by Jake Christie

a story.

Paul held the gun like it was giving off some foul odor, as far away from his body as he could with his finger still on the trigger. Whether the gun actually was generating some stench he couldn't tell, because the stocking over his head had his nose squished up against his upper lip, cinching his nostrils shut.

“This is a robbery,” he quacked. The waitress at the counter did not look scared, nor did she look amused. She had a pot of coffee in each hand – one handle orange, one handle black. Her dress was pink with white vertical stripes, or maybe the other way around, and her nametag read “Penny.” She sniffed.

“Put down the coffee,” said Paul, “and fill up a bag with donuts.” He tapped on the glass on the front of the counter. Behind it donuts were lined up like carpet swatches, like a color wheel, like a confectionary rainbow. Pink frosting, lemon frosting, red jelly, maple glaze, sprinkles.

Penny gently placed the coffee pots on the counter and unfolded a paper takeout bag. She lowered herself behind the counter and began stacking the donuts with great care.

Paul watched Penny's graceful fingers lift the donuts, no more than three fingers touching them at a time. Her fingertips retained colors from each of the donuts, tiny spots of pink and yellow and red and brown. Paul could feel himself beginning to sweat.

“How's crowd control?” he asked, turning. John had his gun trained on an old man in a booth, the only other patron in the diner, who was still trying desperately to enjoy his breakfast. John had lifted his stocking halfway up his face to chew on the man's blueberry muffin. Paul caught his eye. He swallowed and shrugged.

“Under control,” he said.

“Do you want the day-olds too?” asked Penny. Paul turned back to see that the paper bag was bulging with stacks of sticky donuts. The glass case was empty. “They're only 25 cents,” she said.

“I'm not going to pay for these,” said Paul.

Penny put her fists on her hips. “Donuts aren't free,” she said.

Paul reached for the bag but Penny pulled it away.

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