Dream in My Parents' Old Donut Shop

It’s the one we sold fifteen years ago, when my dad became a mechanic and my mom started working in a factory. I’m four again but am wearing boat shoes and a polo like the kids at my college, where I went to bed. I think maybe I’m still asleep, but my father says, Oh good you’re awake and starts walking around the shop, gesturing at the plastic tables at the back, the counter near the entrance. I have to waddle my four-year-old legs twice as many steps to keep up.

This is the register, he says, pressing buttons that sing like bicycle bells. Fresh donuts go in this case, save them for good customers. He points to Bob, who is balding. Save the day-old for bad customers. He points to Fred, who is balding even faster. I’m still groggy and think, Who is Bob, who is Fred?

My dad moves on, talking in Vietnamese, which I haven’t spoken in years, not since I moved away from home for school. I try to say, Dad, I can’t right now, I have class, but he says, These are the regulars, keep a tab for good customers —Bob—and for bad customers—Fred—cash only, small bills. He wipes down the counter, which gets crumbs on the polo with the alligator, which my parents would have worked half a day to afford.

This is Lisa, your baker, he says, leading me to the back room, with industrial stoves and tubs of flour. Lisa tears off a page of her small notepad like she used to when I asked for drawing paper. But Lisa, I say, I don’t draw anymore. I look at the scrap in my hands. I write essays that my professors say are great and brave and they give me As, they’re long essays, Lisa, I need more paper—but she returns to kneading her dough again, humming to the radio.

This is the safe, he says, These are the receipts, these are the sales, this is the bottom line. Be nice to your customers. Be nice to Bob because he’s good and be nice to Fred, even though he’s bad. I don’t want to be nice to Fred, I think, I don’t want to wake up every morning to serve him coffee. He spills his cup coffee and every refill tips over into an oil spill and my small hands can’t soak up all that mess and I don’t want to be nice until one of us dies.

Dad, I don’t want this, I say, I want to go home, Daddy I—and he picks me up, polo and boat shoes and tomato-red face and says, Shh, you’re so tired, we’ve covered so much, and I say, No, I want out, and he says, Let’s take a break, and I start crying, and he asks, Do you want some juice? and still crying, snot on my lip, I say, Yes. He gives me juice and kisses my forehead and places me down into the blue hammock we keep behind the register. Good night, he says and turns off the lights to the world.

Eric Tran received his MFA from University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His work appears or is forthcoming from the Indiana Review, Hobart, and Knockout. See more at: veryerictran.com