SO, HERE is Danny. At the wheel again. It’s a Saturday morning. Thanksgiving is past and reminders of the near approach of Christmas are jingling away all over the place. It’s freezing cold. Danny Sr. has asked his son to exercise his recently awarded right to drive and go pick up a gallon of milk and some other groceries at the supermarket. The donut shop is on his way, but it’s still too early. Danny pulls out of the driveway.
And here is Dina, walking to work along the suburban sidewalk in the freezing cold, and hoping despite the early hour that her fantasy will come true — the one where Mark’s black sports car pulls up at the curb next to her and he rolls down the window and offers her a ride simply with a meaningful look — though she chooses this particular scenario from among many, in large part because she’s freezing her ass.
And here is Danny driving along Main Street when who does he see walking along the icy suburban Landesdownesville sidewalk from her house to work in the freezing cold?
He does not hesitate. He pulls up next to her at the curb, and stops. And she stops.
And here is Dina, her heart skipping a beat, because at exactly the moment she is hoping that a black sports car will pull up next to her, it actually does. And the shaded window begins to roll down, revealing the beautiful Mark, who kissed her that night at . . . No, wait, it’s not Mark, it’s that nervous guy with the black hair and the shadowy facial hair on his upper lip — she knows him from school, kind of a loner or maybe a stoner, and more recently she knows him because he comes in once or twice every weekend to buy a box of a dozen donuts.
He’s offering her a ride to work, thus: “Hey, need a ride?”
She hesitates because she can’t help but suspect he’s been reading her diary, to copy her fantasy so perfectly. But on second thought, that’s ridiculous, and it’s just an uncanny coincidence, so uncanny that it’s making her head spin a little. And besides, she’s freezing her bony behind.
“Sure,” she answers. Just then, softly and silently, a little snow begins to fall.
And here is Danny, catching a break, alive like he’s never been alive before, awash with joy and disbelief, to see her, feel her presence next to him in his car, the rest of the world shut out by shaded glass and chrome. He pulls slowly forward as she straps on her seatbelt.
There is an exchange:
“I guess you’re on your way to work.”
“Yeah. Thanks for stopping, it’s so cold!”
“I know, right? I just got my permit.”
“Yeah, I turn 16 in March. I can’t wait.”
“Oh, nice. Oh, hey, happy birthday in advance.”
“Thanks. I know you from school but we’ve never met. I’m Dina.”
“I’m Danny. I already knew your name from your nametag from the donut shop.”
“Oh, right,” she laughs. The sound is flutes-streams-robins delightful.
The trip along the rest of Main Street up to the turn at Hamilton just before the entrance to the freeway is, alas, too brief. He pulls into the mostly empty parking lot and stops in the middle of that open space, across from the front door, and puts it in park, the engine still running. She unbuckles her seatbelt.
“You’re not coming in for donuts?” she says.
“Well, I’m running an errand for my dad, but . . .” He hesitates.
“I notice you buy a lot of donuts,” she says.
“Yeah, well, it’s cause . . . I really like you.”
“Yeah, for a while now.”
She is not sure what to say. He can’t believe he’s said it. She can see he means it. He wishes she would say something. She understands why he buys so many donuts. Her lips are pale and ever so slightly chapped in the frosty morning light. They look at one another as if terrified. She’s not getting out of the car, as if she’s waiting for something, or thinking something over. So he leans toward her. She doesn’t flinch or recoil. And he kisses her. Yes, he does. And her nose exhales into his shadowy mustache and her eyelids flutter and her lips even caress his own, just a little.
And they look at each other again.
“Wow, I really didn’t expect that.”
“No, it was sweet, actually. You seem very sweet.”
“So, uh, do you want to maybe have coffee some time?”
Now, when Danny thought she was thinking something over, he was correct, because the truth is she can’t make heads or tails of how she feels about this poor kid — he’s just not the right guy. But, somehow, he’s not the wrong guy, either. Who would’ve thought someone would ever feel this way about her? But this guy? Why this guy? She’s so used to saying no, rehearsing no, patience, prudence, No. Words. Her hand reflexively thinks to grab a pen. And what would her friends think of him, loner, stoner, loner, stoner? Her answer is: “I don’t know. I’m kind of hung up on someone else.”
