By Sarah Cimarusti
I usually assemble my lunch first thing every morning—half a sandwich, yogurt, banana, and some nuts. Sometimes, when I’m feeling like a badass, I pack a piece of chocolate.
Then there are other days when I am so mind-numbingly lazy, I don’t want to pack anything because on those days getting out of bed is first priority.
We’ve all been there. We throw off the blankets and stretch longer than we have to. We play tug-of-war with ourselves. We stand in front of our closets with blank stares. We haven’t had our coffee yet, and already it hurts to think about the rest of the day.
On days like that I’m forced to go out for lunch and spend my money even though I have perfectly good groceries in the fridge. My usual spot for those lazy days is Corner Bakery. It’s cozy and doesn’t have to explain itself to my wallet.
I like the lentil soup because it doesn’t skimp on the mushrooms, and the warm spiciness soothes my entire body. I like to feel the heat in my ears. I stand at the fountain drink dispensary, tilt my cup sideways like I learned in my server days, and fill my cup with Diet Coke until it kisses the top. A server bustles past me. She has a stack of dirty dishes piled high—a napkin from her pile floats like a feather to the floor. She disappears into the back. I stare at the napkin on the floor. I reach down, pick it up, and throw it away. My rationalization is that I saw it fall, I’m standing right next to it, and the garbage can is four footsteps away from me.
As I’m shoving a lemon into my drink, a woman with red hair in a messy bun taps me on the shoulder. I recognize her; she has served me before. “Excuse me, but I have been here for five years, and I can’t remember the last time a customer has picked anything up off the floor.” She looks bewildered. She peers at me like I just performed CPR on a battered puppy I rescued from a burning building. I’m slightly confused by her demeanor.
In grade school my teachers gave us prizes if we were “caught doing something good.” One teacher gave away pieces of toffee he called “tastations,” which made them sound even more delicious than they already were. To my surprise, I received a “tastation” after volunteering to deliver homework to a fellow classmate who was sick at home with mono. In my eleven-year-old brain I assumed it would be a weekly homework for candy exchange. Turned out, it was a one-time offer. Point was, I was noticed, and it felt good to be noticed, especially when it wasn’t my main objective. Or maybe it was just the candy.
Then, you grow up. Sometimes you do nice things, and good things happen. Sometimes not. Ultimately, there’s no reward as satisfying as a tasty “tastation.”
The red-headed server looks at me with chilled eyes. I swear I can almost see the thin layer of ice melting as she cracks a smile at me and offers a strand of words I will never forget: “Here’s a free whoopie pie.” I stare at her one wayward tooth as she enunciates each syllable.
I briefly wonder if she’s making an example out of me so that the other customers feel like shit. But, “Huh?” is all I can choke out.
“Here, take it. Thank you. Seriously, thank you.”
I fumble with the flaky pastry. In the center of the tart sandwich, there’s a white heart palpitating, a pasty pile of cream thicker than a deck of cards. Not to mention, it’s adorable. Whoever made this pie had kissed it on its forehead and neatly tucked it away in a thin wrapper. This thing was made for holding then ravaging like a burrito.
I feel like a hero. Several people smile at me on my way out the revolving door. I puff out my chest like a robin in springtime. I feel a little like Clark Kent ready to take on a day filled with villains and disasters, and people to save.
I sit at an outside table and relish my lunch with more vigor than usual, saving my prize for last. The sun is shining, and oh my, what a lovely little breeze!
Suddenly a bee lands on the lid of my cup. It crawls with thread-like limbs up my straw. I shoo it away as another bee—probably its wingman–lands on the paper wrapped around my whoopie pie.
No big deal. I collect my things and move to another table. They smell me. They remember my name. They follow.
People tell you to never swat a bee, but I felt made of steel, so I rolled up the papers I brought for reading material and slammed the scroll down onto the table. Over and over again, I defended what I had rightfully earned. After all, I had picked up a napkin. Not anyone else. Me. I had saved the day! It’s my fucking whoopie pie!
I notice my forehead is swimming in sweat and there’s a family silently waiting behind me, frozen with terror on the sidewalk. I hold my fire. I slump my arm down to my side. I move for them to pass me. They shuffle along and avoid eye contact.
I return inside, though there’s no endless breeze or intoxicating sunshine. “The bees tried to eat my pie. I tried to kill them,” I told another server.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It seems they’ve developed a sort of… resiliency. I can’t clean the tables anymore. Even the mess belongs to them. You made the right choice.”
I sink my teeth into the whoopie pie and imagine a list of desserts, the rewards of my youth. I cackle at the spectacle of poor old Sarah swatting away. And then I stop thinking. I let each bite settle in my teeth and give them a buzz.
Sarah Cimarusti is an editor for a plumbing/HVAC publication. She lives in Roselle, Illinois with her boyfriend who is a videogame enthusiast, two rabbits, and a green-cheeked conure who bathes while her owner tries to do dishes. Cimarusti writes, reads, and dances in her living room with or without music.
"Whoopie Pie" is Sarah’s first published essay.