Millefeuilles made of layers of puff pastry, cake, and cream. Chocolate croissants sprinkled with powdered sugar. Danish pastries topped with rosewood-colored jam. White mousse cakes that look like melting snowdrifts. Heart-shaped pastries half-caked in chocolate. Coffee buns dusted with coarse sugar. Coconut-flavored croquembouches. Crumbly cream horns. Sugar donuts. Stuffed crullers. Buttercream-iced choux buns. Cookie-crusted hazelnut pralines. Red fruit tartlets with a golden crust. Puff pastry braids bedecked with nuts and raisins. Freshly baked croissants that resemble legless, buff crabs. Oversized, rust-brown palmiers covered with a thick layer of glazed sugar. Oblong eclairs stuffed with cream and decorated with lines of white chocolate in zig-zag.
My mouth is flooding with saliva. The lining of my stomach secretes more and more acid like a flesh-vat at some dystopian factory, ready to dissolve whatever bolus gets pushed down the esophagus. I need to stuff myself with the whole inventory of pastries; their sugar will make me forget about my otherworldly stalkers, about the exponential ruin of our society, about the fact that I’m a failed genetic experiment that should have been thrown in the garbage, and about the fact that my brain is hoping to spot a hole in my defenses to unleash another assault of nightmarish memories: the disasters that the universe has hurled at me out of spite, and the disgraces that I’ve brought upon myself because I’m a cowardly fiend that is counting the minutes until she can shove her hand down her panties.
Our adopted daughter is standing on her tiptoes and pressing her hands and nose against the glass display counter, hypnotized by the concoctions of chocolate, cream and jam supplied by this factory of death and gluttony. She looks like she might faint if we let her try any pastry. The child will make us gorge ourselves on a cake of toxic sludge, to push us deeper into the underbelly of this rotten world that promises periods of blissful oblivion through drugs, only to fuck us over.
“She’s going to become addicted to sugar in no time,” I say.
“Aren’t we all.”
From behind the counter comes the chirpy voice of a young woman with an Eastern European accent.
“She’s so adorable! It’s like she’s the cutest thing I ever laid eyes on! What kind of pastry would you like, little bunny?”
Past the reflections in the plexiglass partition, the barista is wearing a black uniform and grey-blue sanitary gloves. She’s at least half a head taller than me. Her sandy-blond hair, tied up in a messy bun, gleams under the overhead lights. Her eyes are shadowed by deep mascara, and she has the Slavic gaze of someone who has witnessed officers of Communism forcing entire villages to starve, although she looks young enough to be in college.
I should prevent her from interacting with Jacqueline; if this woman flirted, my beloved may snap out of her trance and realize that she’s dating the human equivalent of a raccoon. But the barista has fixed her haunted gaze on our child, and dared to address her. Although I’m tempted to tell this woman that she should mind her own business, over the years I’ve learned that if you are as hostile to people as they deserve, they tend to bother you even more, so I measure my response.
“Please, don’t mention bunnies in my presence,” I say icily. “And we haven’t decided yet. Once we do, I hope you’ll be capable enough of providing the chosen pastries for us.”
When the woman smiles, I’m surprised that she had been able to cover those teeth with her lips.
“I’m sure I will!”
“Then we’ll have two millefeuilles, a half-dozen of the chocolate croissants, one fruit tartlet with almonds, four palmiers, and two dozen donuts. Plus two bottles of your best champagne.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“What was that?”
“We haven’t decided yet,” Jacqueline says through a grin, then she pats me on the shoulder. “Let’s pick our table. One of those at the back.”
I stifle a yawn as I nod. Hand in hand with our adopted daughter, we head deeper into the pastry shop, past two short-haired, middle-aged women who have ordered toast and coffee, then past an ancient woman whose wrinkled skin is stained with liver spots, and who is sitting next to her South American carer; both are frowning as if they’re trying to figure out the purpose of their existence.
Jacqueline picks two joined tables at the back, then she gestures for the child to climb onto the chair closest to the wall and facing the entrance. She’s safer if we box her in.
This shop features a second counter dominated by an industrial coffee machine, above which menu boards advertise breakfasts. Two male clients are seated on wooden stools at the counter. My skin itches; my brain is busy monitoring the presence of multiple strangers although I’m already exhausting my reserves of energy on remaining coherent. Jacqueline, however, remains as calm as a cup of warm milk.
After we set down the shopping bags on the fourth chair, my beloved walks around the two varnished maple wood tables to take off our child’s lemonade-pink scarf, revealing the peach-orange skin of her throat. The girl lets out an anxious vocalization, as if she had been deprived of a toy.
