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The Dangerous Love of Mr. Frank

by Tabaré Álvarez

The pretty nun said, “You’re going to make yourself fat.” This was in response to Frank’s “Good morning, Sister Maggie.” The greeting, as usual, had felt inadequate, but he couldn’t very well say “I love you, please marry me.”

The cupcakes were all right, and, to keep himself honest, he would eat them himself rather than give them away. They were regular cupcakes, vanilla, moist and not too sweet. He wished she sold savory things, but alas. This was perhaps the road to diabetes. He bought and ate two of these a day. “Two cupcakes, please,” Frank said.

“I know your order, for...” She almost said, “For God’s sake,” and her face turned red.

It was inconceivable that someone like her existed. He supposed that if she weren’t beautiful, he would dismiss her as just another nun, restricting her life for reasons that did not hold up to scrutiny.

It was a bake sale. The school — Sister Maggie taught science, of all things — had set up a table by the gate, and Frank, who worked at a nearby bank, was always first in line. Parents waiting for their kids, or vice versa, were a natural captive audience, and Maggie cleaned up. The funds went to school supplies for the lone scholarship student, Jane Peterson.

Jane Peterson, fourteen, freckled, with flour on her forehead and oven mitts for hands, popped up behind Sister Maggie holding a fresh tray. Naturally Frank had a last name, Buono, but Jane Peterson always called him Mr. Frank. She said: “Thank you, Mr. Frank!”

“You’re welcome, Jane,” he said. “Yesterday’s were good.” Frank thought of Jane as their chaperone, the person who made it possible for Maggie and him to talk without the situation collapsing under its own weight.

Frank didn’t have much small talk, he knew, but usually as he paid he told Sister Maggie a small story about his family or his work. He supposed that if he added them up, the small stories, there was no better record of his time on earth than in Maggie’s memory. But today he was out: he had nothing to say. If he said, “Marry me,” she wouldn’t want to see him tomorrow. But the words displaced all others, leaving his head nearly empty.

It was a cold day. In truth, Maggie should have been indoors, not outside selling cupcakes in the cold. Jane should have been using her free period to study or play, not to work. And he should have been courting a regular person, not a bride of Christ. It was noon, and some parents — pedestrians — were already standing in line to retrieve their kids. The SUVs and the crazy honking wouldn’t start for another half-hour. The air smelled of cupcakes. There were two people behind Frank, in line for cupcakes.

“Something I haven’t told you,” Frank said. He had put away his wallet, and in his left hand he was holding the two newly-acquired cupcakes, snug inside a brown paper bag.

Maggie’s eyes seemed to panic.

“Something else, I mean,” Frank said. With no further preamble, he touched his right forefinger to the brown paper bag. Where he touched it, the paper burned.

Instinctively, Maggie went to stamp out the fire, slapping at the brown paper bag. Despite the flurry, despite the jumble of paper and cupcakes and smoke, he felt distinctly, twice, the touch of her fingers against his left hand — their first touch. He looked up, and she seemed relieved. She had really been bracing herself for the other confession.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Frank,” she said, still a nun. And the words made him as happy as if she had acquiesced to this one-sided love.

Copyright © 2016 by Tabaré Álvarez

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