"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


Soviet Muffin

Soviet Muffin

On Tuesdays, I trade my lunch break for an extra hour in the morning. My boss doesn't know about my weekly appointments at the Bohnsdalen Clinical Research Institute. 

It's therapy, sort of. 

I can't talk casually about it with friends. It's not like asking if they enjoyed the new album by so-and-so. I know it's not normal, but I've always had this irresistible urge to...

And I've thought it through: I didn't torture animals as a kid, I wasn’t a little pyro, I'm not fascinated by dominance. 

I don't even like blood. 

But, as far back as I can remember, I've wanted to...

So, every Tuesday, I get a pistachio muffin from a small Ukrainian baker named Grigori.  He wears the same black oil stained, navy and ruby suspenders. And dons the same Greek fisherman's hat with grey curls growing out of the sides. Standing behind a foldable table just to the left after you walk in the main entrance. 

While I sit and eat in the waiting area, with a clear view of the Muffin Man's table, I finger what's in my jacket pocket. I grip it like I'm going to when it finally happens. 

Grigori's flavors are outrageous. I wonder if he chooses the ingredients blindfolded. Or maybe his recipes are inspired by the whatever-you-can-find diet of the Soviet Union. 

Who puts basil, blueberry, and turmeric in the same pastry, and tops it with a lemongrass glaze? No one, except Grigori.

"Hello, Grigori." I say.

"Ah, my flrend. How alre you? Don't teal me. Pistachio?"

"Yes."

"Hue eat down-a helre ah-gain?" 

"Yes."

"You do evelry week, and hoolwayees, I think, why he sit deelr?"

"I just like to enjoy my muffin, Grigori."

"Yesh...buht, forl a hool hourl?"

Another thing to note about Grigori's muffins: the name of the flavor doesn't exactly correlate with what you end up eating. Each pistachio muffin I've had contained a different hint of something else. Blueberries, lavender, vanilla. Once, I got a whole almond. 

Odds are he does some traditional style of cooking that doesn't include cleaning off the counter between batches. 

I watch customers scan the saran-wrapped gallery with my hand in my pocket waiting for someone...But today, bodies in the main entrance area are scarce. I look at the bottom floor like it's a stage in a theater fantasizing about the shouting that I'll hear. 

And who will be standing where. 

And where I'll be and look like, hunched over someone. 

I imagine the rush of blood to my head, and the euphoria. 

When it happens, everyone will remember me. Not a single soul will be able to walk into this building without glancing over at where it all went down. 

And I've made my peace with every possibility. I don't care who it is. Women, children, fine. Doesn't make a difference. As long as the deed is done.

While fondling it in my pocket, I stare across the empty area at the elevator. I watch the floor numbers change.  I take a bite of my muffin and glance at the floor directory. Then I check my watch. 

The elevator goes from Pediatrics to the Allergy Clinic, then to Oncology, then to the ground floor. And it did it in less time than it takes to tie my shoes.

Gnawing on the green bread, I see a mother and son holding hands come out of the elevator. The boy's eyes look over at the table, his body naturally drifts in its direction, and his mother follows like a kite.

My toes curl as my calves flex and lock.

Pieces are falling into place.

"Which one do you want, honey?" The mother says.

The boy points to his unknown doom: poppy seed coconut. Painted with a glaze made from orange juice mixed with pounds of processed sugar. All crosspollinated with whatever else the Muffin Man made that day. 

Grigori shows his approval the same way for every customer. He makes a circle with his middle finger and thumb. And he moves it like he's using a one-handed, invisible telescope. He tucks his chin and closes one eye and says, "Velry good. Superl famous flavorl." 

As the boy shoves it into his face, the mother picks a shard of the candied coating off for herself. The little boy, smiling and chewing, swallows the last bit and tilts his head up. For a moment, as they beam at one another, their troubles, their doubts, and their worries, are abated. 

I hold my breath.

Then the boy rubs his lips together like he's just applied frozen Chapstick. 

