The Blueberry Muffin
By Carrie Kreth
“You ate my blueberry muffin?” Jeff shrieked in complete surprise. Nelly noticed, however, that it was much more than mere surprise. Surprise is what someone felt when slipping on a banana peel or waking to the smell of bacon and maple syrup. She suspected that what Jeff was experiencing was a stirring combination of disappointment and frustration.
Guilty fingers, stickied by the muffin’s remains, fumbled into tiny pockets. “I’m sorry,” Nelly said. She smiled. “I was hungry and I didn’t think it’d be that big of a deal.”
“You ate my blueberry muffin!” He raised his skinny arms and put his hands on top of his fashionably messy hair. His tight t-shirt rose with the motion, exposing his pale and fatless belly.
“I’m sorry, okay,” she said, giggling in disbelief.
“Nelly, Nelly, Nelly… you ate my blueberry muffin!”
“I know I did,” she said, less certain of herself. Her brown eyes sunk their way down to the tiled floor. It had not been swept in weeks, perhaps years. Nelly doubted that a bristle had brushed across the cold stone since the death of Jeff’s mother five years prior. She intended on changing that after the wedding.
“You ate my blueberry muffin!” Jeff, hands still on his head, spun around, walked to the counter, leaned forcefully against it, and breathed deeply, staring at the wall beneath the oak cabinets. Nelly watched in discomfort, observing a side of Jeff to which she had never been exposed before. She could see the flaming sides of Jeff’s stubbly face as he turned his head. The titanium refrigerator kicked to life, humming steadily in the silent room. Jeff sniffed. The garbage stank. “You ate my blueberry muffin,” he whispered.
“I’m so sorry, Jeff.” Sun, streaming through the window above the kitchen sink, glistened on the tear which sprang from Nelly’s right eye.
“No, Nelly,” Jeff dropped his head, tucking his pointed chin against his bony chest, “I’m the one who needs to apologize to you.”
Nelly shrugged and nodded, discreetly soaking the tear from her face with the end of her sleeve. “You are being a little unrealistic about a muffin.”
“You see, this is why I’ve been single for so long.” He launched himself away from the counter, turning to face Nelly in the same motion. “Do you understand now, Nelly?”
“Because women eat your blueberry muffin?”
Veins bulged on his forehead. “Women eat everything.” He pulled the refrigerator door open and grabbed an icy bottle of IBC Root Beer from the shelf. Raising it, he twisted its cap, which came off with a steamy pop before it clattered on the floor. “But that isn’t the reason.” He pressed the cold glass against his thin lips and drank half the bottle before lowering it. He held it out toward Nelly, gesturing. Nelly’s fingers, still pressed tightly against her thighs by the seam of her jean pockets, reluctantly grabbed the bottle and took a timid sip. Jeff took the bottle from her, poured the brown liquid down his throat, and carelessly tossed the bottle to the corner where a mountain of rubbish was erupting from a small bin. The bottle bounced off the top, rolled down the side, and shattered as it contacted the floor.
Nelly planned on buying a broom that very day if she failed—again—to find one in the house. Jeff looked at the small plate lying on the gray countertop strewn with tiny crumbs, some a deep purple. “Women just grab, grab, grab—take, take, take. They think everything belongs to them because when a man’s in love he’s willing to give everything to her. To do everything for her! The one thing any man wishes a woman would not do is the very thing which every female in this world inevitably does: Meddle in the affairs of men.”
“Jeff,” Nelly chuckled, though brushing another tear from her cheek, “I ate a blueberry muffin. And I already said I’m sorry. I’ll buy you another one.”
“No, Nelly, no.” Jeff’s brown hair stood straight up now for he had taunted it so with his fidgeting hands. “You can’t buy me another muffin like that one.”
“Sure I can,” she protested, images of Delaware streets flashing in her mind. She had lived there long enough to be familiar with every corner of the city. “The German bakery down the street from work sells delicious muffins.”
“Blueberry?” Jeff quizzically raised an eyebrow.
“Chocolate, strawberry, lemon poppy seed, apple, oat, and, yes, blueberry.” She grabbed her jacket from the back of the tall chair over which she had laid it. She grabbed her cold keys, crushing them in her hand, as she draped her jacket over her arm and folded it against her torso. “In fact, I’ll just go and get one now, because I feel really bad, and you’re making it much worse by not dropping it.”
