Making the Donuts

by V. Plut 5 days ago in fiction

A Short Story

Making the Donuts
Donuts, ©V.Plut

Frank was dead. His white apron was now soaked with red all the way down to where it lay partially submerged in a puddle beneath him. Two large trays of fresh doughnuts sat in the tray on the table above him, sprinkled with his blood.

The detective had to wait until the clerk calmed down enough to give him a statement.

“I know this is difficult ma’am, but we need your help and quickly. The sooner you can tell us what happened, the sooner we can find the person who did this.”

“Frank ran in with a rolling pin in his hand”, said Joanne. “He was still dressed for work in his apron and hat. I couldn’t understand why he came in through the front. I had just seen him in the back when I arrived at work. He must have been chasing whoever was back there. Oh mercy. Then all the screaming and noise and I called the police and ran out the front door and then they came and found him.”

“Oh God!” The cashier began sobbing uncontrollably again.

“Poor Frank! He took care of his family and his business and all of us. He took care of his mom till she died. Oh Frank!”

The detective let her cry some more as he wrote everything down in his notebook.

The cop on duty outside poked his head into the front door. “Tom Newton from the Gazette wants in.”

“Go ahead and let him cross the line but not into the bakery, I’ll talk to him outside.”

The detective stepped outside to see the reporter craning his neck into the bakery window to get a peek at the crime scene.

“Stop rubber-necking Tom, you look foolish. I have five minutes and then you’re out.”

The detective pulled out a small notebook and began talking from his notes.

“At 5:15 a.m. one Frank van Sickle, walked into the bakery, past the clerk, and entered the kitchen, where an unkown assailant beat him to death with his own rolling pin. The assailant then fled out the back door of the kitchen, which was open, without demanding money or harming the clerk. That’s all for now Tom.”

“What was the proprietor’s full name?” The reporter was scribbling furiously in his own notebook.

“Frank van Sickle”

“Geez. How do you spell that?”

“I don’t know Tom. Why don’t you Google it. Look, it’s painted right on the glass door here. I have to wrap this up. Call in a few days to see if we have anything new. I have to go.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frank came from a long line of van Sickles, the name variously spelled van Sickle, van Sicklen or Vansickle and in some cases van was dropped and shortened to Sickle. They sailed from France and the Netherlands, into New Amsterdam, and when the British seized New Amsterdam and renamed it New York City, the van Sickle’s moved farther west in what became New York State, leaving behind a namesake on a Brooklyn street called Van Siclen Avenue.

A view of New Amsterdam, (now New York City), when it was conquered by the English. Johannes Vingboons, (1616–1670), Public Domain

Frank was a direct descendent of Ferdinandus van Sicklen and Sara Antonise Jansen van Salee — Sara was the granddaughter of the notorious Dutch Barbary Coast pirate Jan Janszoon van Haarlem. Many Americans are descendants of Janszoon, including the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis and the Vanderbilt family, but Frank’s line of van Sickle’s simply traded in donuts, or doughnuts as it is properly spelled — the shorter spelling of donut was an Americanized version of the word adopted by the 20th Century donut chains which Frank abhorred. No Vanderbilts or famous political wives or movie star descendent was he, just a man with a small trade and a dream of making it his very own artistic statement.

He read and researched the history of his family and culture and the history of the doughnut in America in order to improve upon the style and culinary aesthetic of his family’s trade.

He found that the Dutch have a history in doughnuts. He gleaned some facts from various sources that really had no documentation, mostly stories passed down.

  • The early doughnuts were simply round balls of sweet dough fried in pork fat. Must be why today’s doughnuts go so well covered with strips of bacon, he thought.
  • Some sources had the Dutch bringing the doughnut to America, the center being removed by a Dutch immigrant en route to the New Amsterdam — he put a hole in the middle of the dough so that it would cook more evenly, inadvertently creating a new culinary design suited to the new country.
  • Another source had a woman in 19th century in New England creating the doughnut for her son at sea, putting nuts in the middle and calling them doughnuts.

Frank van Sickle read and reread Washington Irving’s, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, wherein the Dutch were thoroughly lampooned and which described the first Dutch doughnuts as being “An enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.” Olykoeks were much like dumplings in that they were scooped into a ball and dipped in hot pork lard.

The word olykeoks, translated as oily cakes, was difficult and foreign to the English, who had an aversion to the sound of the Dutch language and accent anyway. They likened it to German and considered anything incomprehensible and gibberish-like as two times as difficult as the language of the Dutch, labeling it as Double Dutch.

