Half-priced rings of paradise
Oh man, the Universal Donuts line was a dozen cheapskates deep, jostling to snatch up half-priced rings of paradise at closing time. Fuck that, but wait. Two Chocolate Singularities?
Dave squatted to peer between the vibrating bodies. Yes. At the back of the rack behind a circle of Dönehenges, blocking light like a double eclipse, their weaponised dark chocolate surfaces banded with sparkling motes of sugar. Some nut job cancel an order? Those things were supposed to taste like…he wasn’t sure. No-one ever reported beyond the ellipsis, in print or on screen. Those three dots were like tinier Chocolate Singularities, part of a fractal event horizon from which flavour and sensation could never escape.
Could they counter, even for a moment, the drag on his soul, the demotion, Miriam’s silence, the children avoiding his eye? He might feel light again, not so goddam weighed down.
How can such dark donuts offer so much light, so much hope? I’m delusional. They’ll be gone before I get even close. I’d miss the express. Miriam would be ferocious.
He dallied at the edge. Others stood behind him. Their pressure moved him forward. He was coalesced into the throng waiting upon the two men behind the counter, one young and indifferent, one old and slow, boxing up Saturn Ice Rings, Asteroid Belts, Quantum Foams, Galactic Centres, Local Clusters, Ecliptic Plain and Ecliptic Glazed, Kepler Wedges, Biggest Bangs. Some asshole pushed past him, pushed past the bent over old lady in front of him, shouldered his way left and right up to the counter and while the crowd behind him yelled the young server held up an empty box and the asshole pointed into the cabinet and Dave felt panic rise. The server started filling the box with Dönehenges. When the box was closed and sealed Dave’s panic remained. He was still three layers from the counter and away from the register. He wasn’t going to get them. He was going to miss out on biting through that crisp shell of artisanal chocolate. He took a twenty out of his wallet and with it sticking out between his fingers he reached past the old woman to tap on the back of a guy at the counter.
“Buddy. I’ll give you twenty if you do my order with yours.”
The guy twisted around and looked at Dave’s twenty right in his face and then into Dave’s red eyes.
“I gotta train to catch. Help a guy out?”
Dave produced a fifty, the only other money in his wallet. The man looked at it for a second, unsure, but then he nodded and took it, leaving Dave suddenly afraid to tell him his order, to announce out loud to this donut loving stranger and to anyone within earshot, of the existence of two Chocolate Singularities. He hesitated. He stared into the cabinet. He was close enough now he could no longer see them.
“That’ll teach you to cut lines,” the old woman said.
The guy was already gone, out of the crowd and disappearing into the station at a run.
Fuck. What was I thinking. Miriam will kill me. He swayed. Fuck it. Fuck it. I’m getting those donuts. I can still get them. I’m closer.
Then everything slowed down. The young guy had disappeared. What a time for a toilet break. The old guy was plodding and deliberate, like he was paid by the hour and well into overtime. Out of the noise of pedestrians and trains and music floated the words “Chocolate Singularities”. To his right a tall guy in a tidy suit, short haired and bearded, was on the phone, grinning, grinning and saying “Chocolate Singularities”, probably to a model. He ended the call and kept grinning.
Look at him stroke his pretty beard in anticipation. He had to get to the counter before this guy.
He shifted a tiny bit towards Tidy Suit, the competition. It made him feel a little sick inside, but he let himself press against the guy, using his bulk to make him shift just a little. Was that cologne? Tidy Suit had to really stink to wear that stuff. He needed to get a shoulder in front of him. Inch by inch he would get there. The young server re-appeared snapping on fresh gloves and the crowd moved, and Dave plunged into a gap right in front of Tidy Suit, one person away from the counter and lined up with the space between the cabinet and the register.
I am doing this. It’s going to happen. Lady, don’t you order anything but Local Clusters. And you, mister, you want a box of Quantum Foams.
It was as if, in that heightened moment, when the need had arisen, he had developed mind control powers. The woman dutifully purchased a box of Local Clusters, the man the Quantum Foams, and then Dave was face-to-face with the young server.
“Welcome to Universal Donuts what journey can I take you on today sir?”
“Those two Chocolate Singularities -” the person next to him gasped, a “Whaaaat?” came from somewhere behind his left shoulder, “- please. Behind the Dönehenges.”
“Chocolate Singularities are sold out, sir.”
Dave couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He ducked down and looked in the cabinet. There they loomed. He stood up and glared.
“No, they are not. I can see them.”
The server rolled his eyes. Customers often wept and he was over it.
“They’re part of an order, sir.”
A strong waft of cologne and the goddam dapper beardo was leaning past him.
“That was my order,” he said. “Anthony. Two Chocolate Singularities, right? Excellent. I will pay cash if that’s cool.”
The server straightened up. “Yes, sir!”
Dave felt invisible, and sick, as he watched what he was sure was his salvation be placed in a box, the box sealed and its cardboard handle raised, to be deposited into a fancy shopping bag, probably to rest upon cashmere sweaters in a selection of colours, to be taken away and eaten by this asshole and his beautiful skinny girlfriend.
He found himself following Tidy Suit out of the line. No other donut would suffice in this grief. He trailed after the Chocolate Singularities like a lost child. He felt a prickle of relief when Tidy Suit headed for his own homebound platform. He could stay close to them for a little while longer.
Tidy Suit waited for a train, engrossed in his phone, stroking his beard, oblivious to Dave a few steps behind and staring, staring at the Universal Donuts box sitting in the bag held upright between his legs.
When the train came it was crowded. Tidy Suit and Dave were on last, Tidy reaching with his free hand above the press of people for a handhold, Dave right behind him, stuck in the doorway, trying not to crush Tidy’s shopping or the donuts, the platform staff blowing their whistles and shouting. The hydraulics of the doors hissed and Dave found himself on the platform, the train trundling past his nose, his fingers wrapped around the thin handle of the donut box. He turned and headed for the stairs.
On a bench in the main concourse of the station he peeled off the seal and opened the box on his lap. The first Chocolate Singularity was surprisingly heavy, heavier than any donut, any baked good, had a right to be. So heavy it might be stone, or some kind of super-condensed matter found only in the heart of collapsing stars. He brought it to his mouth and took a bite. The chocolate shell was surprisingly thin. And under it were more shells, endless shells, each thinner than the last, an infinite nesting of chocolate bursting under his teeth, raining like angel-down upon his tongue, and then, then, the impossible happened and his teeth met the surface hidden underneath and the flavour as it compressed and tore was not exactly love, nor serenity, nor eternity, but this subtle blend of…of…