Creative Nonfiction Sad Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Donuts were the best part of Sunday school. They weren’t exceptional donuts. They weren’t fresh or colorful or inviting. They weren’t coated in decadent gluten-free Nutella or dressed in neon sprinkles. But there they were, nonetheless. Glazed donuts. Chocolate donuts. The mysteriously-filled-with-who-knows-what kind of donuts. My job was arranging them into neat little rows on the foyer table, and I did so with tender loving care. 

I imagined myself the Lord’s deliverer, a disciple acting in the prophet's name to procure bread for the masses. Of course, if the Lord had a deliverer, it probably wouldn’t be a gangly-legged kid, and He probably wouldn’t pick my father to be his prophet. I doubt God preferred donuts over unleavened bread or manna or whatever Bible characters ate back then. But none of that came to mind Sunday mornings. Once the elderly, poor, and sick filled their plates, I’d get the leftovers. 

I once asked Father why he brought donuts to church. 

“People need a little sweetness to coat the bitterness of truth,” he said. He was a modern-day Jesus with his ambiguous phrases and unrestrained generosity.

Everyone else thought so, too. 

“Oh, that, Mr. Clark! He’s just so thoughtful, buying us all those treats with his own pocket money,” exclaimed members. 

“Amen. Lord knows this church doesn’t give the man a decent salary,” responded others. 

Father’s meager wages never stopped him from giving money to Mother whenever she wanted to sew new dresses for us girls. I favored donuts over frivolities but never kept outfits stain-free long enough to shift Mother’s priorities. 

“You’ve got an awfully important job, Gracie May,” she’d say with pins between her lips and a measuring tape in hand. “We must look our best when we perform acts of service for the Lord.”

And so, on Sundays and in the name of God Almighty, I’d deliver donuts in a fresh dress. I’d smile with a head held high, even as the skirt’s stiff material chafed my Kermit-the-frog kneecaps. The good old Southern Baptist biddies soaked it up like they hadn’t seen the sight a hundred times before. They’d coo whenever my threadbare Father and Mother entered the church towing two doe-eyed kids. They’d whisper and giggle as I organized donuts according to size and color.

“What a lovely family,” Geraldine would say. 

“And such well-behaved children,” Betty would add.

My sister and I behaved in the name of donuts. We crossed our bruised shins and folded our hands in our laps like picturesque porcelain dolls. Ignoring the ceaseless irritation of my lace socks during Father’s long-winded sermons was a test of sheer will. Occasionally, my sister would sneak a jab at my ribcage, and I’d resist the urge to flick her ear. Mother often pinched the rough skin of my elbow, casting warning glances from her peripheral as she did so. 

“You stop now,” she’d say, with a smile playing at the corner of her lips.

The congregation bore Father’s long-winded sermons with grit. He’d stand at the front of the modest church and pace across the floorboards, dramatically pausing to address members by their names and afflictions.

“Benjamin,” he called, slamming a fist against the ancient wood podium. “Last week, you were in the hospital, and this week you sit among us! Is that not a sign of the Lord?”

Murmurs rippled through the crowd.

“And Martha, yesterday you prayed for an end to the drought. Just listen to those drops on the windowpanes!”

A few claps and “amens” followed.

I wondered if Jesus acted like Father. Did the white of his eyes show when He called for God’s judgment? Did the hearts of His disciples swell with pride as they watched Him shower wisdom and truth upon sinners’ heads? How happy I felt, wedged between my pretty Mother and little sister. Sometimes Father stopped to smile at us, and I knew he loved me the most because I was his chosen disciple.

Although I found Father’s performance entertaining, my mind always wandered back to the donuts. They were omnipresent, and my stomach would growl when their sweet scent inevitably wafted to the front row. In the summer, the emphatic swishing sounds of Geraldine’s fan dulled my belly rumblings. In the winter, the guttural roar of the church’s furnace drowned the noise entirely. Aside from my acute awareness of them, my hunger pangs remained unnoticed. 

One spring morning, after a particularly long sermon, Father directed us to bow heads and pray. A reverent hush fell across the pews. My stomach abruptly snarled like a bear disturbed from slumber, and, to my horror, a few church members snickered. I willed my stomach quiet, but the image of donuts filled my head and spurred a second growl, which was somehow louder and more demanding than the first. More laughs followed. I timidly raised my eyes and glanced around. Geraldine chuckled into her handkerchief while Betsy candidly snorted with her head back. Benjamin slapped his knee and guffawed. Mother stifled her reaction before it left her lips, but my sister giggled until tears streaked her cheeks.

Embarrassed, I muttered, “Sorry, I’m a little hungry.”

“Let’s get this kid a donut,” said Benjamin. The audience called “amen” and applauded. 

Church members broke from their rows without dismissal. The commotion of grannies and farmers crowding around the donut table distracted me from the looming presence of Father. The group hustled my sister and me to the front and offered us the first choice. 

“What about this one,” said Geraldine, pointing to a plump Boston cream donut. 

My mouth watered. It wasn’t a sin for disciples to participate in feasts, right? Even Jesus shared bread and fish with His followers. After justifying why it was okay to eat before the sick and elderly, I picked the Boston cream and sank my teeth into its decadent, chocolate-glazed body. A yellow glob splattered onto my new dress, inciting more laughter and a few cheek pinches. 