“You shouldn’t wear it indoors, darling,” Jacqueline says in her honeyed voice. “It will catch lots of crumbs.”
I slump down into the chair next to our child, but as I’m considering that she would feel more comfortable closer to the woman that has taken care of her, Jacqueline interrupts my thoughts.
“What would strike your fancy, dear?”
“Well, if I force myself to drink more coffee today, I might vomit.”
“So how about a cup of chocolate? Our girl will also enjoy that.”
“And what kind of pastries would you like?”
“Anything you think that I can fit in my mouth.”
Jacqueline chuckles. She leans over the table to move aside the menu and the napkin dispenser, clearing some space in front of the child. She pulls out from one of the shopping bags a sketchbook, the kind that an art teacher would order his middle school students to buy, as well as a yellow pack of Crayola crayons that contains sixty-four different colors. My girlfriend’s face lights up with a grin as she opens the pack, revealing four rows of crayons like multicolored, cone-headed freaks seated at an auditorium. I lack names for half of those colors.
The child perks up, then she gabbles a couple of sentences excitedly. Jacqueline reaches over to pat her on the head.
“It will take us a long time to teach our language to this doll, if… if she’s capable of learning it.” Her smile falters. “But she should be able to draw, right?”
I pull out an asphalt-black crayon from the pack. I probe its flat tip.
“Yeah… I read this morning that plenty of those cave paintings were made by children.”
“Perfect. Keep her entertained, will you?”
Jacqueline squeezes my hand, then she struts towards the counter to order. When I turn my head to the right, our child is paying attention to me with curiosity; I feared that she would look at me as if I were some pest that she’s forced to tolerate. Her cherubic cheeks disturb my heart, but the gaze of her monolid eyes is like a laser running over my face. It reminds me of my high school biology teacher; when he was about to explain the insides of an elephant, he stared so long and hard into our eyes that I started to wonder if elephants actually existed.
This girl is shining a light on the garbage bags I piled up at the apartment I abandoned, on the shattered living room window I never bothered to fix, on the board games I bought but didn’t unwrap, on the times I stuck around after hours at the office and tugged my trousers and panties down to rub one out. Is she a cosmic judge sent from the distant past to bring the gavel down on my foul deeds? Or maybe this girl will grow into the exact image of my mother: an indifferent humanoid programmed to erase me from history.
“Just wait until they serve us a bunch of pastries, forest girl,” I say nervously while I try a smile. “You have never tasted anything that good! And you’re lucky I’m not the one preparing your food. I’m able to fry ham and bacon and cook some eggs, but you never know if they’ll somehow end up covered in cum.”
The child arches her eyebrows and tilts her head, and my cheeks flush. I scoot my chair closer to her.
“Nevermind what I said. I guess you need to be taught how to draw with crayons, so check this out.”
What should I draw? What effluvia of my diseased brain could I show to this pristine child that has just begun to get eroded by modernity? I risk scarring her for life. But what an odd worry for me to have; when was the last time that I doodled anything else than a close-up of my own face? No, of the face with which I should have been born, instead of the rotting husk with which any reflective surface torments me.
I survey the rows of crayons as if they were the opportunities of a full hand in a card game. I let my instinct grab four other crayons from the pack. When I lean back, I spot Jacqueline: she’s standing in front of the pastry counter and pointing at some items inside the glass display counter. Behind it, the Slavic barista, pastry chef or whatever the hell she pretends to be, is using food tongs to pluck an oblong eclair.
Seated at the second counter, next to an uneven and dented wooden pillar, a man in his late twenties is ogling my girlfriend’s legs. He’s wearing a beanie and a nylon windbreaker. He’s holding his phone in his hand as if he was staring at it before he realized that the most delicious woman alive had materialized in this store. The sight of my girlfriend’s twin mountains hugged by her sweater would be enough to make the man’s crotch swell up like an angry balloon.
I can make out the tight, toned flesh of Jacqueline’s legs through her cinder-colored tights, and as she bends over to press a fingertip against the glass display counter, her plaid skirt hikes up slightly. The bottom of her peacoat may keep hiding her butt, or it may instead fail catastrophically at its mission, exposing her ample behind that resembles a pair of ripe pomegranates. Anyway, Jacqueline is an exquisite piece of art that should have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, while I’m an unmade bed with a dirty quilt and a crusted-up blanket, my sheets tattered by two decades of restless sleep and smelly ejaculate.