A young Dutch girl with oliebollen or olykeoks, Aelbert Cuyp, circa 1652, Dordrechts Museum, Public Domain

Frank found that the word Dutch itself has vague origins. It was given to his people by the English and had its root in the word people and was associated with Germany, or Deutschland, hence Dutch because of the Germanic sound of the language spoken by immigrants from the Netherlands. He discovered a few other relevant facts to add to his research.

  • - Diets was a language spoken in the low country of the Netherlands and morphed into Dutch. People from the Netherlands considered themselves to be Nederlanders or Hollands and not German.
  • - Germans who settled in Pennsylvania are called Pennsylvania Dutch and are not the same immigrants from the Netherlands who created New Amsterdam.

All of these conflicting facts about the history of doughnuts and the Dutch went into Frank’s thoughts as to what to call his special doughnut. He finally settled on the Double Dutch doughnut, using the English connotation of the name since doughnut culture and history was all so doubly confusing, yet familiar to the average American consumer of donuts. Besides that, it had a catchy rhythmic sound that was easy to say and remember.

So at risk of rolling his father in his grave, he pulled most of the old pastries off the menu, with the exception of his letter pastry, invested in a new doughnut machine to make donuts only, and premiered the Double Dutch doughnut as a new product exclusive to his business, and even patented his new invention.

Frank basically put the dough back into doughnut, flattened it, and put two together with a walnut and honey spread sandwiched in between. He topped it with a special secret, cinnamon glaze that he created himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frank van Sickle Sr. married Phoebe van Gorder at the courthouse in a lackluster ceremony. Phoebe’s sister Hannah and brother-in-law Henry Hover witnessed the event that would set in motion the death of Frank van Sickle III. He became Frank van Sickle III because Frank Sr. and Phoebe gave birth to Frank Jr. about a month after their marriage, only to lose him a year later to a rare genetic disorder that cursed the van Sickle line from the Netherlands, through New Amsterdam to modern day Rensselaer County, New York.

Phoebe closed herself off to everyone, including her husband, after losing Frank Jr. She took to her bed for two months. She was pregnant again but had no desire to see her pregnancy through to the end, feeling nothing for the little seed growing inside –no one could replace her little Frank. When she finally gave birth to the new baby, she refused to nurse him and Frank Sr. had to hire a nursemaid to bathe and feed him and change his diaper.

The doctor said it might take some time for her to warm up to the new baby since her grief over little Frank overcame any maternal instincts she might harbor — some women went through a period of coolness toward their new infants as a natural course after childbirth he told Frank and he would just have to wait it out and hope that Phoebe would snap out of it.

Since Phoebe refused to acknowledge her child, she also refused to name him — so Frank named him Frank Cornelius van Sickle III. Phoebe was upset for days over this since she felt that giving the baby the same name was Frank Sr.’s way of negating little Frank II, as if he had never existed. She accused Frank Sr. of being a cold hearted fish who never loved his first born to begin with.

“It is a curse from Satan come to steal my little Frank’s identity!”

She spat her words at Frank Sr. and vowed never to care for, “the wretched little replacement sent to torment me and make me forget my little son. God rest his soul.”

Frank stood his ground. “I must have a namesake Phoebe. Maybe we will have a little girl to take her mother’s name.”

“There will never be another child in the house again Frank. Certainly not another van Sickle”

And with that, Phoebe forever shut herself off from Frank Sr. moving into her own bedroom and pretending that little Frank III did not exist. She remained mentally broken until well after the death of Frank Sr., never producing another child for him, nor coming out of her mental state for any length of time. She remained a recluse in Frank’s home until her death.

So the little pastry shop truly became van Sickle & Son. Frank Sr. brought his little son with him to work every day rather than leave him at home with a nanny and little Frank came to know every aspect of his father’s business from dough to sugar to keeping the books, caring for the utensils and forming letter pastry into a V for the regular morning customers.

Most everyone in town knew Frank’s situation and some would come calling for coffee and pastry every morning en route to work or church and call back to the kitchen, “Good morning van Sickle & Son!” and sit at the little counter dunking their van Sickle letter pastry into their coffee in between blurbs of the local newspaper.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frank van Sickle III paid a visit to his family at the old Dutch cemetery on the outskirts of town every two weeks. He was the last of his line to carry on the family bakery. He had cousins and distant relations spread throughout New York but his little branch had broken off, being the sapling that didn’t quite flourish under the shaded canopy of the larger more productive branches of the mother tree. He stood before Frank Sr., Phoebe and little Frank II and said a small prayer.