The winter sun caught the diamond on her ring. She wiggled her finger slightly, sending shards of rainbow light about the kitchen.
“In fact, I need to think. About us. I… didn’t foresee this.”
“Of course you didn’t. You have no—”
“Jeff, if we’re going to start a family together… I just don’t know how you could handle it.”
“Handle what?” He scrunched the stretchy skin of his forehead, bringing his wild eyebrows together.
“Jeff, pregnant women have worse eating habits than non-pregnant women,” she explained. “If I couldn’t restrain myself from eating your muffin today, then things will only get worse when we have children.”
“Things will definitely get worse,” Jeff said contemplatively, eyes bound to the barren plate.
“Yes, yes they will.” She tossed her head, flipping her fine, brown hair away from her shimmering eyes. “So, I will go pick up this replacement muffin, and then I will go. Both of us need time and space to think.”
“Wait,” he walked to the counter and lifted the plate. “The wedding is in twelve days,” he said, shaking the ceramic dish.
“Nelly, this isn’t really about this.” His voice cracked. His neck was tense. He tossed the plate into the sink. It clattered dangerously against the other dishes, but did not break. “It isn’t about taking what isn’t yours, the meddling of women, or the bad eating habits of pregnant women.”
Nelly stood patiently, shifting her weight from her left foot to her right, her leather boots faintly squeaking as she did so.
“It’s about a blueberry muffin.”
“A miniscule and unimportant thing,” Nelly commented.
“Let me rephrase that, darling: it’s about the blueberry muffin—the kind of blueberry muffin that no German bakery in the world, nor any other bakery, sells.”
Shivers danced across Nelly’s skin. Every hair follicle on her scalp seemed to tense. Her mind felt smooth, like liquid. Suddenly, she became aware of the rumbling cars on the freeway over a mile away. She stood on her heals, twisting her feet, and looked at the floor again, now she noticed even the shadows of every particle of dirt, of every crumb. “I’m so sorry, Jeff. I know it won’t be as special, but can I please go to the bakery and get you a replacement?”
“No, Nelly. There is no easy replacement for a lifetime of work.”
“It doesn’t take a lifetime to bake a muffin.”
Jeff lightly bit the inner edge of his lip. “It does for a muffin like that. Come,” he said, grabbing Nelly’s elbow. “Come to the living room and sit down.”
Nelly shuffled her feet, following him. He sat her down on his favorite reclining chair. Holding her jacket in her lap, she looked up at him as he stood before her, staring at her eye as if she had a splinter in it. “Nelly, I’m going to explain this to you step-by-step, okay? It’s going to be weird, and it might freak you out, but that’s why you’re sitting down.”
She coughed a weak laugh, her smile fading from the corners of her mouth. “Jeff, I wish I knew what you were talking about.”
“Nelly, I’ve been dreaming of that muffin and working on that muffin since I was old enough to think.”
“Babies are old enough to think.”
“Well then I’ve been thinking of this since I was a baby. That muffin was my baby.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better, Jeff? I feel like a jerk, okay. If I didn’t hate throwing up so bad, I’d regurgitate that stupid muffin right now.”
“Regurgitate all you want. It won’t reverse its effects.”
Nelly leaned back, her heart beating faster than she had ever felt it beat before. Even at the finish lines of her running marathons her heart hadn’t drummed so wildly. “What effects?” she asked, her throat tightening. Every taste bud tingled at the remaining flavor of the muffin, which sprang vividly back to life, as if she were currently devouring it.
Jeff chivalrously held out his arm, sweeping it around the walls. Beside the entertainment center stood tall shelves stocked with comic books and novels, stored orderly and neatly—more than anything else in the otherwise sloppy house—tightly pressed against each other until every millimeter of shelf space was occupied. “My dreams, Nelly.”
“I know, Jeff. You like books and comics. And superheroes. And muffins.”
“And science. Yes.” She crossed her legs, tapping her foot slightly against the floor. A deep surge seemed to vibrate through the floorboards. She pinched her eyebrows, bewildered. “Did you feel that?”
“Must’ve been an earthquake. Is it warm in here? I heard it was supposed to rain tonight, but I think it may snow. Feels like snow. I know it’s a little early, but with how clean the air seems, it just feels like it’s going to snow. That must be why I can hear the freeway so good.”
Jeff simply observed her. He knelt, staring into her eyes. She paused her nervous rambling long enough for him to say, “So it’s begun.”