How dare that beanie-wearing beast take a sneak peek at my queen’s attributes? Merely grazing Jacqueline with his gaze would befoul her as if she had fallen in one of those Indian rivers. I should stop him. I would stand up, walk up to the pervert and tap his shoulder. When he turned around, I would clock him hard on the nose. No, that may break my fingers, and he might even punch me back. I could hurl the napkin dispenser at him. A hail of paper may distract him so much that Jacqueline would return to our table unmolested. I could snatch the barista’s tongs, then I’d snap the guy’s neck with a quick twist and a jerk. I’m also holding crayons; although their tip is flat, the end is still tapered, so I could try to push them through the guy’s face. No, I would have to sharpen the tips first with my teeth. I could fling the crayons at the prick, but I don’t know which colors would be the most effective in dissuading him from polluting my queen.
What the hell am I thinking? Isn’t Spike’s revolver weighing down the inside pocket of my corduroy jacket? I should take the weapon out and check that the bullets haven’t vanished, that they remain in the chamber. I’d cock the hammer, then aim the revolver at the back of that windbreaker. Blam, blam! Blood would start oozing from the two black holes. After that triumph of justice, an oily thread of equine saliva would descend from the heavens, and its beady end would morph into a thumbs up.
If either of the bullets buried themselves in the guy’s spine, he would slump instantly to the hardwood floor. Otherwise he would stand up and turn around with an annoyed expression. Upon noticing that a thin stream of smoke rose from the muzzle of my revolver, he would say, “what the hell, lady.” But I would lower the barrel towards his abdomen and squeeze the trigger. Blam! Another blood spatter. The bullet would pierce his intestines, which would leak out their shit and cause an infection that would rot his insides. If by this point the revolver didn’t misfire and explode turning my hands into shredded ribbons, I would aim the revolver further down. A thick liquid would be dangling from the glans of his erect penis. Blam! His dick and balls would burst. The windbreaker-clad wretch would fall to his knees while clutching his pulsating groin, then tumble into a pool of liquefied meat.
Once a man loses his genitals, he wouldn’t care if I smashed his face with a rock, if I gouged his eyes out, or if I cut his head off. His life was already over anyway. If someone were to shoot out my clitoris, I’d have a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings.
A small hand tugs on my right sleeve. I flinch, my heart leaps to my throat. Our child lets out a sentence in a questioning tone, which pulls me down into the atmosphere of this patisserie and its scent of pastries splashed with blood. Her childish innocence will strike me dead and bury me in the same grave as that beanie-wearing lowlife.
I wish I were like this girl. Her eyes are clear and she’s free. And she probably has no clue how to use a knife nor a fork.
My brain feels like it’s dripping with tar. I catch my breath, then I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand.
“You are right, I was supposed to work on my masterpiece. You know what they say: never make your art in a patisserie. It may be a fine place for fattening food, but for creative work, it’s too distracting. Anyway, my drawing will become the most famous ever, and it will cure my insomnia.”
I hunch over the sketchbook and start drawing the outline of a face, but the stroke comes out faint. I examine the tip of the asphalt-black crayon. No, they didn’t come with transparent caps, and my exhaustion is preventing me from thinking straight, because the crayon’s pigmented wax wouldn’t have touched the paper in that case. I must have gotten used to pens and markers.
I press the tip of the crayon harder against the paper until the curve comes out as thick as I want, although it feels like I’m punishing the sketchbook. I draw round eyes like those of a slow loris, the well-mouths into an inner chasm. Added to the slightly raised eyebrows and the half-closed lips, the woman’s expression suggests madness, frustration and pent-up horniness. In short, her look screams, “I’m trapped within my own mind, so fuck me, please and thank you, mistress.”
I can’t figure out how to make the strokes seem continuous, and some of the colors have blended into mud. The tip of an orange crayon splinters into chips. When I brush them away with my hand, they leave a stain on the paper. I guess that any crayon drawing ends up looking like it was made by a child.
I’m enjoying shading that brow furrowed in worry, as well as the space under the arched eyebrows, under the marked eye bags that befit someone who suffers from anxiety-induced insomnia and severe depression, and under that downturned mouth of a person for whom every moment of happiness, as soon as it ends, feels like a mirage.
I draw each sinuous lock of hair in caramel and wood browns, with some orange added in as if I had dyed those locks with henna, until I end up rendering a beastly mane that matches my unkempt mind. Hair is about a hundred thousand protein filaments that grow however they please out of the person’s scalp; aren’t we damaging its dignity by arranging it with a narrow-toothed tool into artificial shapes?
