Nathaniel Goodwin’s owl shaped alarm clock rings at 6:58am sharp. It has rung at the same time for the last 42 years, since he was five-years-old and his mother woke him for kindergarten. Even during days when no school or work beckons him, he sets the alarm, a sound he has come to rely on, an assurance that he can start his day and everything will go according to plan.
He raises up in bed, flings his legs over the edge and puts his rather large feet into his red and white checkerboard slippers. Right foot first, followed by the left. Before taking a step, he pulls the covers of the bed back taunt, smoothing the sheet and blanket, the pillow adjusted just so.
At 7:05am he pours the coffee he has prepped the prior night to brew automatically into a San Francisco 49er’s coffee mug. His newspaper is on the front stoop, his Hostess 2-count coffee cakes placed with surgical precision four inches from dead center of his 4x4 square foot dining table, the package’s edges flattened and uncreased. His mom, bless her soul, would have warmed the cakes and placed them side by side on a plate for him, along with cold milk, but some things do change he has to tell himself—this last fact making him shiver. Change being a daunting thing.
Nathaniel has been working from home since the Covid mandatory shutdowns happened. It’s taken him a while to adjust to the changes, not riding the bus to work was an adjustment—it was his one social outlet. Shifting his daily regimen has been hard but he is trying to establish much needed routines from his home office––as in an old card table he has erected in his living room and his lumpy sofa. His biggest challenge by far has been losing access to his food mainstay, meaning until recently the accounting department’s vending machine. So, he’s resorted to shopping where his mom had, at Schimey’s Mart a block over, a place where he can procure his preferred items—Hostess Twinkies, Ding Dongs and to round out his nutritional needs, fruit pies. He likes the uniformity of the packages and the consistency of these long shelf-life staples. His kitchen counter is stacked with these essentials.
He opens his front door and stoops to grab his newspaper, grunting to raise his rather large frame back up vertical. Lonnie Clark, his across-the-street, rather moon-faced and heavy weight neighbor, is waving to the car occupied by her husband as it speeds away from their driveway. He doesn’t know her well but he knows she shops at Schimey’s Mart too, and that she likes Twinkies and Ding Dongs also. He offers her a quick wave. She nods and he watches her hurry back inside.
Within her home, Lonnie breathes a lion’s breath sigh. Her husband Mel’s job is considered essential so though most the rest of the world lives in a state of lock-down, she still gets the days mostly to herself. Assured Mel won’t be returning any time soon Lonnie grabs the step stool and begins to unhide the cakey treats she has tucked behind cans of tuna and low calories boxed goods on the upper kitchen shelf.
When she’d married Mel, Lonnie had just graduated from college with a teaching credential and she had so many plans, but Mel thought otherwise. He told her that no wife of his was going to work, a woman’s place is in the home so she has turned to food as her solace, her best and worst friend. Nowadays Mel spends most of his time at home being critical of her, how fat and disorderly she has become, so unlike the budding days of their earlier rosy marriage when things were hopeful and lovely. And the more he criticizes, the more depressed she gets and the more she eats. It’s a dizzying cycle, one she’d like to stop but has no idea how to even start.
Lonnie unwraps a vanilla zinger and dissolves the entire thing in three bites. She loves the way the sugar bursts in her mouth and makes her feel tingly and buzzy. She then proceeds to lick the plastic wrapper and carefully hides the evidence of it inside a paper towel before depositing it into the trashcan. Next, she consumes a jumbo honey bun, it’s sticky gooeyness seducing her with its hardened white icing, before sitting down to her newspaper and Hostess cream cheese danish.
As Lonnie begins to chomp into her danish, Nathaniel is simultaneously sinking his teeth into his first morning taste of coffee cake when his eyes stop dead on the headline on page three. Lonnie, with paper in hand, is reading the headline too and it says,
Hostess Recipes Burn in Fire
The article below it reads as follows:
American bakery company Hostess Brands is ending their twinkie, donut and cake-baking business effective today, April 1st. A large fire in their Kansas, Missouri plant has burned the recipes used to make America’s favorite breakfast treats, snacks and breads. Rather than disappoint Hostess fans with new recipes the company has decided to stop making these product lines. All sales will be final.
Lonnie coughs her danish right onto her newspaper, while Nathaniel nearly chokes on his coffee. A mutual feeling of dread spreads. They both share the thoughts, How can this be? And, What am I going to do now?
Lonnie immediate jumps into inventory mode. Since Mel has the car, she has to figure out a way to buy as many of her favorite snacks while they’re still available. She can take the bus to Walmart or Costco to stock up, but she’d be embarrassed if someone saw her and told Mel. For now, she’ll have to get to Schimey’s Mart and buy everything he has. She folds herself into a dress quickly, presses down her hair and marches her sensible shoed feet out the front door.
She notices the neighbor across the street, the man who has been living with his mother until she died a while back coming out of his front door. Eyes down she endeavors to pick up her pace so that she won’t need to engage with him. She suspects he is on the same mission. She’s often seen him at Schimey’s Mart and that he is also a fan of Hostess treats. She wants those snacks, they’re her one real consolation and she deserves them she tells herself.
Nathaniel sees Lonnie leaving in the direction of Schimey’s Mart.
By God, I know where that woman is going and what she wants, he thinks.
He picks up speed, aiming to beat her to the market before she can make off with his Twinkies, but he’s having a hard time keeping his red and white checkerboard slippers on and they’re making him trip as he lumbers forward.
I’ve just got to make it one block and then cross over to cut her off before that intersection. Surely, I can beat her there.
Lonnie isn’t having it. Her round sausage arms are pumping as fast as they can in hopes of making her trunk-like legs move faster. She glares across the street at him and he glares back as a van passes between them on the road. Nathaniel uses the passing of the van as a cover to begin a horizontal cross of the road at the intersection, hoping to gain the advantage. Lonnie is on to him and begins to run, launching full on into the street.
Neither of them had seen the delivery van that hit them. The one that read Hostess on the side on its way to Schimey’s Mart for its weekly delivery.
The very next day on page three of the newspaper there were two headlines. One read,
Hostess April Fool’s Fire Prank Boosts Sales
The other headline read,
Locals Take Up Jogging and Are Killed By Truck