.
“Mama, you were right again.”
“I know, Dear. You and Chrissy have the kind of friendship that only comes around once in a lifetime.”
One day, Chrissy came to work breathless and bouncing with excitement.
“I’m getting married!” She thrust her left hand out to show Rhoda her ring.
“Well, congratulations! I didn’t even know you were dating anybody, Chris. What’s his name?”
“His name’s Hollis. We ain’t been datin long. They say you know it when you know it…and I guess he knowed it!”
“But, what about you, Chrissy? Did you know it?” Something unpleasant, a sort of niggling had begun in the back of Rhoda’s mind although she couldn’t quite put a finger on what it meant. Besides, her friend seemed happy enough, so she shooed the feeling away and went back to work.
It was later that very same day when Rhoda met Hollis Farlington Burrs for the first time. As she pulled eclairs out of the oven, she glanced up in time to see a slender man with salt and pepper hair and an expensive suit frown at the bar before wiping it down with a napkin and reluctantly taking a seat. That feeling tingled again in the back of her head as she narrowed her eyes and hmm’ed to herself. She’d grown accustomed to not appraising people based on their looks, so she couldn’t say for sure whether he was handsome. She only knew that his appearance bothered her in the same way that certain puppets or dolls with uncanny faces and lifeless eyes spooked her as a child. His eyes made her feel cold and empty, as if she never existed at all. The worst part, however, was his facial hair, for it was far too perfect, too precise to be located on a human face.
She watched him poke a manicured finger at his phone and huff angrily under his breath about terrible service before she turned back to the eclairs in attempt to distract herself. The sudden urge to hurl a knife at the man’s head to see if he was indeed as plastic as he appeared overwhelmed Rhoda. Her hand, acting on its own accord, reached for her freshly sharpened chef’s knife and raised it, poised beside her temple, aimed…
“Oh my sweet Honey-cakes! You came to see little ole me!” Chrissy’s happy shriek knocked Rhoda out of the murderous trance just in time. She shook her head to clear it, heart pounding at how close she’d come to releasing the knife.
The man never once revealed the slightest tinge of delight at seeing his betrothed—not even a smile. He barely even acknowledged her presence. The whole scene was appalling to Rhoda, but Chrissy hardly seemed to notice. She went right on being Chrissy, regardless of what was happening around her.
Chrissy’s loving nature exude enough mirth to cover a thousand grumpy patrons, including Hollis. She didn’t notice how the man’s presence sucked the happiness out of the room, let alone how his face stubbornly refused to show an inkling of positive emotion. His ominous nature, so obvious to others, was lost on sweet Chrissy.
As so often happens in these situations, the darkness of Hollis craved her spark; compelled him to consume her, in fact. Unfortunately, Chrissy’s light was so bright, that she couldn’t see the darkness in others. She was like a spotlight that illuminated those around her, and she couldn’t bear to leave anyone in the shadows. To Chrissy, goodness and joy existed in everyone; but Rhoda wasn’t so sure about Hollis.
Minutes after Hollis walked in, something happened that had never occurred before or since: the entire bistro emptied. Every customer left, jumped ship faster than sailors on a sinking vessel.
“Rhoda, come over here and meet my fiancé. Hollis, this is Rhoda, my best friend in the whole wide world.” Chrissy beamed with such giddy cheer, that Rhoda didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. Besides, maybe it wasn’t the truth. Maybe Rhoda was wrong about Hollis.
Perhaps I’m jealous that this man will steal Chrissy’s attention from me. Or maybe I’m envious and lonely. —Rhoda second-guessed herself into silence. She nodded a curt greeting and excused herself to get back to her eclairs.
For a while, Rhoda believed she’d done the right thing by keeping quiet about Chrissy’s marriage. It was several months, in fact, before things went bad. But of course, once things started going downhill, they went down fast and furious. The first sign of trouble showed up in the form of tears streaming down Chrissy’s face.
See, some people with upbeat temperaments like Chrissy’s have frequent dramatic outbursts. For them, “what goes up must come down” applies to their emotions. But that wasn’t Chrissy at all. In fact, in the many years that Rhoda had known her, she had never once seen Chrissy sad or downtrodden in the least. She’d even asked her about it once.
“Are you always happy? I’ve never met anyone like you. You’re never in a bad mood are you?”
