Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Writer: John Sheirer

One Bite

Back in his college days, partly on a dare, partly from fatigue, and partly for love, Tony ate an entire jelly-filled donut in one bite.
Tony and three friends had gone to an all-night donut shop to blow off steam during final exams week. For college students, they weren't terribly rebellious considering there were about a dozen bars in the area. But who needs alcohol when there are donuts to be consumed?
They were the only customers in the place at 2:30 a.m., each of them munching on about their fourth donut. The combination of study fatigue, suddenly full stomachs, and post-sugar buzz had set in hard, so they were in danger of falling asleep right there at the table. Something had to be done to liven them up before they drove back to the dorm to continue studying.
So Tony slammed both palms on the stained formica and announced, "I can eat an entire jelly-filled donut in one bite!"
His friends jumped about six inches out of their seats, swore at him, and then started protesting.
"No one can do that!" Sarah cried.
"I say bullcrap on your donut!" Mike ranted. Mike was pre-med. He had taken a biology final the previous day and a chemistry final that morning, and he was dreading a physics final the following afternoon. His head was stuffed with science, and he moved between anger and frustration, shouts and tears, more than a few times that week.
"If you can do it," Susan said with a smile, "I just might marry you."
"Why?" Sarah asked.
"Think about it," Susan replied.
"Oh," Sarah said.
Mike tried for a few seconds, but his brain didn't have room to work out what they meant. Tony himself had only a slight inkling, but that inkling certainly made him look at Susan in a new way.
Sarah smiled at Tony and pushed a blueberry-filled pastry toward him. Blueberry was his favorite. It was the last one left on the table.
"I've been saving this one," she said. "If you can eat it in one bite, I won't marry you, but I'll give you a dollar."
"Me too!" Mike and Sarah chimed. Three dollars--this was getting interesting. Tony was a poor college student who saw actual paper money about twice a month. Three whole dollars qualified as an academic scholarship.
The donut was about four inches in diameter and two inches thick. Powdered sugar covered the surface, and blueberry jelly oozed from a dime-sized navel on one side. The thing looked pretty darned big as Tony examined it. Under normal circumstances, he would have needed maybe seven or eight good bites to get it down. But then he'd probably think, "Wow, that was so small. How about another?"
He picked it up. It seemed to weigh a pound because, Tony assumed, jelly is heavy stuff. Three pairs of measuring eyes darted back and forth from his mouth to the donut. Tony turned the navel toward his mouth to prevent spillage and brought it to his lips.
On the first push, a third of the donut easily entered his mouth, but then he encountered resistance. Tony had to shove first the left side and then the right side to keep it advancing beyond the corners of his mouth.
This trundle method worked fine until the donut encountered his epiglottis, the little flap of flesh at the back of the throat. Tony started to gag. He mustered all his self-control to keep from yanking the thing out of his mouth. At this point, the first tear plopped out of his eye and trickled down his cheek.
Tony kept pushing
The donut crammed up against the back of his throat and started expanding upward into his pallet and downward under his tongue. By then, it had lost most of its structural integrity, becoming nothing more than a fused blob of pastry and jelly conforming to the inside of his mouth.
The tears began to flow freely now, and some sort of liquid threatened to spill from his nose as well. Tony sniffled as forcefully as he could, snorting up a big dose of powdered sugar in the process. Every force in his body urged him to expel the thing from his mouth.
But Tony kept pushing.
A few more tucks at each corner, and the donut was inside. He clasped his teeth together and sealed his lips.
"Jebus," Mike gasped.
"He did it," Sarah said.
"Not yet," Susan cut in. "I won't marry him unless he swallows."
The three of them began chanting, "swallow, swallow, swallow." They began in a whisper, then built to a low moan. "Swallow, swallow, swallow."
For human beings, chewing usually precedes swallowing. So Tony parted his teeth and closed them again, then repeated the movement a few times, being careful not to open his lips--not out of politeness, but to keep donut paste from spraying across the room.
Normally, the tongue is used to roll the food around the mouth so that it gets ground up by the teeth. But this takes lots of open space, something Tony had none of in his mouth, filled as it was with donut. His chewing efforts managed only to mush up the small fraction of pastry directly between his molars.
In short, the whole mess was stuck in Tony's mouth with no real way for him to chew it. In fact, it was actually expanding as it soaked up his saliva at an alarming rate. To keep his cheeks from bursting open, he had to do something fast.
"Swallow, swallow, swallow," they chanted.
Tony's gag reflex came to his rescue. As he involuntarily tightened the back of his throat, he could feel those muscles smashing a small portion of the donut back there. In desperation, he clamped down harder and found he could actually "chew" with his throat muscles.
After a few more contractions, the donut was soft enough to get some down. Tony swallowed a small portion, freeing up enough mouth space to guide more donut to the back of his throat where he muscle-chewed and swallowed a bit more.
"Swallow, swallow, swallow.
Tony then discovered that he had freed up just enough room to do a little traditional teeth chewing. This was tough going, but it began to work. Bit by bit, he managed to swallow more and more of the donut until the task didn't seem quite so impossible.
"Oh my God," Sarah muttered, breaking the chant. "I think he's going to do it."
It took another full minute, but Tony was able to get the rest of the thing swallowed. His throat burned. His face was streaked with tears. Sometime during the process, he had lost control of his nose. The results were not pretty.
Susan grabbed a handful of napkins and mopped Tony's face. "That was amazing!" she said, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. When she pulled away, he saw tiny flecks of powdered sugar on her lips. He'd never really looked at Susan's lips before, but he was having trouble looking anywhere else at that moment. Her tongue slipped out to lick the sugar from her lower lip, the fuller of the two.
"I don't believe it," Mike said. "Make him open his mouth."
Susan gently grasped Tony's jaw and opened his mouth to display its lack of donut.
"Ugh," Sarah moaned. Apparently, there was still some donut residue in there. Tony took a swig of hot chocolate (now cold), rinsed it around his mouth, swallowed, and opened again.
"I'll be goose downed," Mike gasped.
"He did it!" Sarah cried.
The three of them broke into applause, nearly awakening the high school kid snoozing through his late-night shift behind the counter.
Susan gathered up the three one-dollar bills from the table and tucked them into her shirt pocket.
"I'll just hold onto these," she said. "My abnormal psych final is over at noon tomorrow. If you meet me at the student union, I'll buy you an ice cream cone." She winked at Tony. "I'm dying to see what you can do with that."

© John Sheirer 2011

John Sheirer lives in Northampton, MA, and teaches at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, CT. His most recent book is the memoir Loop Year: 365 Days on the Trail, winner of the Connecticut Green Circle Award. Forthcoming in 2011 are a collection of flash fiction (One Bite) and a creative writing guidebook What's the Story?. He can be found here:


  1. What a treat that was. I liked the idea of working so hard for sweetness, and how forcing it can make it better and worse at the same time.

  2. When I read the first sentence, I told myself that there was no way in hell that I was going to stick around to read about a guy eating a doughnut. I ate my words (pun intended). I read every single word (twice) and loved it.

  3. HAHA The things people do for love and attention. This was a fun read. Your description and the visual I got were perfect.

  4. There was such great detail here that I think the writer must have eaten several one-bite donuts to get this just right. Ah, what we do for our art.


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