A Dutch cemetery in New York, CC

He couldn’t help but imagine his older brother lying in his little coffin below him, arms folded across his chest, his tiny form broken down to nothing by now, with only a few remnants of a little skeleton and clothing left. Frank had lived in the shadow of this little spectre his entire life, but he finally saw the light of a real identity when Phoebe let out the last breath on which Frank II thrived.

As a teenager, Frank spent most of his off hours from school and the bakery at the library, studying psychology, trying to come to terms and understand Phoebe’s rejection and subsequent lifelong insanity. One summer afternoon Frank was in the library when a large, yellow coffee table book graced with a painting of sunflowers displayed on a table caught his eye. It was about the life and art of the Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh.

Yes, Dutch, he thought, and with a name as Dutch as mine. Frank immediately picked up the book and began flipping the pages. By the end of the afternoon Frank had been sitting at a table for three hours, entranced by his new discovery, and when the librarian went around reminding people that it was time to close, he marked his page with a scrap of paper, carried the book to the desk, and checked it out.

He read all the way home on the bus and by the time he arrived at his stop, he had become mesmerized by the life and art of Vincent van Gogh.

His connection to van Gogh was sealed with the fact that another Vincent van Gogh was stillborn a year prior to van Gogh’s birth and that Vincent had been given the same name. Frank thought much on this small fact. He wondered if somehow the first Vincent was perhaps a sort of spiritual false start to the making of a genius. Maybe the first Vincent saw what was coming and was just not up to the task, so the second stronger spirit entered into existence to carry out the unfinished business at a more appropriate time in the universe.

Gravestone of Vincent van Gogh’s namesake, his older brother, Vncent Willem van Gogh, (March 1852 — March 1852), Inscription reads, “Let the children come to me,…for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”; Luke 18–16. Zundert, Zundert Municipality, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands, Courtesy of Find-a-Grave

Frank brought all of it to his own situation. Perhaps Frank II was not up to the expectations of the physical world. It took a stronger and more creative Frank III to carry the assigned burden.

This new insight into the universe gave Frank a new sense of himself in relation to the cosmos. He became more tolerant of his mother’s insane grief and he threw himself into the aesthetics of baking with an outlook much inspired by the art of Vincent. He even created a special pastry stuffed with lemon meringue and decorated with a sunflower. When he slid a tray full of these pastries into the glass case it gave the effect of a field full of sunflowers on a late summer day.

His customers were delighted and his father’s face became a bright round beam of happiness when they called young Frank an artist, emptying the tray and their pockets within a few hours — they were so popular on Sunday morning, especially at Easter, they had to be made to order. Frank and his father worked all through the night on Saturday and even had to hire extra help to bake the other items on the menu and take phone orders.

They pulled out an extra cash register for the occasion and like the sunflower, Frank Sr.’s happy face followed his son’s lead in every aspect of his business until the day he picked up a large tray of pastry shaped into the letter V for the Monday morning dunkers, carried it out to the shop, placed it into the case and fell sideways into a final, fatal slumber.

Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Public Domain

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He slept a strange kind of sleep, one in which he was moving freely and dreaming in color. He never dreamed in color. He was making the doughnuts but he was making them smaller, smashing them like hamburger patties and cutting out the middle.

“No! No! what are you doing?”

He took tiny little dough centers and rolled them into little balls. “You see? donut munchies. They can drop them in their coffee. We’ll call them floaters. Perfect dish for the morning commuter who likes wet crumbs in their coffee.” He began laughing.

“Stop!” He started covering the doughnut patties with gaudy red sprinkle from an aluminum shaker, chuckling to himself as he went along. “Just the thing to bring the little hummingbirds to the feeder. A sugary, bright red to make them forget they aren’t getting the real deal.”

He woke, flailing his arms as if he were swimming upwards, finally pulling himself out of the nightmare like a swimmer. He looked at the clock. It was 5:00 p.m.

He hadn’t been late since the afternoon he found his mother at the front gate of the yard with a shovel in her hand. “Heading for the cemetery,” she said. “Frank is buried alive!”

“For God’s sake mother,” he grabbed the shovel and tried to steer her back to the house. “I’ve got to get back to the shop to make the doughnuts. Joanne has to pick her kids up at school. What in God’s name?”

He made sure she took her meds and was comfortable in front of the television before he finally headed to the shop. When he arrived home the next morning the curtains in the living room were still drawn and his mother sat in the dark in the recliner. The lights of the television flickered across her stony face. When he felt her cheek he couldn’t help but feel that somehow not much had changed about her. She was as cold as she always was.

Today felt like another serious interruption in his life, very similar to the day his mother passed away on the recliner, only nothing had happened — yet. But yet something did happen. He’d had a lucid dream for the first time in his life. For only the second time in his life he was late in making the doughnuts.