The hullabaloo lasted a few minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime to an eight-year-old. The stiffness of the two-hour sermon gave way to frivolity so shameless it felt like a sin. It wasn’t until I was crammed in the backseat of our old Buick, struggling to buckle the seatbelt over my bloated belly, that the weight of my actions dawned on me.

Father chose silence instead of turning the radio dial to a cheerful gospel station. He didn’t roll his window down to welcome the warm spring breeze. Before long, the Buick grew stuffy and humid. There existed a sudden atmosphere of prodigious captivity. Mother focused her gaze on the road’s double yellow lines while my sister twirled a piece of string between her fingers. Nausea bubbled in the pit of my stomach. When we rolled into the driveway of our small ranch home, Father shut off the engine and ordered everyone inside.

“Except for you,” he said, addressing me through the rearview mirror.

Mother protested but clamped her lips when he glared at her. She and my sister clambered from the car while Father lingered momentarily.

“Don’t take off your seatbelt. Don’t roll down the windows or open the door. Do not move from this position until you’ve thought long and hard about your actions today,” he directed. “I’ll pray the Lord grants you clarity.”

He slammed the driver’s door and left me alone.

Afternoon sunlight immersed our old Buick, and the backseat morphed into a greenhouse. If I had been a rose, I would have flourished. But I was a kid overstuffed on donuts, sweating and feeling immensely claustrophobic. The more I scrutinized my rowdy behavior in the House of God, the more I wanted to puke. Judas had betrayed Jesus, hadn’t he? Peter had denied His name. Thomas had doubted His power. Hadn’t all of the disciples tested Jesus? Hadn’t He forgiven them?

I vomited half-digested bits of donut onto my lap until all of the shame and sugar left my body. My diaphragm ached, and I stared in horror at my new dress. The heat became unbearable, but I remained frozen in place, terrified to move. And then the clarity for which Father had prayed fell over me. I was not like Judas or Peter or Thomas. Jesus predicted and expected their sinful actions and used their shortcomings to teach his followers forgiveness and faith. But my frivolous and rowdy actions had distracted the Lord’s people. 

My actions hadn’t enhanced Father’s image. They had tarnished it.

Just as I analyzed the degree of my failure, the front door flung open, and Mother stormed onto the driveway with my sister. She yanked the car door open, and cool air rushed over my damp skin. She didn’t notice the vomit marring my dress as she unclipped the seatbelt and pulled me into her arms.

“You listen to me,” she whispered, cupping my tear-stained face. “You ain’t done nothing wrong. Not one goddamn thing.”

Her left eye appeared swollen, and a purple welt had started to spread over her flushed cheek. 

“We’re leaving and going to Granny’s, okay? It’s a long walk. Can you do it?”

I nodded, dumbfounded. Jesus didn’t hit his followers. Jesus didn’t lock them in hot cars.

We walked for hours. My sister began to drag her feet, but she didn’t cry or complain. I watched the expressions flit across Mother’s face like thunderheads moving on a summer horizon. Her petite chin jutted at a defiant angle, and little beads of sweat pilled above her lip. I wondered how long the road meandered. There were too few farmhouses to count, too few birds to serenade our journey. I imagined myself an Israelite, cursed to wander the desert and eat manna for forty years. I wondered what manna tasted like but then pushed away the thought. Eating the stuff for forty years would take away its novelty. 

“Just a little longer,” said Mother.

The sun dipped low across the fields, backlighting the crops with an eerie orange glow. Somewhere in the distance, an old car rumbled over potholes. The noise grew louder, and I recognized the hum of the Buick’s engine. Father pulled alongside our weary caravan and rolled down the passenger window. 

“Come on, everyone,” Father said with a big smile. “Let’s head on home and clean up. Sunday evening service starts soon.”

Mother narrowed her dark eyes at him.

“No,” she said.

Undeterred, Father lifted a large box labeled “Down Home Delights.” 

“I got ya’ll something sweet,” he said, skillfully lifting the lid while steering the car with his knee. Specialty donuts peeked out from bright tissue paper. These were special donuts reserved for Easter and Christmas services. No one, not even the devoutest church member, ate Down Home Delight donuts on a normal Sunday.

“Mama,” whined my sister, tugging on Mother’s dress. “I’m hungry and tired.”

Mother hesitated. Streaks of green and yellow now accented the purple on her face. Her eyes flitted between us girls. My sister began crying, but I remained steadfast. 

“Please, mama. I’m so hungry, and my feet hurt.”

Father parked the car and leaned over to unlock the door. 

“Get in,” he said. The words hid a forceful edge. 

We piled into the car. Father kept the windows down, commenting on the way we smelled.

“It’s like ya’ll wandered the desert for forty years,” he said, watching me from the rearview mirror. I stared back.

“Have a donut,” he insisted, passing the box to the backseat. My sister indulged in a neon pink donut with star-shaped sprinkles, but I shut the box and pushed it away.

“Guess ya had a bit too much earlier then?”

No, I thought. I’d rather have unleavened bread or manna or whatever Bible characters ate back then. At least it wouldn’t be emptiness dressed in sugar.

July 27, 2023 21:25

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


21:43 Jul 29, 2023

Hard hitting stuff Em. A tough read as I really wanted them to keep walking, afraid what awaits them at home. A sad common reality for many. Very well done.


E. M.
17:42 Jul 31, 2023

Thank you for the kind words! I debated giving them a happy ending, but like you said, the reality of this particular outcome is far too common still. Thanks again for the comment!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.