Dave leaned heavily on the display case. His nose so close to the glass he could smell his breath wafting back to him. Frozen yogurt. And beneath that, tacos.
He jabbed a stubby finger down at the case. “What about that one?”
The man behind the counter sighed. “Sir,” he implored in a nasal voice, “must I remind you yet again about leaning on the display case?”
Dave straightened. Smiled awkwardly. Peered at the name tag. “Sorry— – Jaysen?”
Jaysen lifted a thumb and index finger to his eye, as if to adjust an invisible monocle. His face was tan. Wrinkled around the eyes. Like he’d been squinting at the sun.
“You don’t talk like a Jaysen. You look like a Jaysen,” he clarified, indicating the blonde dreadlocks; the surfer build. “But you talk like a Winston. Or a Chamberlain or Smedley or something.”
“And you, Sirsir, talk like a man who thinks little of wasting my time.”
Dave looked around the food court. In the fifteen minutes he’d been at this kiosk, not a single person had come by.
“You have something better to do?” Dave asked.
Dave coughed. Embarrassed. “All right. What about the toffee?”
“The love toffee or the passion toffee?”
Dave opened his mouth, utterly bemused.
Jaysen sighed again. “The love toffee is rather brittle. The passion toffee will give you heartburn.”
Dave hiked up his pants. No matter what he did these days, they always sank below his growing pot belly. He wasn’t a big fan of toffee anyway.
“What about that one? Morality.”
“It’s a whip. The flavor is moot. It tastes different to everyone.”
Dave rested his fists on his hips and nodded at the religious marshmallow.
“It’s fluff. Full of empty calories. Though it does come with the option of a dark pedantic coating or a light self-righteous glaze.”
Dave let out a frustrated breath. “What about the spiritual brickle?”
Jaysen wrinkled his nose. “A bit crunchy for my taste.”
“The dream truffle?”
Jaysen tapped at his heart. “Repeats on you.”
“The truth cream?” Dave asked desperately.
“The congenial gobstopper!”
“Well, if you want to suck your entire life…” Jaysen shrugged.
Dave ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Do they all have terrible consequences? Where is everyone anyway?” He he asked a little too loud. “Why am I the only one shopping at this kiosk?”
Jaysen inspected a finger nail. Ran his thumb over it to give it a shine. “This is our quiet time of the year, Sirsir. Our clientele tends to flock in during the holiday season as well as graduation time. People reflect then, you know. Between times we only get – ah – midlife crisis gentleman, such as yourself.”
Jaysen clasped his hands behind his back. Spine straight. Tweed jacket at odds with his California glow.
“Which one did you pick?” Dave asked suddenly.
Jaysen pressed his lips together tightly. “Yes, well, unfortunate story, that. I unwittingly consumed a regal tart that had turned bitter. Stale uppercrust, you see.” He moved his lips as if he could still taste it in his mouth.
Dave let out a low whistle. “Yikes,” he said kindly.
“Yes, one can not be too careful when shopping centers.”
Dave sunk his elbow on the display case and rested his chin in his hand. “Boy…”
“Sir…” Jaysen whined, “the glass…?”
“Oh right. Well, how about that one?” He he asked quickly. “Why’s the cynical nougat on sale?”
“Won’t make you very popular with the ladies,” Jaysen confided.
“What about the enlightenment drop? There’s no price on it.”
“Well, it’s free.” A smile quivered over his lips. “But it will cost you everything.” He leaned toward Dave. “You don’t want that one,” he whispered, “trust me.”
Dave scratched his cheek with the back of his fingers. Each center seemed more disastrous than the next. He stared at the case. And then he saw it. A small, ordinary stick of gum. Jaysen followed his eyes.
“Interesting,” Jaysen said. He reached under the glass with a pair of silver tongs and carefully lifted the little rectangle. He held it up in the light.
“Ethics,” Jaysen explained.
Hesitantly, Dave reached out his hand. Jaysen dropped the gum into his open palm.
“You will chew on it for a long time. It’s tough to swallow and takes a while to digest, but. But but but…” Jaysen smiled, “it never leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
Dave inspected the simple, unassuming gum.
The cash register drawer dinged open and Jaysen beckoned his fingers for payment.
Dave handed over his credit card and brought the gum close to his lips. Then paused. “What if I don’t like it?”
Jaysen tore the credit card receipt from the register with a flourish and laid it down for Dave to sign. “No refunds, Sirsir.”
Dave’s face fell. “I’m not sure about this…”
Jaysen gave him a sympathetic look. He glanced around and then lowered his voice. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this, Sirsir. But if it doesn’t suit you, you can always sell pre-digested, watered- down ethics to the college kids. They’ll buy anything.”
About the Author
Karin is a mother and therapeutic yoga teacher. She spends the remainder of her time writing science fiction, learning Torah, and, at least for the past few weeks, scaring the migrating geese off her lawn by running through the yard while flailing her limbs and emitting loud screeching noises. She hopes at least the neighbors are entertained. Should they require additional diversions, she suggests reading some of her work which has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Every Day Fiction, Kaleidetrope, and some other zines. Her faith based essay can be found on Aish.com.
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