He arrived at the shop and rushed in to the front of the shop so that Joanne would see right away that he was finally there. She was pouring coffee for a customer and glanced up at Frank without a blink.

“I’m so sorry Joanne. I’ll give you an extra fifty in cash to cover the sitter. I must not be well in the head. Accidentally stayed in bed overtime.”

“You’re not late. The problem is not your head. Must be your clock at home. Everything’s fine here Frank.”

He stood a moment and took it in. He looked at the large doughnut clock behind the counter. Must be something wrong with my clock, he thought.

Joanne handed him a mug of coffee and an apron. “Jimmy’s in back putting away the delivery.”

Frank put on his apron and went into the back to help his apprentice. “What do we have today Jimmy?”

“We got some red sprinkle, two cases of lard and 2 large boxes of flour. And the machines all cleaned up for you Frank.”

“Sprinkle. Did you say red sprinkle? Why in God’s name would you order red sprinkle Jimmy. You plan on starting your own pastry shop?”

“Well I didn’t Frank. You did. Last week, remember?”

“No I don’t remember Jimmy and you need to fess up about who did.”

“I’m not sure what to say Frank, except I’m telling the truth. You ordered it last week after you talked about making the donuts smaller to reduce overhead. You said the red sprinkle would detract people from noticing the smaller size because people really just want brand rather than size and taste. You said all they needed was a cheap sweet to fill their addiction.”

Jimmy felt an awkward discomfort at the way Frank just stared in silence. Something was definitely off about him lately. Frank was stressed to the max and maybe it wasn’t the right time for a vacation, but Jimmy had already packed the car for his camping trip and his girlfriend had already taken time from her job.

“Everything’s unpacked here Frank so I’m off to vacation now. Everything is spic-and-span and stocked to the brim for you.” He tilted his head toward the back door as Frank just stared.

“So like I said, I’m off now.”

“I didn’t tell you that you could take a vacation Jimmy.”

“You did Frank. Last week…”

Frank cut him off. “Let me guess. I told you last week. When we supposedly had the conversation about the red sprinkle. Right?”

“Honest Frank….”

Joanne appeared at the kitchen door. “He’s right Frank. You told him last week he could take off. I was there. Remember? Frank I think you’re tired that’s all.”

Frank took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “Yes of course Joanne. I do remember now. I’m sorry Jimmy. Go now and have a great time. Tell Mira I said hello.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He knew that he needed a vacation. Maybe he would take a trip to the Netherlands to do some family and food research. In the meantime he would make plane reservations and go along with whatever Joanne said. If she said he gave Jimmie a vacation, then he wouldn’t argue, he would just pretend. He needed time to figure out what was going on in his head. He couldn’t run a business if he had no idea what he was doing behind his own back.

He called Joanne back to the kitchen.

“Hey listen. You’re right Joanne. I haven’t been up to par lately and I need some time off. I’m closing shop on Friday evening and we’re all taking vacation. I’m giving both you and Jimmy two weeks paid time off, so call him before he leaves in the morning and let him know.”

At 7p.m. sharp, Frank turned the sign on the door to CLOSED and watched Joanne get in her car and leave. She gave a little wave as she started her car and Frank waved in return.

He went into the kitchen, put on his tall white hat, and started prepping for a night of turning and mixing and kneading that was second nature to him now. His first experiences in life were of his father doing this very thing every night for thousands of nights, and his father before and on back to old New Amsterdam and the Netherlands — making the doughnuts while the rest of the world slept.

The Windmill at Rijk, 1670, Jacob van Ruisdael, Public Domain

He listened to the radio while he worked most nights, and tonight he was listening to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast. He suddenly cared nothing about what had happened earlier in the day, immersing himself in the rhythm of work — it always worked for him.

Near 1 a.m., he was just filling his first trays when he turned sharply and felt a pang of dizziness in his head. His head, he thought. That was it, all in his head. Joanne was wrong. The clock was fine. It was his head that needed fixing.

When he had filled the tray, he paused a moment to rest his brain. Just tired, he thought. He picked up the tray, turned to bring it out to the shop and lost his balance. The full tray of Double Dutch Donuts slid to floor as Frank fought to regain his balance.

“Nothing wrong with your head Frank.” Clearly that was a voice that seemed to come from the back door, he thought. Who would be here at this hour? Jimmie. That’s who. Probably came back for something or to say goodbye. Frank went to the back door, opened it and looked out. No one. Just another symptom, he thought. It’ll pass. I’ll just sit down for a bit at the door and get some air.