Under the caricaturesque head, I’ve depicted a skinny neck and narrowed shoulders; even in a drawing, I want to occupy as little space as possible. I don’t dare to continue the drawing below that close-up, but I envision a body like a column, its legs thin as pipes and the feet dangling from them. I’m tempted to add a title in the top right-hand corner of the paper: ‘The Lonely Loon, Queen of Monsters.’ I should also write an accompanying poem:
I am a monster from a land far away.
I roamed the mountains,
I lurked in the caves,
I slithered on the sand,
I climbed the trees,
I scaled the clouds,
I jumped between the rainbows,
I swayed amidst the stars.
I’m not a good kid, as you can see
From my monstrous countenance.
My feet are freezing and bloody red,
But my mouth is filled with hot steam.
My mom is a lizard. She says she’s an angel.
My dad is a worm. He says he’s a god.
My only companion is the moon.
I eat other monsters’ bodies,
And I swallow every stranger
Who wanders in from outside.
My shadow is so long
As I cast it upon the ground.
I stick my teeth into my soul’s wounds,
And eat myself alive.
I will end up living on ice.
This is my song of mourning,
This is my prayer to the night,
That a special monster like myself
May find herself at peace in another realm.
My voice does not reach the skies,
Nor do my words touch the Earth,
But I sing my songs to the moon
While she falls asleep by the lake,
And wakes up by the river
Where there is no one else.
I remove my elbows from the table, then I push the sketchbook to the child’s side.
“Ta-ta!” I exclaim using an expression that may have been common in the Ice Age.
The child snaps her head back and lets out an admiring O sound through her O-shaped mouth. A flood of pride flows down to my groin.
“Hell yeah, I’m pretty good, huh?” I point at the drawing, then at myself. “Leire. That’s me. My name is Leire.”
She stares at me hesitantly while her eyebrows twitch. When she parts her lips, they form a bubble of saliva that slides to a corner of her mouth. She closes it again.
I tap the drawing with my index finger.
“Eide,” the child says in her high-pitched voice.
Did the word’s consonants become shapeless blobs of doughy mud, as if they’d fallen into a tar pit and gotten stuck?
She claps and hoots with laughter as if I were a monkey and she had heard me utter a ridiculous sound.
I’m flabbergasted. A rush of warmth fills my chest, and my head feels like it’s about to shoot off like the cork of a champagne bottle. Oh no, I want to hug this child so hard that her liquified viscera would get squeezed through her orifices like toothpaste!
The name Leire is elegant and alluring; a poet would form it with his lips while gazing at the stars and yearning for the one he loves. Eide sounds like a rude kid who has failed to learn that she shouldn’t insult other people’s parents, or hit people over the head with a hammer. Eide is a name for a morose girl who needs hugs. I guess I’m Eide now.
That was the first of the Ice Age child’s vocalizations that showed intelligence; whatever vestiges of sentience we recognized in her previous actions might have been wish fulfillment. Now I suspect that she may be smarter than me.
My heartbeat resumes its steady thud. I point at myself with one thumb.
The child waves her little hand at me.
When I jab my index finger at our girl, her eyes sparkle. She clenches her hands into fists and blurts out maybe two words, but I don’t understand how she used her tongue and lips to vocalize them, even though I’m staring at her mouth.
I should give myself a break. An otherworldly demon invaded my dreams to force-feed me tainted pancakes, which caused me to wake up screaming at four in the morning, then a rip in spacetime sent me to the Paleolithic Age, where I risked losing my fingers and toes and nose to frostbite, as well as my sanity. I also pissed off an extinct ground sloth to the point where it wanted to ram its claws through my windpipe. I should be thankful that I can still understand my own language, and if I think about all of this too long, I might become incapable of speaking.
Author’s note: today’s songs are “Caribou” (as well as this alternate version) by Pixies, and “Mute” by Youth Lagoon.
Leire’s fear that any food she prepares may end up covered in cum is actually a reference to chapter 14.
I exploited a neural network to generate images related to this chapter: here’s the link.
This was the last chapter I will be able to post before I return to work this Friday. Of course, it feels like a disaster. Back to the routine of wasting my time and energies on fixing stupid computer problems, dealing with even stupider users, and tolerating my coworkers, who often act like middle school kids. But I’ve never managed to earn more than ten euros selling my ebooks, and I’m a thirty-seven-year-old disgusting dude, so nobody would want to pay the bills while I stay at home jerking off whether literally or psychologically, or both at once.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this one.
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