The Cupcake Disaster
About the Writer
Shane Jones lives in Albany, New York.
Megan Jeffries moved past the smokers and angled her body away as if they reached for her hands. When offered help, she shook her head no thank you. Using the left side of her body, she shoulder-pushed through the revolving door, clutching the cupcakes to her chest, and rode the elevator to the ninth floor. Her sweating only got worse in the air conditioning.
“Cupcakes are here,” she said.
“How many?” asked Tanya from her cubicle.
Tanya Roberts had worked in an office environment for seventeen years. She wore rainbow colored scarves and sequin tops.
Megan placed the cupcakes on her desk and sat down in her blue padded swivel chair. “About twelve,” she answered.
“Problem,” said Carol, who sat next to Tanya.
Carol was forty-three years old, had a dome of frizzy black hair, and spoke to her son on the phone in baby talk three times a week. Megan didn’t hate her exactly, but often became irritated because Carol always echoed and enhanced Tanya’s displeasure.
Megan circled her mouse until the screen lit up with email. The office smelled like wet carpet, an egg sandwich, worn-twice-in-one-week socks. Locked windows held the sun. “How can there be a problem with free cupcakes?”
You could enter the cupcake contest repeatedly via an online page showcasing a busty woman, Betsy Cupcake herself, who wore a pink poodle skirt and matching lace top with tiny ceramic cupcake buttons. Megan adjusted the color settings on the monitor because inside the computer Betsy’s skin gleamed orange. Blue eyes clicked revealed the page where you entered Name, Phone Number, and Location. Betsy Cupcake, driving a diesel-fueled double-decker muffin mobile would deliver the cupcakes herself to the winning office.
Megan wanted to win free cupcakes more than anyone else in the world.
She emailed her office (five employees, including Scott, a part-timer who never worked Fridays), her boss’s primary office at Boulevard Park (six employees), and her friend Rebecca in Personnel (2 employees). The email was simple and direct: Enter as many times as you possibly can.
They submitted their information over seventy four thousand times, ten thousand more entries than their nearest competitor, Gallivan BBQ Brothers.
At 10:43 p.m. Megan received the email. She read into the glow until she saw only pixels. Before bed she emailed everyone, in each office, that they were all winners.
Betsy Cupcake stood in a poodle skirt holding a tray of rainbow colored cupcakes. In the other hand, matching balloons. She knocked a third time before Megan opened her door.
“Yeah, congratulations, you won free cupcakes,” said Betsy Cupcake. “Here you go, Melissa.”
“Why are you here? It’s Megan.”
The muffin mobile idled in the street as the driver, a thin man with a bowling ball belly and cut-off sleeves, leaned against the hood. He peeled pink paper from a cupcake. He waved at Megan and said, “Hey, good job Melissa!”
A car beeped while maneuvering around the bus and the driver went to say something and spit cupcake.
“I’m happy,” said Megan, “I really am, but there’s been a mistake because this isn’t my office. They need to go to three different offices. I wrote an email saying if we won we’d need three separate delivery trips, because, these people I work with, you don’t understand what they are like. I don’t have time to –”
“You for sure entered your home address on our profile log-in or we wouldn’t, like, be here.”
The driver heard this and laughed.
Megan said, “That’s not like me. That’s not me.”
She accepted the cupcakes but declined the balloons.
“Cool with me,” said Betsy Cupcake. “I’ll give them to my kids. They love balloons, because they fly.”
Portals of heat wobbled in the exhaust as the muffin mobile drove away with a trail of cars attached. Megan admired the cupcakes she held.
Before she arrived today, several people in the Boulevard Park office had complained in a flurry of late-night emails that they would get the unpopular cupcakes because Megan would bring all the cupcakes to her office first. By the time they received them they would not only be picked-over, but the cake would be dried-out, the frosting brittle and cracked. Megan regretted emailing everyone about the victory. This was the problem. She hadn’t checked her email before coming to work.
“I’ll eat whatever,” she said to Tanya and Carol. “I just want a cupcake. Maybe I should just drive them all up there right now?”
“I don’t think so,” said Tanya. “They don’t deserve first dibs.”
“Please take care of this as soon as possible,” Janet, her boss at the Boulevard Park office, said to Megan over the phone. “We have some angry people up here. Save a chocolate.”
Megan had everyone in her office, except herself and two others willing to wait, choose a cupcake before driving to Boulevard Park. Her arms were covered in a cool sweat.
