Somebody brought Sylvia Plath back from the dead and I ran into her at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was running from the law and headed for Florida. (Florida is the only place on Earth that has both crocodiles and alligators.) After I pulled in and got out, I saw Sylvia Plath sitting alone at one of the tables. She looked like all of the photos I’d seen of her before, but she couldn’t remember anything.
When she saw me staring, she introduced herself as Sylvie. There were rainbow sprinkles clinging to her blouse. Her accent was decidedly Midwestern, meaning that I couldn’t detect one at all. And her eyes, they looked less knowing. I kept staring at her with the assumption that I was wrong, just like those details. But then I guess if you come back around again, it probably changes a few things.
“I think I’m new here,” Sylvia Plath said. “But people keep recognizing me and flipping out. Do you know me?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sort of.”
“I don’t remember you. I don’t remember anything. Isn’t that silly?”
She giggled nervously and eyed the counter like she wanted another donut, then glanced at her purse. She frowned slightly.
“I don’t suppose you—“
“It’s on me,” I said.
We went up to the counter and she chose a chocolate pastry with a cream center and got a second cup of coffee.
“Lazarus,” I said. “Daddy.”
I wanted to trigger something, but she was tearing through the donut gleefully. A small gob of cream was already matted into her hair. I was watching her in dumb shock while trying to appear casual. I took a baby sip out of my jumbo macchiato and a timid bite out of my strawberry frosted.
My mind drifted a bit while Sylvia ate. What good was it to lock me up if I couldn’t undo a thing? And after all, I hadn’t really meant to do it. I was drunk and the car, it just sort of…hell, I’d been a mess most of my life. When you are a mess, shit happens.
“I think I love this place,” she said as she admired the pink and brown establishment. “It just makes me…I don’t know? Feel so happy!”
I set my food down and could not look at her smiling, guileless face. She hummed a little under her breath and licked her thumb. It hurt my feelings to watch her and I felt ashamed for knowing the things I knew about her, and frankly, about me too.
“So delicious!” she declared.
And then that did it. Too many times of reading The Bell Jar or too many YouTube’s of listening to her voice with its Eastern accent reciting poetry about death with a surprising, almost schoolmarm-ish primness. I burst out into tears, sobbing all down the front of my pink breast cancer awareness hoodie and all over my yoga pants. I cried until everyone in the place would have been less embarrassed if I’d simply shit myself and left.
“Oh no!” Sylvie said. “My goodness. Are you all right?”
“My cat died. And then my hamster. I lost a lot of pets this year.”
None of that was true, but I panicked.
“Oh, well that is really sad. I feel bad for you.”
Her brow furrowed and her mouth pulled down. She had stopped humming and gobbling donut. What was I supposed to say? The truth? About her? About me? It was inappropriate.
“No!” I shouted like a crazy person. “No! But you are happy!”
I was gesturing a lot and some of my hair was coming unpinned from its blond bun.
“How can I be happy right now when you are obviously so sad?”
“Please,” I said frantically, “Please don’t be sad. I just. I feel like I’m ready to let go and say goodbye to them now. Really, all better. Perfect. They’re in heaven. So I am totally fine.”
“Uh, well good. I’m glad then,” Sylvie said.
Her expression upgraded to puzzled. A beer sounded good right about now. I thought about the things I’d done and what I’d give to sit there like her, clean and new, and with all of it gone. No more trigger words.
“Please hug me and tell me that you are happy,” I said.
And so she did, albeit awkwardly. Some of the cream from her hair smeared onto my hoodie and I held onto her too long, not because I was particularly attracted to her, but because in some now less abstract way I loved her.
“Hey,” she whispered, “did you see the coconut one?”
I felt another tear slide down my face and into her hair, but she didn’t notice. It was possible to come back and not be broken.
“I did,” I said, “and it’s all yours.”
I could feel her smiling and she hugged me a little tighter. When she let go, I bought her the donut, grabbed the jumbo macchiato that I still hadn’t finished, and left. I turned back just once and she was eating the donut.
I thought about that hug all the way down to Florida. When I stepped out of my car, not one soul knew me. There were so many flyers for sightseeing that the racks of them blossomed with bright, shiny colors beneath the warm sunlight.
“Looking to take a tour?” a man asked.
His nametag said “Jerry” and he was smiling; brochures were fanned out in his right hand.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes.”
And I felt happy.
Sarah Sorensen has most recently been published in Whiskey Island, The Audio Zine, Dirty Chai, Cactus Heart, Embodied Effigies, Your Impossible Voice, Gone Lawn, and Monkey Bicycle. She holds an M.A. in English from Central Michigan University. Find her at www.typefingertapdancer.wordpress.com.