‘Does the emerald lose its beauty for lack of admiration? Does gold, or ivory, or purple? A lyre or a dagger, a rosebud or a sapling?’
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations: Book IV, 3.
A girl is sitting outside a chocolate shop, on one of two chairs painted blue. She is alone and gloriously so, hair down and dark honey brown, big warm scarf and sweater on, both a whipped cream shade of white. Beside her, the rickety coffee table can just barely hold the coffee, and a book. I just spent the afternoon at the art museum across the street from her. I stop.
She cannot be older than nineteen, I guess, but perhaps it is the sweater and the scarf. And the indigo light through the clouds that makes everything look whimsical and young. Her eyes are closed, unashamed, free. Her lips are pursed – smile, or habit. She is eating a piece of chocolate. In her mouth, half the little cube, the other half delicately between her left index finger and thumb.
The white paper bag with fine gold lettering is empty on her lap; she could only purchase one piece of chocolate, or perhaps she only wanted, needed one.
One piece of artisan chocolate one artisan chocolatier made. I imagine him with indigo eyes. Perhaps I am still thinking of the sky. A deeply round belly and deeply round voice, thinning white hair. Moustache? A man whose life has been creating, tasting, perfecting, displaying chocolates for strangers in a case made of glass.
A lifetime of work for a few dozen of chocolates on satin cloths and silver trays, in pyramids, circles, straight lines. Dark, milk; sea salt, lavender; champagne truffles, sticky caramel; with almonds, raspberries, orange or lemon peel, fig; little bits of speculoos, cardamom. For the possibility of a nineteen-year-old girl passing by the chocolate shop, stopping, peering in, and following the smell and her curiosity inside.
Buying a piece of chocolate for seventy-five cents. Seventy-five cents, two minutes, two bites. The whole of the chocolatier’s existence condensed in that moment, on that blue chair, outside.
The girl savors the second, last bite, her hand trailing, forgotten, at her lips. She makes me want to tiptoe around her. I feel like a voyeur, de trop. I know I should look away, but cannot; the scene is beautiful. So I stay at its periphery, in the mundane present. Resting awareness. Happiness.
The last hint of flavor must be fading from her tongue. The moment lingers, a few more seconds, then the chocolatier’s work is gone. She opens her eyes, returns to the blue chair, the coffee table, gray sky. She does not see me. She sits still in her own present. Then she reaches for her coffee.
There is no purpose to one bite of good chocolate, or wildflowers on my kitchen table. The infinite reds of the leaves on the sidewalk, the clouds captured, floating in puddles. No purpose to poetry or music or the art that lines museum walls. The hundreds of paintings and sculptures I just saw, the lifetimes spent making them.
No purpose to this scene that made me stop in the street on a Tuesday at five. No purpose to beauty, but it has never needed one to exist.
A few minutes only, and they do not last. They are not meant to; it is not sad. I watch the girl with the big white scarf and sweater finish her coffee. She throws the paper bag away and picks up her dog-eared book. She leaves the chocolatier and his chocolate shop. Thank you. I walk on the other way.