Chocolate Éclair Night

His psychiatric meds didn’t kick in, it’s 2:00 AM, and his sheets are tourniquets strangling him. It’s then that he understands he’s the silver amalgam on the reverse side of a mirror, and that requires rectification. He gets up, dresses, and walks downtown to the all-night pastry café. He sits at the counter stool and orders a chocolate éclair. Red-eyed, shifty, protein-deficient customers recognize the craving. He loves the whipped cream, vanilla flavor, sugar, broken pieces of plain chocolate, knobs of butter, and the sugar icing, its glaze baked fresh and hot. He seeks tryptophan — how it inhibits serotonin overproduction, diminishing stress, modulating panic. This beats the Ramen noodles and thawed catfish he eats regularly. Life isn’t all poetry.

***

He’s lucky: a youthful, beautiful Icelandic woman sits next to him, touching his shirt sleeve occasionally. Her echoic words he hears as she speaks to another, telling where she’s from. The large éclair finished, he wants another. He gently touches her wind-breaker until she turns toward him. He tells her they’re at least 100 active volcanoes in Iceland, then wiping carefully a slept-in-the-weeds smudge off her cheek, making contact in spite of the Reykjavik distance. Each breath coming from the hyper-pale blonde’s nostrils and mouth enthralls him. He says that Icelanders read vast amounts, so forgive him if he speaks randomly. He laughs, telling her dopamine-stoppled folks often make giant leaps, skipping intervening stages of conversation, because knowledge, with its factoids and often wisdom, can’t wait. Her face hesitates, then changes: acceptance, he’s certain. He broke through.

***

The Burgess Shale and Cambrian Explosion get a thorough verbal workout, she nodding, he looking for enthusiastic quick, fluorescent moments. Yet her face looks fruitless. He sees her male hitchhiker companion, how smoke curls around him, gray fumes camouflaging spiked hair. He elucidates about 550-million-year-old marine invertebrates, his arms animated much as criminal attorney Cicero's might have during a sensational Roman trial. The guy sneers at him, he who read Simplicus’s commentary on Epictecus behind Lysol-bare walls of the local mental facility.

***

Just before the Icelandic woman leaves he hands her a $20 bill, his heart gyroscoping. He desires virtue, knowing its Latin meaning is manliness and worth, traits inspiring him. She smiles freely, takes the bill, slipping it into her jean pocket, and he observes her face. He’s triumphant. Her clairvoyance assumes his virtue in all its invincible senses. Waving good-bye, she walks away and out of sight. He thinks she might reappear in the small town, remembering generosity, repaying his earnest words.

***

The following night, even the canned mackerel and pinto beans taste better while he configures the Icelander’s return. He dream-thinks the Eddas, Ottar, the lover-boar, rescuing Freyja. He celebrates receiving the next disability check, ordering another chocolate éclair at the late-night-insomnia counter, eating, waiting for connections, wanting more connections, always more

THE END

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