I called to Houseman:
“A customer is asking for me. I’ll be right back. I better help this customer who’s asking for me by name, just because they’re calling my name.”
I said it as though I didn’t care if whoever might be coming up the stairs could hear me say it.
I don’t know where you stand on the existence of a divine being, transcendent of, and yet immanent in, creation—but if you reject the claim that there is such a being, let me offer Emily as an argument that there is. She’s a beautiful girl, sure. But I find that she radiates with a sort of beatific light. She says she eats a lot of lacto-fermented foods, so maybe it’s probiotics. I don’t know. I err on the side of divine.
The bakery has a front-of-house counter staff. But in the mornings it tends to be this Gerald, a genial-enough-bro, but one who can happily remain in a sort of daze, staring at the light fixtures, until you switch him on. I waved at him, and indicated he could leave himself in the off-position for the moment, that I would handle the customer. He smiled and moved his head vaguely, which meant that he understood, and would continue to dream of electric sheep.
“Why, hello,” I said to Emily.
“Why, hello to you,” she said back.
“How are you doing this fine day?” I said.
“I’m doing well,” she said. “How are you?”
“I’m doing well too,” I said. “It’s beautiful out there.”
“It really is a beautiful morning,” she said.
As you can see from the above, the love light shone with blinding intensity.
“Would you like some hot chocolate?”
“Why, yes I would,” Emily said, and beamed brightly.
I decided to break into some prepared remarks as I turned to get the chocolate. It was then that I realized that I couldn’t get the chocolate. Byron was, in all likelihood, waiting for me in the back. The chocolate there was in plain sight. I couldn’t get access to, or prepare a thirty dollar cup of hot chocolate. Also, since I’d actually reckoned the amount, I was generally inclined not to continue my thieving. I live by a code, whenever possible, and I didn’t want to perpetuate such evil as I could avoid. I would have to pour Emily some of our standard issue hot chocolate.
As I did so, I launched into some prepared remarks.
“You know, Cacao is a new world plant. It’s considered an aphrodisiac, but I don’t know why that would be important. The active ingredient in Cacao is called theobromine. Isn’t that a great word? Theobromine. Pharmacologically, it acts like caffeine, but it isn’t caffeine. The south American tribes called it ‘food of the gods’ which is what ‘theobromine’ means. The primary Goddess of Chocolate in Mexico is the ‘giver-goddess’ called ’Tonacatecutli.’ She appears striped black and white, with a glorious raiment that seems to shimmer like the waterfalls which she frequents. Some tribes would offer human sacrifices in order to ensure that the divine food would continue to grow and prosper in the land. Now that’s what I call ‘Death by Chocolate.’”
Emily was watching me dispense the chocolate from the carafe without pleasure. Not even my monologue seemed to please her. Not even the “Death by Chocolate” line.
“As I was saying, that’s a real case of ‘Death by Chocolate.’”
Emily said, “I heard you,” and there was a stoniness in her voice, like the first pebbles of an impending rockslide.
“And it’s an aphrodisiac . . .”
“I heard that too.”
I handed her the cup of chocolate. She stared me right in the eye as she lifted it to her lips and drank. She recoiled from the drink, and the rockslide commenced.
“What is this?” she said.
I did not have a ready answer.
“What are you trying to pull?”
I seemed to have lost the ability to generate utterance.
“Where’s the real chocolate? Where’s the straight-up South American style stuff you’ve been giving me? I don’t want this weak-ass nonsense. I want the can’t think straight, see visions of Quetzalcoatl, and realize-that-all-humanity-is-one stuff. And I want it now.”
She had apparently grasped me by the collar at some point in this speech, because she now let me go.
Even with the stoniness of her earlier glare, and even with the intensity of her current attitude, I still felt the heartbeat of love was alive somewhere in her. There was anger, but was is anger if not evidence of passion? Yes, it seemed to be directed at a fierce, near addict-style desire for this hot chocolate. But I was the source. Surely, I wasn’t inconsequential in the equation.
“I hoped you liked me, because I’m in love with you,” I said.
Emily’s face softened slightly, and then resumed it’s stoniness, like she’d patched a crack in a wall.
“I love you,” she said, through her teeth.
That was my favorite sentence ever. A nuclear weapon of joy detonated in the center of my non-corporeal self, wherever that’s located.
“But I need that hot chocolate,” she said.
“But I need you.”
“But this hot chocolate thing is a big deal.”
“But I’m talking about love. Which is about accepting people as they are. And this weak-ass hot chocolate is me as I am at the moment. Please don’t reject me because I’m weak-ass hot chocolate.”
“Love isn’t about accepting people as they are. Love is about sacrifice. Love is about human sacrifice. And besides, behind all of this love stuff is something a lot deeper. There’s wrong and right behind everything. There’s the law. This isn’t about love. This is about doing the right thing and getting me that hot chocolate.”
She leaned in close to me.
“Get me that flipping hot chocolate,” she said.
There was heat in that phrase. The embers of love glowed.
“I will get you that hot chocolate,” I said. “I will.”