She made sure not to exceed the speed limit by ten miles per hour – following advice from her ex-husband, a police officer, who told this to everyone he knew as if possessing a great secret or black magic. The air conditioning in her 95’ green Volvo on full blast did nothing to wick the sweat from her body. Her sweat formed a layer of clothing. She sped by a group of protestors on a street corner who held signs that said COME AND TAKE IT over the crude black sketch of a giant gun. The cupcakes sat on the passenger seat and rattled in their plastic holders. Megan had placed a dishtowel over the tray to block the sun from melting the frosting.
A woman named Gina greeted Megan at the entrance. “The right, thing, to do,” Gina stuttered, “would have been, to have, separate delivery trips, of the same, cupcakes, so everyone, had, a fresh, pick.”
“I know,” said Megan. “That’s what I tried to do but there was a mistake.”
“Everyone is, waiting, in the break room, so come, on, hurry up.”
The Boulevard Park office was an office where all office materials were stored. Megan walked by towers of printers and reams of paper stacked in flood prevention formation.
“This place is something else,” said Megan. “Too bad it’s not air conditioned.”
Gina walked with a severe limp and one arm glued across her chest. “I wonder, if, the tax payers, would say, the same,” said Gina. “That’s, a, joke. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Here we are.”
A mob of hounds-tooth had gathered in the break room. They stopped talking when they saw Megan, the faces of the people she had emailed who believed they were somehow getting shortchanged, getting leftover cupcakes. Megan couldn’t believe it mattered, but there was something to complain about and they attacked it. No one made eye contact with her when she walked in behind Gina, but everyone moved toward her to claim their cupcake.
“Finally,” someone said.
Megan sweated and watched them eat.
Her boss, Janet, leered at the tray and said, “No chocolate?”
Sam Kratz took a giant bite of yellow frosting, decapitating the cupcake body that he placed back in the plastic tray.
Marge Little stood in the corner of the room nibbling a cupcake edge before saying, “These aren’t even good.” Releasing both hands in a grand anti-gesture of gratitude, the cupcake fell into the garbage can she ate over, her eyes never leaving Megan.
During the drive back to her office Megan received the following text from Janet:
WORK TIP: DON’T FORGET THAT YOU WORK FOR ME, OKAY?
She read the message multiple times, the car easing over the rumble strip, before straightening the car and driving on, still looking down at her phone on her thigh.
In the distance and to the side of the road under a bridge a truck was flipped over and on fire and Megan wished it was the muffin mobile but it wasn’t.
Tanya didn’t finish her cupcake because it had too much frosting. Carol suggested that everyone write a negative review and post it online. They would destroy Betsy Cupcake. Megan circled her mouse until the screen woke with email. She didn’t speak for the rest of the day. The smell of tuna fish in the office was unbelievable.
Megan left work and drove to a gravel parking lot near the airport that was her secret spot to sit and do nothing but think. She parked and faced a chain-link fence dressed in plastic bags and watched a plane descend.
On the passenger seat sat the tray of cupcakes with one remaining.
The falling sun illuminated all clouds from beneath.
A woman wearing purple shoes walked past Megan’s car. Megan pretended not to notice, instead reaching for her cupcake, but she was terrified. The woman had long red hair, appeared to wear underwear as shorts, only a dirty bra, and she pulled the plastic bags from the fence and shouted obscenities at the planes.
Megan ate her strawberry cupcake with cream-cheese frosting. It was terrible. She laughed and cried and laughed and cried.
Another plane came down from the clouds.
The woman in purple shoes knocked on her window, making Megan jump in her seat, and she said, “Hey, you in there, yeah, you inside, I’m talking to you.”
Megan looked at the woman. Her face was massive, seemed to block all sky that was behind her, that was a neon orange containing hundreds of planes.
The woman said, “You keep your head up and enjoy that cake you got because that’s the bright life you got there in your hands and don’t be sad and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise because no one understands a thing about this life because it’s fucked.”
Megan nodded and snorted tears. “I know,” she sniffled into the window. She wasn’t sure the woman could even hear her. “Fuck them!” She laughed cupcake crumbs. “Fuckers!”
“Now you’re talking,” said the woman. “Now you’re getting strong. I like you.”
“I hate them!”
“Yeah you do,” said the woman. “They don’t know you.”
The woman began to sway from side to side, mouth-farting a beat. The airport glazed golden in the downing sun and a plane wobbled on the runway before stopping. Megan continued cursing her co-workers as the woman in purple shoes danced beside her car, urging her to yell more, “get it out of you, get it out of you, get it all out of you.”