Most parents never know their kids have hypersensitivities until they have a reaction. So, it makes sense that this mother is unaware of the allergenic proteins shared by palm and betel nuts. 

Concordantly, most immigrants never know about nitpicky laws until they've broken them. So, it makes sense that Grigori is unaware of a little piece of American legislation titled, The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. 

Every Tuesday, with my hand in my pocket, I've waited for these two innocent oversights to compound and erupt.

There's more people here now. My audience is growing. I scoot to the edge of my chair as my eyes well up. It's finally going to happen. Ever since I was young, I knew... 

The mother asks her son what's wrong. He answers by grabbing his stomach, and hunches over. She drops her purse, kneels on the carpet and holds him up by his biceps. Shaking him, trying to catch his eyes with her own.

People start looking over their shoulders. 

From where I sit, I see a dark spot appear at the rear gusset of the little boy's jeans. He tells his mother he doesn't feel good. Then his lips start to swell. The mother inhaled and instantly blew a rancid smell out of her nose.

The Muffin Man, not knowing Western English well enough to communicate things with sensitivity, says, "Miss lady, yourl boy make big stink lright helre." While pointing at the source of the foul smell. 

The rare anaphylactic shock from coconut, or the shame, forces the boy to crumble as he loads up his jeans. 

While chewing the last bite of my muffin, I march over and procure my weapon. 

It feels like inverted tunnel vision; I'm recording every square inch of this moment. I want every millisecond singed on the inner wall of my skull, for the documentaries they'll make about me. 

I pop the blue cap off. 

I shove the mother out of the way, and I lie to her. I say, "I'm a doctor." While I grab the boy's ankle and pull his leg straight. He resists, squirming and jerking his knee up and away from me. 

I dip down until our noses touch and I growl, "This isn't about you."

I straighten my back and look around the room to make sure this assemblage is large enough. The potency of my actions requires witnesses. 

My hand shivers with tightly gripped excitement as I hold the weapon by my ear so the little boy can see it. Some of the needle's glint reflects in his tears. 

I make strong eye contact with my victim. 

He tries to scream, but it comes out thin from his esophagus swelling closed. The back of his throat looks like a balloon knot. I hold out until the point just before the point of no return. He's got to be as good as dead before I help him. Any sooner than that, and I'll be demoted from Legend to just a measly Hero. 

I see the first tint of blue in his face, and I plummet it into the thick of his thigh. 

The Adrenaline runs through both of us. 

I hold the needle there for a full minute, as I growl out loud like I'm in the throes of a merciless orgasm. This Tuesday, the ground floor of the B.C.R.I shakes with the sounds of a narcissistic wildebeest busting a nut. 

As I'm coming down, I see the mother, wide-eyed and frozen. Same for Grigori, whose hands are cemented flat to his table. The reception desk clerks, doctors, nurses, and patients alike, are staring. 

It's silent...

Then the mother jumps at me and hangs on my neck. She thanks me repeatedly me for saving her boy who's flat between us on the carpet. A roar of applause erupts from all of those who just stood by and watched.

I help the young boy, my victim, to sit up. He's limp and his eyes roll around like lubricated marbles. As they slip back, I say, "Thank you." 

Then I let him go. 

I stand over the pale sweating boy and receive my standing ovation with a bow, while his mother rolls him on his side as he pukes on the carpet. I hold my hands together and shake them beside each of my ears.

I'm a really good person.

Next Tuesday after that, there are no seats available in the waiting area that's filled to the brim with men eating muffins and playing with whatever it is that's in their pockets.


James J. Hatfield is a displaced engineer who loves science and art, and other contradictions. In Fall of 2018, he was a writer-in-residence at the Boyd Estate, an honor awarded and provided by the Weymouth Humanities and Arts Council. He was a featured poet at the 2018 West End Poetry Festival. His work has appeared or is upcoming in Barely South Review, Walter, OutreachNC, Orange Terror, INDY WEEK and Technician. He leads a weekly creative writing workshop in Raleigh, NC. Instagram: @jamesjhatfield

Cover photo by Hai Nguyen on Unsplash

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