After some time, Frank closed the back door and walked past the open restroom. He glanced briefly at himself in the mirror through the open door as he went past and felt a fleeting rush of breathlessness. Something was off. The angle of view between he and his reflection seemed parallax rather than straight on.

It’s the lighting, that’s all, he thought. The light in the bathroom is off and it only seemed like a disjointed view. And he was tired. Getting older too. The gray was coming in at the sides near his ears now and time was revealing itself in the lines across his forehead.

Maybe he was having a heart attack. He’d read that one of the symptoms was a feeling of foreboding right before the strike.

“Nothing wrong with your heart Frank.”

Frank stopped his breath for a moment and listened. It had come from behind this time. He reached through the restroom door and switched the light on. A figure stood behind him. Frank caught his breath again in a near panic until he realized it was his own reflection.

But something was still not right. The angle was parallax. Frank moved but the reflection did not mimic him. He immediately swung his body around and saw that he was now face to face with his reflection, but without the mirror to assure him he was having a silly moment in the middle of the night.

It’s carbon monoxide thought Frank. He’d seen a paranormal reality show in which it was discovered that carbon monoxide poisoning was triggering paranormal experiences. The problem was solved when the family purchased a new furnace.

“Nothing wrong with your furnace Frank.” The words came directly out of the mouth of his reflection. Had he said it himself? No. He was sure he hadn’t said a word.

“I’m as real as you Frank Cornelius van Sickle III, in fact, I was here first. Remember?”

“You aren’t real”, said Frank. “I’m tired and stressed.” He closed his eyes and leaned against the doorframe of the restroom. He knew that if he opened his eyes it would stop, but as soon as he closed his eyes he felt a light touch upon his shoulders. He opened his eyes and jumped when he realized his reflection was in his face and touching him.

“Yes brother, it’s me. Frank Cornelius van Sickle the II, come to claim my inheritance. I have been to the Netherlands and back through time and the ages watching our ancestors since I was last here and I’ve learned a few things about the way the universe works. The cosmos is not linear Frank, but works in a circle and I am about to complete it. All that nonsense you’ve filled your head with about Van Gogh and art and being the one to come and do the job right after I failed. Do you really think Vincent did it all himself? How do you think he painted the Starry Night? By grasping the concept of turbulence right out of the air? No. Believe me. He had some help. The image of his brother’s spectre loomed over him his whole life and controlled his every spiritual and physical action, all because of a name. If he had been given a different name, his own identity, his brother would have been powerless to act in the physical universe from the outside, but then the world today would lack that special beauty that can only be brought in from outside the physical world. His brother was always with him as I have been with you, but Vincent fought it at the same time he went along with it, doing physical violence upon himself and ultimately destroying himself.

And now we come full circle Frank. We must merge. Don’t fight it Frank. Don’t ruin it for both of us. If I had left it all to you, everyone in New York State would be eating Red Sprinkles and what would father think of that? Why do you think mother loved me so? It was because she knew I was the one who was truly meant to be and that something terribly wrong happened in the universe when you came along. That’s why she didn’t want father to make me your namesake. It was you who was not meant to be Frank, not I. I was to carry on the line of van Sickle & Son, and now I’ve come to finish the job Frank and produce an heir, Frank Cornelius van Sickle III.”

Frank finally screamed after being frozen in terror, shock, and then disbelief. He ran out the back door and down the ten blocks to his home. When he entered the house and saw his mother waiting in her recliner, he knew what he had to do. He had to return to the shop and come face to face with the spectre that overshadowed his entire life. He ran into the kitchen and pulled his mother’s rolling pin out of the dining room bureau — it was a wedding present from her sister Hannah. He ran the ten blocks back to the shop as the first light gray tones of morning filled the sky. By the time he reached the shop, Joanne had already arrived and was counting the till at the front counter. He raced through the front door and into the kitchen.

Frank II was already making the next batch of Double Dutch Doughnuts when Frank III set upon him with the rolling pin until there was nothing more the apparition could possibly say through the mess that Frank III had left of him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joanne regularly tended the van Sickle plot on the outskirts of town. Frank had no one in life, except her. He had been the last of the van Sickle bakers and Joanne was more than willing to remarry and give him a son when he proposed a few days prior to his death. Maybe some people are just not meant to be in this world, she thought.

She found work at the donut franchise that opened directly across the street from the old van Sickle & Son Pastries. Every Easter Sunday she bought three of the loveliest tulips she could find, and laid them at the stone of each family member.

Thank you for reading my story!

©V.Plut All Rights Reserved

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