The woman is waiting in line at this bakery just after dawn because she read in a guidebook that they make the best donuts in all of Seattle. Rain is drizzling from the puffy sky, so she holds a red umbrella while she waits. The woman doesn’t mind the rain. The rain is welcome after the hot, dry summer in the desert, a summer during which the mountains glowed night after night, and day after day, oozed smoke. What the woman minds is the way her husband looks restless beneath an awning across the street. She minds how the first thing he said this morning was “Oh look, it’s raining again. Imagine that.” How he groaned so loudly when they realized that this line was for the bakery that people in the line turned and looked at them. This minding is a wildfire. This minding will ravage everything if she lets it. Fuck her husband, fuck this vacation, fuck these donuts, the minding hisses while the woman stands underneath the umbrella.
But then she’s inside the bakery, and it is warm and cozy, barely room enough for a few bodies on the customer side of the wooden counter. When the woman reaches the front of the line, the man behind the counter scoops golden, brown donuts into a white paper bag that quickly develops grease spots. Granules of sugar stick to the outside of the bag. There’s sugar everywhere, in fact—sugar on the counter where the man sets down the paper bag, sugar on the man’s white apron, sugar in the downy hairs on his forearms. She feels the grit of sugar beneath her shoes as she leaves the bakery.
Outside, beneath the streetlights, the mist shimmers like spun sugar. The woman folds her umbrella and lets the mist coat her hair and skin.
When she reaches her husband, he shakes his head like she’s crazy. He says, “Are you happy now?”
“It’s raining sugar,” she says. She tugs him out from the awning and into the mist, despite his protests.
Maybe it’s just the mist, but his expression seems to soften. He sparkles in the fuzzy light.
When my stories “Fertilizer” and “Palate Cleanser” were selected for Best Microfiction 2020, seeing those two stories back-to-back in the anthology, I thought, huh, food is a central element in both these stories. In the former, the protagonist likens men feeding her when she was a teenager to a farmer fertilizing crops he intends to harvest. In the latter, a three-course meal with a palate cleanser becomes a metaphor for a woman’s marriage. I thought about other stories I’d been writing and publishing and realized that food is a central element in a lot of my writing. Food is, of course, sensual, so there’s that draw. Write observantly about food, and your writing will quickly become rich in sensory detail. But food is a means to so much else, too. Food is characterization. Food is metaphor. Food is conflict. Food is setting. Food is action. In my story “Sugar,” sweetness can squelch fire.
Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award (November 2021); and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (forthcoming in 2022). Her work is included in Flash Fiction America, Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50, and other anthologies. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. Find her online at https://michellenross.com and on Facebook/Meta and on Instagram.