Old Shanghai was dying, losing between three and six streets a day. The modern city was strangling it among its many skyscrapers. Soon, in a few years at most, it will have disappeared. Yet, through... [+]
He could no longer consume breads, pastas, sweets, or his weekly Mai Tai. He had to walk at least two miles a day. To those who lived in Los Angeles, this was a Herculean task. It was a well-recorded fact that nobody walked in LA. Gregory couldn't recall the last time he did more than stroll through a parking lot. Now, walking could mean the difference between life and death. And Gregory wanted to live.
He ambled down Venice Boulevard at a vigorous pace, reaching Lincoln Boulevard quicker than expected. He debated turning around, but the beach was only a few blocks away. That would be a nice reward for his efforts, as long as he didn't dwell on what was sure to feel like a longer walk back home.
Before the beach were the shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Window shopping would be a nice respite. Gregory admired items he knew he could not afford on his limited retirement income. He passed restaurants that were both out of his price and new diet range. To his surprise, his sister's favorite vegan restaurant had closed, replaced by a bright pink storefront. Above it, a sign read: Tadzio's Donuts.
He stopped to peer through the large window, curious to see what confectionary creations this new business had to offer. He was amazed at what he saw on display. Each donut was a work of art. They had unique toppings like sugary cereals, bubble gum, and bacon. Many filled with cream or custard or some kind of berry jam.
Gregory wiped his drool from the window. These treats were too tempting. He could devour a half dozen of them in one sitting, but that was a surefire way to be dragged into the hell of diabetes.
He was about to step away from the window when a new donut was slipped into the display. This was The Ultimate: a chocolate donut, filled with peanut butter, covered in chocolate frosting, and drizzled with peanut butter. Crowning it was a mountain of tiny peanut butter cups.
Gregory was hypnotized by the donut's perfect beauty. He imagined running his tongue along the frosting and sucking the peanut butter out of its center.
But that could never happen. Gregory summoned all his willpower to pull himself away from the window. He ran across the street, angry horns blasting from the cars he jaywalked against the light.
Without a glance back, Gregory raced home, his desire for the beach a distant memory.
The following day, he started for the beach again. But his mind switched into overdrive and he found himself staring in the window of Tadzio's Donuts. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the beauty of The Ultimate.
He had to get a better look.
The scent of multiple confections pierced his nostrils as he stepped inside. Strongest of all was chocolate and peanut butter. Gregory felt desire stir in him as he approached the case that contained all the beauties.
"Can I help you, sir?" the girl behind the counter asked.
Overwhelmed with guilt, Gregory barked, "No!"
He raced out of the store, his hands shaking and his stomach growling.
Every day, Gregory walked past Tadzio's in hopes of getting a glimpse of The Ultimate. When he discovered they also had a full coffee shop, he stopped inside to purchase a cup of tea. He sat there for hours, admiring the donuts from a distance. Envying others as they tasted what was forbidden to him.
One day, a young man purchased The Ultimate and took a seat within Gregory's eye line. When Gregory saw his donut in the hands of another man, he felt a surge of anger. He had to flee the store, lest he smash the donut into his rival's face.
How dare another man pleasure himself with what should be Gregory's.
"We're having a sale today," the girl behind the counter announced excitedly the following Thursday.
Gregory was unsure how long he'd been staring at the donut case this time. He often lost track of time, studying their crumbs and crevices.
"Half a dozen for ten dollars!"
This was an amazing deal. Individual donuts cost two dollars and twenty-five cents apiece.
Gregory ignored the health-minded voice inside his head and said to the girl, "I'll have a half dozen of The Ultimate."
"That's my favorite, too!" the girl exclaimed.
He watched as her gloved hand reached into the glass case and tenderly grasped the shiny, brown donut. A few peanut butter cups dropped off as she placed it into a pink box. Gregory felt his heart race with anticipation. An eternity passed as she removed all his donuts from the case.
She handed him the pink box with a smile. "I gave you an extra one."
Gregory was astonished by her generosity. This was a woman who understood the true beauty of these creations. He thanked her, paid, and placed a couple of extra dollars in her tip jar.
His first instinct was to go home, strip to his underwear, and eat them while watching Jeopardy. But after seeing the girl's smiling face, he knew these beauties must be enjoyed in public. He didn't care if the whole world thought him a glutton.
Gregory sat in the corner and placed the pink box before him. He opened it. All seven donuts were lovingly placed. Each a work of beauty. He tenderly picked one up. It felt soft and warm. The chocolate frosting and peanut butter smeared on his fingers.
Gregory lifted it to his nose to smell its sweetness. It was overpowering. He placed it in his mouth and took a slow, tender bite. He shivered at the familiar but always exciting taste of peanut butter meeting chocolate.
As he swallowed the first bite, his passion was released. Within seconds, the remaining donut was warming his stomach.
Gregory's instinct was to clean his mouth with a napkin. But he didn't care what others thought of him. That ring of chocolate around his lips was a symbol of commitment to these lovely confectionaries. He'd relish them all.
He bit into his second donut so deep, peanut butter ejaculated from the other end. This one had more cream filling. It squirted all over the lid of the box. Feeling no shame, Gregory licked the lid clean. Then he devoured the rest of the donut quicker than the first.
Now that he had a taste for them, he could take his time. It was only mid-morning. He had all day to sit there and savor these sweets. He took smaller bites, letting them dissolve on his tongue. In between each donut, he popped the fallen peanut butter cups into his mouth.
When he came to his last one, he traced his finger over the chocolate frosting and slowly sucked his finger.
"Sir?" the girl called to him as she was closing up Tadzio's Donuts for the night.
The elderly man had collapsed in his chair. The empty pink box open before him practically picked clean of crumbs. His fingers smeared with chocolate and hints of peanut butter. A halo of chocolate circled his lips.
The girl assumed he had fallen asleep.
She'd never seen a diabetic coma before.