“Nope! I ain’t never had no reason to be, I guess. It’s like I got tingly happiness bubbling up inside me all the time. And there’s always something to be glad about.” Chrissy shrugged and danced off to clear the tables, singing some little happy ditty under her breath.
It wasn’t as if Chrissy didn’t experience difficult situations. In fact, she might have even had more than her share, but nothing ever seemed to get her down. Several years earlier, Chrissy was in a car accident and totaled her car. Still smiling, Chrissy rode the bus and made friends with everyone on her route to and from the bistro. Years later, those same people frequented the bistro; and they always asked for Chrissy. She broke her leg, but never missed a day of work or lost her smile. Financial problems got her evicted, but Chrissy turned it into an adventure and created lasting friendships with people at the homeless shelter.
Through all of her trials and suffering, never once did Rhoda see Chrissy cry. And, she was glad about that, too on the day she did finally see those tears; for Chrissy was a pitiful, heart-wrenching crier. Once she saw her friend’s normally-cheerful cheeks smeared with tears, Rhoda was certain she never wanted to see that ever again. She’d have done anything, in fact, to keep Chrissy from being hurt. Another thing happened then, too—rage took hold in the deep pit of Rhoda’s belly, down where things don’t just come and go but instead take root and fester. It’s the part of a person where earth-shattering motivation begins and ain’t nothing can be done to stop it once it gets going.
Whoever made her cry is going to pay.
“What’s wrong, Chris?” The rage bubbled inside her, but Rhoda didn’t dare upset her friend further by showing it.
Chrissy lifted her face to her dearest friend, surrendering a deep, long, sigh of relief. That’s when Rhoda saw the bruises. Tears washed away the makeup she’d used to cover the black eye. She uncurled the scarf concealing broken blood vessels around her neck. Rhoda got up close and examined Chrissy’s face, noticing faded, older bruises—this wasn’t the first time he’d hurt her.
But it damn sure will be the last.
Rhoda nodded toward two male patrons who’d been regulars since meeting Chrissy years before. They walked out silently, on a mission. Another bun-lover, a nurse, gently took Chrissy in his arms and helped her to the hospital. Rhoda closed the bistro and prepared to take care of a different kind of business.
It just so happened that Hollis was the type of man who hit women and then bragged about it. See, the thing is, you never know who you’re talking to, and Hollis had not been paying attention to anything outside of his own ego. He thought the big-muscled man he spoke to at the bus stop would sympathize with his desire to punch women. Then there was the large, tattooed (previously homeless) man Hollis boasted to at a bar one night.
Word spread faster than wildfire and the whole city, or at least anyone who had ever encountered the bright presence of Chrissy, acted accordingly to avenge her.
Two enormous men entered the bistro. Each grasping a struggling arm of the somewhat-human previously known as Hollis.
“We’re gonna erase you.”
“It’s gonna hurt.”
Starting at his tender bits, Rhoda carved chunks of juicy flesh from the abuser’s writhing body. With each slice, she paused long enough to control the bleeding, and ask him a question.
“What did you do?”
Each time, he’d screech out an answer in the hopes that she’d end his suffering.
“I cheated on my taxes!”
And each time his answer was wrong, she’d slice off another chunk of flesh.
“What did you do?”
“I farted and blamed it on the dog”
Swish! Thunk! (right butt cheek splattered Rhoda’s shoes with bloody tidbits).
“What did you do?”
“I killed a kid in a hit and run.”
Swish! Thunk! (left thumb bounced twice on the floor and rolled under a table).
“What did you do?”
“I stole important government documents.”
Swish! Thunk! (Right calf muscle slid off the bone and slithered to the growing mound of Hollis-bits below).
This game went on for quite some time, seeing as people like Hollis will do anything to keep from admitting that their abuse was wrong. Rhoda knew this would be the last cut, for all that was left was an eyeless head stuck to a skinned rib cage, dangling from the ceiling by a swaying meat hook.
Yet still, the toothless mouth beneath the exposed nasal cavity continued to spout denial and evade responsibility.
“I stabbed my neighbor’s dog.”
Exasperated, with beads of sweat dripping off her head, Rhoda gathered all the parts that used to belong to Hollis and folded them lovingly into a pie, baking it to perfection with a flaky, buttery crust. Still steaming hot from the oven, she shoved every last bite of Hollis Pie down what was left of his throat. With each forkful, she whispered into his last, remaining ear.
“You made Chrissy cry, you sonofabitch.”