My first wife Kat rolled the dough in balls, flattened them, cut a hole in the center, and slid them in the hot grease, which created a flash in the pan—rolling smoke, popping grease, and bubbling that lasted until the dough reached a high temperature and turned brown. She pulled them out with tongs, put them on paper towels to soak up the grease, and dried them before pouring a lemon and sugar mixture icing on top. Nothing beat her homemade donuts, not even a brain-freezing strawberry daiquiri on a scorching day at the beach.
As an engineer, I saw life in an unemotional, mechanical way with an occasional flash in the pan. Kat, on the other hand, saw life as mostly ordinary, except for emotional bursts on her timeline: giving birth to our only son, birthday cake, occasional wine and sex, opening presents Christmas morning, salvation or baptism, and even death when one journeyed the tunnel to the light.
When she journeyed after that train hit her Camry, at first I thought about her a lot. I wondered why her and not someone else. I wondered if she’d suffered. I wondered how I’d get by without her. I knew I’d never eat another donut like hers. Then I thought about her on special occasions—birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas. Once I was in Wal-Mart, smelled her Chanel Number Five perfume, and turned to look down the toilet paper aisle to see if she was there.
I saw her one night when I dreamed I died. It seemed less mechanical, more fluid. I was in the pine box on display for others, looked at myself, and thought I looked better dead than alive. The smile creases around my mouth were gone, the stress and worry wrinkles on my forehead from scrunching eyebrows had dissipated, and the crow’s feet around my eyes had smoothed. Whether death had relaxed my skin or whether the embalming fluid had filled me until smooth, I didn’t know, but the suit and tie I’d worn once to Kat’s funeral still looked good on me, and my hair looked better smoothed down with gel.
I hugged people who were there, some dead and some living, mostly cousins and friends from school I hadn’t seen for fifty years. I never thought it was odd I was both dead and alive. Kat was there, sitting in the first pew, and whispered to me, “I told you it wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Feel your life.” I woke up, my pillow wet. I craved her donuts, called our son who works in IT, has his own family, and lives on the West coast, and decided to stop by Wal-Mart and ask the widowed cashier out for dinner.