I’m about to say something shocking, but try not to be shocked. It’ll be hard, but you’ll just have to try and hold it in.
The thing is this: I am actually flawed. As in, I have flaws.
I know, I know. Pick your jaw back up off the floor. I promise, it’s actually true, even if it seems impossible, and you have to believe that it is true in order to buy the following story. So let it sink in. I am flawed. I am a human, just like you, and just like you, I make mistakes. Mistakes that are a result of my aforementioned flaws, that are real, and that I actually do have.
The fact is, there are two distinct parts of my personality that are, more often than not, my downfall. The first is that I’m stubborn. Not in a fun, cute way like the main girl in a rom com. More like the annoying, petty sibling that won’t hang out the washing unless all the other siblings help and then you all have the exact same number of items to hang out each so that it is entirely fair. Truth and objectivity are an arbitrary constructs to the very stubborn. There is no right or wrong, except for me, who is right, and everyone else, who is wrong.
The second thing is that I have a real problem with junk food. I’m not talking the manic pixie dream girl who eats a tub of ice cream when she’s suffering from a tragic heartbreak in the second act of a romcom, or the Cool Girl who eats burgers and drinks beer with the boys, but somehow would still not be out of place on the Victoria’s Secret Show runway.
I’m talking, the kind of person who has obsessively mapped out the timeline of Coles’ chocolate bar sales (which, you may be interested to know, happen in a cycle that almost directly mirrors that of Woolworths, so that there’s always somewhere you can buy a Mars Bar or a Twirl for only a dollar). The simple fact is, my brain cannot comprehend the concept of a “sometimes” food. For me, all food is “always” food, because I am always eating it. My tolerance for sugar and chocolate could genuinely probably be studied by scientists. It bypasses all evolutionary logic. Nothing can satiate the hunger of my sweet tooth.
Or so I thought.
It all started when I was doing my daily scroll of the hashtag #foodporn on Instagram (I told you, it’s a real problem). Now, obviously the definition of food porn varies wildly depending on who you’re talking to, so I have to scroll past a lot of boring lasagnes and elaborate salad dishes before I find anything that is actually, objectively delicious.
That’s when I saw it: a plate of shoestring fries drizzled with Nutella and a dollop of ice-cream. It’s like when you finally see someone halfway decent on Tinder after hours of mindless swiping – I felt butterflies in my stomach and my hands started to clam up. Nervously, the familiar pitter-patter of a new crush beating in my chest, I clicked on the source of the image, and found it.
The café of my dreams.
It wasn’t just the fries and ice-cream. This place was one of those that put thickshakes in glass jars and stack donuts and brownies and wafers on top of them, before serving them on a wooden chopping board that’s also covered in donuts and brownies and wafers, as if it’s their personal mission to induce their patrons’ heart attacks. I found myself starting to salivate. One of the pictures showed a cookie in a frying pan. A full-sized frying pan, filled with one big giant cookie. And it had ice-cream on top of it! And Nutella! It’s like this place had somehow put a microchip in my brain, Black Mirror style, and had been monitoring all my greatest fantasies to create the ultimate restaurant, like some sort of evil, cunning bait. So obviously, I immediately contacted my most willing friend, and we made plans to go.
Now, the obvious problem with going to a place like this is deciding what to order. As someone who’s typically quite fussy with savoury food, I usually know what I want within about two minutes of looking at a menu. But this place was different. This was like being the Bachelor, with twenty different-but-equally-sexy candidates vying for my attention.
There was only one thing that could be done. We had to order one of everything. It wasn’t going to be easy – in fact it was probably going to be really hard, to quote Noah from The Notebook – but we had no other choice. So, with a deep breath, we took our menu with us to the counter, and we announced our decision to the server.
The server – who, I’ll note, looked like he lived at the gym and had never eaten a deep fried thing in his life – looked us both up and down with a condescending smirk. “Are you sure you can manage all that?”
“Yes,” my friend said defiantly.
He raised his eyebrows. “Celebrating something?”
“Nope,” I told him. “Just breakfast.”