Danny’s heart drops and gets entangled with his small intestines. His brow with its near-right angles wrinkles up in a frown. His face aches. He loses his voice: “Who . . . ?” he croaks.
“Aw, man . . . ,” he rasps.
“Yeah. He and I are kind of seeing each other.”
“I was friends with him when we were little.”
“Yeah. He’s kind of a dick. He always was. I thought he was going out with Brenda Kosowski.”
“Yeah, he was.”
There’s another painful silence. She’s lied again, and she’s not even sure why, and now she just wants to escape.
“Listen, I have to get in to work. I’m really sorry.”
She’d like to make some kind of eye contact, but his hands are on the wheel and he’s staring between them into the wheel’s centre as if into a void.
“Come by and get some more donuts later.”
“Bye, thanks again for the ride.”
And the passenger-side door closes and now he turns to see her go in through the front door of Holey Donuts without a look back in his direction and though his 20-year-old car is humming with life, and though the falling silent snow is quite beautiful, he feels his own life as he knows it is over.
Well, Danny is not taking this very well.
He’s not self-certain enough or smart enough — or most important, experienced enough — to understand that Dina has not rejected him out of hand. Hardly!
But that’s what he believes. He believes he will no longer daydream of Dina or of her delicious lips or her other rather narrow yet still very appealing parts — it would be too painful. There is no one he can talk to about it, or at least, there is no one who is going to offer him the sympathy he is looking for or the advice he needs. He has a couple of friends from school, and has sometimes availed himself of their opinions, but they’re just as un-self-certain and shy of girls as he is, and they’ve only confirmed his suspicion that it’s hopeless and that he should give up forever. He’d like to talk to his father about it, and as he comes home from the supermarket to find Danny Sr. on the couch watching a three-hour college football pregame show, he briefly considers doing so. But he is too embarrassed of his failure. And the sight of his father, there on the couch, reminds him all at once of his mother, who has not so much as sent a letter or called on the phone to say hello in the last eight years. Strangely, it doesn’t occur to Danny to blame his father for what happened eight years ago. Instead, he has the sense of lonely, preordained doom: that his father — sagged into the couch cushions, frowning as if wholly unimpressed with the TV yet unable to look away — is meant to be alone, forever, and Danny believes that he is a lot like his father, only not as self-confident, so his own fate will be even worse.
So his thoughts turn to Mark, the guy who ruined it for him, his childhood playmate, who still lives in the same house just down the street, and who he used to have play-dates and sleepovers with when they were in grammar school. Their little boys’ friendship was fine for a year or two, but dissolved after Danny noticed that Mark was a profoundly fickle friend, depending on who else was present. That is, Mark was pleasant enough when it was just the two of them, but whenever any other kids joined in — whether they were throwing a football around in the street outside the house, or playing video games indoors, or running around the schoolyard during recess — Mark would turn on him, pointing out his athletic inadequacies or his social inadequacies to the others, who would never fail to pick the correct side and, accordingly, take steps to ostracize him, laugh at him, and make him feel unwanted.
When he’d had enough such treatment, Danny stayed away from Mark. And now they pass occasionally in the halls of the high school without any particular active antagonism, but without even the slightest eye contact.
At the moment, Danny is lying awake in his room with the blacklight and the classic rock posters and his electric guitar on its stand — in forlorn, unamplified silence, impotent — and none of it helping at all. It’s past midnight. He can’t sleep. He’s only once before felt a hurt like this — the poor sap, if he only knew that it’s he, more so than Mark, who is now in Dina’s thoughts, and she can’t sleep either, and at this very moment she’s in her PJs staring at a blank page in her outwardly anonymous diary, confounded, unable to decide whether to write about Mark or Danny.
