A woman comes into a restaurant, sits at the bar and drops her extravagantly filled bag with a huff.
Her name is Esme.
Esme sits, cradled into herself with her hands twisted in her lap.
A lock of day-spent frizz crumbles into her view. She does not brush it aside but continues to survey the bar for someone to bring her a menu.
Finally, a bartender enters from the kitchen, sees Esme, and slips two menus from the front of his station, whistling a jaunty tune as he slides the length of paper toward her.
Esme lifts her eyes from the steered menu, to the man’s pursed lips, to his right breast, where a name — Jason — is embroidered.
Most dreadful bartenders Esme knew were named Jason.
The man with the embroidered name of Jason let Esme know the catch of the day and that he was at her service.
Esme, with her bum stolidly in the smooth wooden chair, was already caught; and the gesture made her prickle, as inoffensive as it may have been intended.
The man named Jason sauntered away, fixing a flash white rag into a rocks glass. Esme’s eyes ran hungrily along the menu.
She knew what she wanted, pulled her phone onto the chrome counter and brushed away Jason’s offer at his favorite dishes to claim her own.
Esme glanced back at the young man, shoulder hunched, punching in her order, then returned to her phone, lit up like an insane smile. She flicked down, scrolling story after story, till she huffed and let it drop to the bar.
Esme brought a water glass into her view and examined it for particles or small pieces of hair. (The bartender named Jason had a ponytail she did not trust.)
When the food arrived, Esme smoldered into herself upon first bite.
It was rich and fine. The juices swelled over her tongue and she nearly hummed in appreciation.
Jason, the ponytail bartender, waltzed over to ask how everything was. Instead of answering, Esme took another bite to her lips and parted for the delicious storm.
Jason’s ponytail bobbed away.
Esme had ordered a drink that simmered, her nostrils exhaled, her soft palate became a cave of haze.
The food and drink settled Esme deeper, a light fog hit her temples, she curved her back against the chair’s spine.
The man named Jason ran wavy fingers through amber hair, flicking his tail as he made a hesitant ask about dessert.
Esme thought Jason was oily and an idiot for asking if she wanted desert. He should have known. Every indication in her gaze made it clear she was a woman who needed the calm rapture of dessert.
Esme, having picked up and discarded her phone multiple times throughout the meal, drummed her long fingers against the bar. The phone was behind her, charging in a dumb wall socket. She wished for someone to steal it. To chuck it into the Riverwalk where the ducks would vie til they realized it was mined poison.
Esme had eaten duck for dinner.
The world was too much.
And so was desert.
Esme started to sob.
The ponytailed bartender named Jason who was not an idiot but rather in love, truly in love for the first time, having witnessed the birth of his son four weeks prior, stood still, eyes locked on the woman crying at the bar.
This came out in gasps Esme could not contain. Her fork fell to the porcelain plate.
The ponytailed man, so recently in love with his newborn son, ran his fingers through amber waves, down to the knot that held it in a tail, then placed a large, but not oily, hand onto the woman’s shaking wrist. Esme looked into the man’s eyes, and he looked into hers, so sad and fiery, green, with the souls of a million dead stars clutched between their gaze and he said straight into her heart-
“I know. This world is too much.”