He didn’t say anything else – just took our money and passed us the table number, and we took our seats, thinking that was the end of it.
But it wasn’t.
Bit by bit, the orders started arriving. First were the majestic shakes, which we ‘ooh’ed and ‘ah’ed at like children at a magic show. In response, the waiter snorted. He SNORTED. Like we were being FUNNY.
“Remember you’ve got more coming,” he told us. “You sure you want that giant cookie?”
“Yes,” we said. As if that was even a question.
“And the fries?”
Honestly. If I’d wanted to be judged for my eating choices, I would have gone back to eating Nutella straight out of the jar at my parents’ house. There was a reason I’d moved out.
But then the frying pan cookie arrived. The frying pan filled with one big cookie. And ice-cream. I’m not sure why we were so surprised. It was exactly what we’d ordered, after all. Then, while we were still computing the immense size of the thing, the rest started arriving. The cakes. The donuts. The fries – the fries.
We exchanged a glance, the beginning traces of terror in our eyes. Neither wanted to be the first one to say it, but it seemed possible that… there was a chance… we might have… possibly… bitten off more than we could chew.
I could tell just by looking at her that we were thinking the same thing. We can’t let him win. Not after all the don’t-judge-me hullaballoo. He was still throwing us shade from across the restaurant as he served other, probably better prepared and more conservative customers. We had committed now. And, really, how hard could it be?
We started by deconstructing our shakes, first eating everything piled on top of them – brownies, wafers, fairy floss, donuts, cream – and then draining the shake itself. When the richness got overwhelming, we alternated between bites of the sweet food and the fries, trying to use the salt to offset a chocolate-induced coma. Like comrades in battle, we persevered, fry, brownie, fry, sip of shake, fry, donut, fry.
The frying pan cookie, however, was a whole different beast. With melted choc-chips, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on top that was rapidly liquefying, and the impossibly sweet, saturated dough in between, it was an assault on all of our senses. I could feel cavities forming in my mouth as I chewed. My gums were dissolving. My stomach lurched as it desperately tried to make way for the endless onslaught. On and on we struggled, trying to make a dent in what was seeming more and more like one of those magical pots in The Faraway Tree that never gets empty. We were sweating. Our jeans had come undone. We leaned back in our chairs and nursed our swollen stomachs, taking a short breather.
Immediately, the waiter was upon us. “Given up?”
I so desperately wanted to say yes, but the battle wasn’t over. “No,” we told him. He raised his eyebrows.
“Okay. Just let me know when you’re done.”
If we hadn’t already been locked in, we certainly were now. With tight, strained smiles, we lifted up our spoons and kept going. Meanwhile, I tried to remember a time when I hadn’t been so conscious of the pressure on my weak little heart as it struggled to keep beating. What if this was how I died? I wondered what the cross section of my body would look like when I was dissected by a coroner. How much of it would be the pure, undiluted, saturated fat that I was currently consuming?
Finally – after what seemed like years of struggle – we got there. Like an athlete as they staggered across the finish line of a marathon – but probably more sweaty – there came a point where we finished our final mouthfuls, and the dishes before us were scraped clean. We had conquered it. It was a lesson in perseverance, in sticking it to the haters, and that without pain there could be no gain. The waiter popped back to check on us and clear our plates, and we smiled smugly up at him, faces covered in chocolate.
“Thanks. That was delicious.”
He smiled thinly back, clearly threatened by the dominance we had asserted. “No more sweet food for quite a while, hey?” he quipped.
My friend and I exchanged an indignant glance. How dare he! I mean, he was right, obviously. But still – the nerve!
“Why would you say that?” I said defensively.
He raised his eyebrows – a habit of his. “Well, that is, unless… you want more?”
I looked at my friend. She looked at me. I could tell she was pleading with her eyes. Don’t do this. Please. I know what you’re doing, but don’t.
I have to, I telepathically communicated back. We can’t let him win.
There were tears in her eyes. Hell, there were tears in my eyes. But nobody ever won anything by taking the easy road. With gritted teeth and a bursting stomach, I uttered three words I knew I would immediately grow to regret.
“Actually, we do.”