A guy walks into a doughnut shop. The blizzard has nailed the heck out of him, and the basement of this nineteenth-century mansion it smells of hot, muddy coffee and burnt oil. This is St. Petersburg, Russia, in October. He walks past the tables with fake granite tops toward a square woman dressed in a once-white lab coat that has since transformed into a disintegrating washrag and orders a dozen doughnuts.
“There are many of you, and just one me,” she yells back from her prehistoric frying apparatus. He waits. A few minutes later she tosses what looks like a stack of pimply onion rings onto a paper plate, which immediately starts developing serious grease stains, and gives them a healthy dash of powdered sugar.
Risking blisters on his fingers, he picks up a doughnut and then he sees Her, through the doughnut hole. She is standing across the cavernous room, putting her lipstick on, her plate already empty. A red striped cat rubs his back against her leather boots and fans out his toes, still hoping. This is the guy’s chance.
“Did you know that Rasputin used to come here?” he says to the girl while carefully pulling apart a doughnut and tossing half to the cat.
“I thought he poisoned people and slashed their throats,” she says.
“He was also known for pouring vodka on raw cuts,” the guy says. “One of the earliest antiseptics.”
“Are you a doctor?” she asks. A few flakes of powdered sugar have settled around her nose and he considers telling her, especially because it looks so much like controlled substances. These doughnuts should be a controlled substance, he thinks. He is already feeling it.
“I have a friend who has a piranha tank at work,” he says. “He is a surgeon.”
She takes a step back and the cat squeals. Even though it seems to be an employee of this place, good thing he can’t sue anyone for workers comp.
“That’s horrible,” she says. “And so wrong.”
In the meantime, the doughnuts are creating a mellowing effect in the guy’s stomach. They are everything food cooked well should be—nutritious, beautiful, and exactly what he expected. He lets the feeling take him over, hijacking the neurons that transport pleasure.
She dabs her mouth with a gray paper they use for napkins here, getting ready to leave. Outside the wind is picking up, and the guy wonders if he’s ever going to find his way with women. He watches her walk up the wide granite stairs and disappear behind a massive wooden door. And then his eyes fall onto the piece of paper crammed into a ball on her empty plate. Good thing he didn’t toss it. Licking the sugar and the grease off his fingers, he unwraps it to find … a phone number.
As the Russian revolutionaries said, power corrupts people, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Same thing with the food cooked well. It connects people. Absolutely.
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