He gets up, puts on his clothes and his shoes. And he emerges from his room into the living room where Danny Sr. has fallen asleep before the television, and he goes outside, though he first grabs his father’s aluminum baseball bat from where it’s standing in the corner. Out to the Camaro. He puts the bat in the passenger seat, heads to the side of the house where Danny Sr. keeps a metal, extendable ladder, which Danny carries and, in the pearlescent halogen light of the motion-activated lamp over the front door, which shines as if specifically to expose foolishness in the night, ties with bungee-cords to the roof of the Camaro — a haphazard arrangement if there ever was one — and backs out of the driveway.
He drives slowly along the darkened Landesdownesville street, not far, and parks on the street near a two-storey house, where he takes the ladder off the roof, carries it, extends it up, and sets it ever so quietly to one side of the house under a particular second-storey window. He leaves the ladder against the house and goes back for the bat. And now he climbs up.
Now, we know Danny is not a violent kid. But he’s angry. And the anger goes quite a ways back. He’s not thinking he’s going to break anyone’s knees, though he’s not thinking he’s not — in truth, he’s not thinking much at all, he just needs to do something, and he’s angry and hurt enough to forget that he really isn’t the proactive type.
So now he’s outside the window, and there’s a light on, and there’s a long, lithe, golden body dressed only in boxer shorts, on a bed right at the window, slightly propped up on pillows, a glowing laptop on the body’s lap, and at the top, a face, which now turns and is looking through the window right back at him, mere inches away, and, outside of a puzzled wince of recognition, remarkably expressionless considering the circumstances.
Mark sets aside the laptop and opens the window, which was locked from the inside.
“Dude,” Mark says. “What the fuck.”
“What’s up?” Danny says.
“What the fuck, man. Are you nuts?”
“You know this girl, Dina? Who works at . . . ?”
“Dina Crispo. She’s a sophomore, hangs out with Monica Peters. Works at the donut . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, man, I know her. What about her?”
“Are you going out with her?”
“Fuck no, I kinda tried, but she’s a prude. Why? You into her?”
“Yeah, kinda. She said she’s going out with you.”
“She did? That’s messed up. I’m not going out with her. Why, did you ask her out?
“Well if she said she’s going out with me it just means she doesn’t want to go out with you.”
Danny is not happy to hear this. Mark pauses, as if to let it sink in. But then he continues: “But it might just be cause she’s nervous. She’s a nervous girl, man. Seriously. I think you might be her type. I would ask her again if I were you. She’s the kind of chick you gotta ask like five times, cause she wants to but she thinks she shouldn’t. By the way, bro, what the fuck are you doing asking me this on a ladder at one o’clock in the morning?”
“Well . . .”
“What’s that, a bat?”
“Yeah, I was gonna kick your ass.”
“Pfft. Like you could? Bro, it’s fucking cold with this window open, you wanna come in or something?”
“Nah, it’s okay, I just wanted to know if you’re going out with her.”
“Well, I’m not, so go ask her out again, you dumbass.”
“Okay, I will.”
“See you around.”
And as Danny drives home and parks the Camaro back in the driveway, and quietly replaces the ladder against the side of the house and goes inside and closes the front door, he finds his father, still asleep on the couch, his mouth open, a can of beer still somehow firmly gripped in one hand, the TV still on. And Danny stands by the couch, still wearing his coat and holding the bat. It is difficult to know by looking at him exactly what Danny is thinking in this moment, but it’s easy to surmise that his father seems to him, perhaps for the first time, an incredibly small and lonely man — far lonelier even than himself — and that perhaps Danny understands he’s had a glimpse, a glimmer, of what it really means to love someone.
He turns away, puts the bat back in its corner, and goes back into his room.
And here’s Danny at about one o’clock the next afternoon, a Sunday. He slept soundly. The ladder and the bat are replaced as if they’d never been disturbed, and he’s headed back to the donut shop. The sky is clear. There’s a little snow on the ground. As he gets out of the Camaro in the Holey Donuts parking lot, he can see her through the glass doors at the counter. And she sees him, too, and the air, the atmosphere between them, invisible, seems to burn. And for the moment he’s forgotten his father, and Mark, and his car, and the fact that he’s not normally the proactive type, and Danny walks to the glass doors, forgetting himself and everything, and goes inside.