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Cakewalk

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Monday morning at four thirty, Sonny unlocks the door of Carisi’s Sweetstop. He’s not fully awake yet, but he’s close from the brisk walk down the street between his apartment and work. It’s warm inside, thanks to a night without the expensive AC, but not hot enough to melt the candy or affect the fridges of dough, batter, cream, and soda. He keeps fudge in them too on particularly warm Summer days, but luckily it hasn’t come to that yet this year. He bumps the door shut with his hip and stumbles to the back to set his bag on the counter and fumble in the direction of the lightswitch inlaid on the back wall.

When he flicks on the light, warm yellow bathes the pictures behind the counter of all the owners in order above their aprons. He smiles to himself at Nonna’s picture on the wall as a young woman. She had been formidable even then, wearing a dark skirt, a plaid shirt, and a purple apron with “Carisi” on it in white cursive as she flexes and laughs at the camera. To the right of her is a picture of himself. Before it was his, it was his grandmother’s, and her mother’s before that, and her mother’s before that, back countless generations from the first Carisi to set foot on Staten Island. Although he had been working here since he was little and running it for a couple months before the photo, it was his first morning as the official owner. It’s not obvious in the print, but his cheeks were puffy and there were bags under his eyes from a sleepless night.

He picks up his green apron that Nonna made him when he turned sixteen. Ten years ago, she had seemed invincible. Its sturdy strings are woven into a knot against the small of his back, keeping it in place to protect his clothes while he bakes. It’s Monday, which means the daily treats are macarons, donuts, and in warm months, ice cream. Colder times bring hot chocolate instead, but not when the sun hasn’t risen and the temperature is already in the eighties. He made the donut batter already, and doesn’t need long to pour it into the pan before he starts on the macarons.

Before heading into the kitchen and pulling out all the ingredients, however, he pauses to pull out his phone and press play on New York Barba , his favorite podcast. Although he never made it to law school, he still likes to read the law review journals and listen to the talk shows. Call him weird, but he loves New York Barba for a multitude of things: the name (a pun on the bar association), the topics (every important or interesting verdict that week), the jokes (the host has a sarcastic sense of humor that rivals Sonny’s own), and the host himself (Rafael Barba). Rafael used to be an ADA, and every now and then he mentions some of his favorite techniques in court. One boring afternoon, he got it in his head to look up the man’s career and was astounded to find a high win rate, infamous attitude, and someone who wanted to change the world. He doesn’t understand why someone like that would just quit, but if Rafael ever gave an explanation, Sonny can’t find it. He always saves the shows, which come out during mass on Sunday morning, for background at the start of the work week.

“Welcome back to New York Barba , this is Rafael on air. Before I get into the usual stuff, please tell me you’ve all been keeping up with politics lately.”

Sonny laughs a little himself as he cracks the eggs and separates out the yolks. The store fills with the sound of Rafael’s insults about the current administration and the policies being shown to the world. There’s passion in his voice, strong enough that it rings true in Sonny’s chest like an echo. It drips like honey over the egg whites that Sonny whisks hard and fast into the frothy mixture that macarons demand. His sister tried to get him an electric mixer once, but he refused. It’s Nonna’s way or not at all. The first batch takes a few minutes to whip up after he adds the rest of the ingredients and a few drops of food coloring and flavor to the cookie part. Most of the flavors he does use plain frosting, but he’ll add flavor to that too if he’s in a playful mood.

“So, on to the latest failures of the wonderful NYPD,” Rafael says, voice so venomous that Sonny can picture his green eyes darkening and a scowl staining his face as the donuts are pulled from the oven and dumped onto the cooling rack. Sonny starts the glaze while they reach an acceptable temperature for it. “My dear friend and the leading candidate for another term as mayor, Alex Muñoz, has the lovely men and women in blue in his back pocket. He appears to have bought his way out of the investigation of some extracurriculars with his teenage intern in a poli-sci class at PS 129. Look up the reports- they’re public record- and you’ll see that the girl’s mother filed a report of statutory but the precinct dismissed it. Two hours before it was dismissed, the precinct was given a grant from the mayor’s office for improved facilities. I can’t speak to exactly what happened, but I think it’s obvious.”

“You’d be a better candidate,” Sonny tells the empty room.

He pulls the glaze off of the stove top and tilts the saucepan over the first two dozen donuts, coating all of them with sweet-smelling glaze and preparing them for when the shop opens. It’s nearing five, giving him only half an hour before he has to open up. Already, early joggers are running past and peering inside only to catch sight of the ‘closed’ sign and carry on with their routes. They’ll come back, they always do. Sonny listens to the rest of the cast intently while he puts everything in its place and starts to churn this week’s ice cream flavors, vanilla bean, strawberry, and mint chip. He’s thought about investing in a machine, but it falls under the same rule as the electric mixer. Nonna did it by hand, so he’ll do the same.

The podcast ends at five twenty-seven, just in time for Sonny to silence his phone, wash his hands, and return to the front of the store with today’s fresh treats. He runs up to the door and flips the ‘CLOSED’ sign to open. There aren’t many people this early most of the time, but he likes getting to chat with other business owners and morning shift workers on their way in, as well as the harried mothers picking up treats for their kids before school. He recognizes and greets his regulars, preparing their orders when he sees them walk in, disturbing the old windchimes made from broken glass plucked by Nonna’s careful fingers off the beach.

At six fifteen, Amanda comes in. She owns the kickboxing studio next door and stops by at the beginning and end of the day, as well as whatever free moments she can find between classes. Her loose tee shirt gets caught on the door, making her loudly complain as Sonny chokes back a laugh and fetches her the usual blueberry muffin and cup of orange juice. For once, she isn’t running late, so she’s able to loiter at his counter while she munches through her breakfast.

“I’m assuming you heard Barba’s show?”

“Yeah. Really heavy on politics this time, not as much law,” Sonny replies, as if he wouldn’t listen to Rafael rambling on for hours about the methods of tying ties. “Makes sense though, election season is coming up.”

Amanda wipes her mouth with the back of her hand to erase a smear of blueberry. “What’s your take on Muñoz?”

“Never liked him anyways.”

She gives him a knowing smile but doesn’t say anything else.