A snake had crept in through my nose and wrapped tight coils around my skull. Or maybe it was a sinus headache. As I stumbled through the day, I kept looking forward to late afternoon, when I could enjoy a bowl of hot soup at my favorite vegetarian diner, the Sucrose Mollusk Stone.
Finally, the moment came. I dropped Shaggy Hair Boy off at his guitar lesson and drove straight to the cafe. I felt some of the tension slip away as I walked through the narrow front door that opens on an angle to the street corner. Always, I enjoy this hour to myself, this time to sit quietly and write at the little table near the bay window of the old house.
"What soup do you have?" I asked the young man behind the counter. "Is it vegan?"
He looked up from the glass he was drying with a dish cloth. "Cream of — wait, I guess it's not vegan."
What? The soup of the day wasn't vegan? This seemed a tragedy of epic proportions. The snake wrapped around my skull pulled tightly, until the counter in front of me started to blur. I looked up at the board above the counter, which listed all kinds of vegan food. But I felt incapable of making a decision. I wanted to cry. My plan had been to eat a bowl of hot soup.
"I'm vegan, and I have a sinus headache," I said. I felt about eight years old. "I need something hot. Something spicy."
"We can make anything spicy, " he said. He set down the dishcloth and opened a menu.
"And maybe some hot tea," I said. You'd think I'd be familiar with the menu, but usually I just have whatever the soup of the day is. I wondered if he was going to start asking me a million questions about which kind of tea I wanted and what I wanted in it. I figured I might die if I had to answer all those questions.
He didn't ask any questions. "Go sit down," he said. "I'll bring you food."
Gratefully, I found my way to my usual table and took off my fleece. I dropped my book bag, took out my journal, and just sat there, quietly, willing the headache to calm down. The day was overcast and a dim grey light came through the bay window.
Helpful Young Man carried over some hot tea, in a cup the size of a soup bowl. As I lifted the cup to my lips, a fruity steam rose to my face. I breathed in the raspberry scent and drank the hot tea, sip after sip, feeling the muscles in my body loosening with each sip.
I'd just opened my journal when Helpful Young Man appeared with a plate of food. "Wasabi Tubers," he said. They were potatoes, coated in something green. I took a bite and chewed through delicious spiciness. The heat traveled up into my sinuses. I could feel the snake inside my head melting, releasing its grip. I kept eating, until my tongue and lips were burning. I could feel fluid dripping down my throat. My nose began running.
I kept eating, through the potatoes, the spicy vegetarian burger, the heaping of noodles. I kept drinking hot tea.
And suddenly the pressure was gone. I could breathe again.