Chuck stared up at the dark circle in the sky that appeared to be spiraling toward him, several more specs of metallic darkness surrounding it and polka-dotting the otherwise clear, cyan air. This was not at all how he had anticipated his day going, not even in the slightest. He thought he might go to the park and play some softball, maybe stop by the grocery store and pick up a new jug of milk and more napkins. Instead, he stood on his porch, legs weak and eyes locked on the sky, waiting for the Armageddon he had inadvertently caused.
It had begun just thirty minutes prior, as Chuck reached for a jar Nutella sitting on top of his cedar kitchen cabinet. He normally had jelly for breakfast, no more than a tablespoon spread on otherwise dry toast. Today, however, he was feeling a bit feisty; he felt like he had earned some hazelnut goodness. He’d been doing phenomenally with making new friends, having been invited to his first game of softball down at Central Park, and some Nutella seemed a fitting reward.
Chuck grabbed the Nutella off the shelf and placed it on his green, granite counter-top, then softly unscrewed the lid. It smelled fantastic, like melted cocoa on a warm day. He lifted it to his nose and took a deeper whiff, closing his eyes as he inhaled. He would’ve kept it there for an hour or two, maybe the entire day, had the phone not started ringing. He carefully lowered it back down and turned toward the phone, then inadvertently stuck his hand directly into the Nutella.
“Shit,” he whispered, pulling his hand out immediately and glancing down. It was caked in hazelnut, his pale skin now a thick brown. He plunged his fingers into his mouth and took a step toward the phone, which was now on its fifth ring. “Hello?” he mumbled, using his left hand to pick it up, right stuck in his mouth.
The phone remained silent.
“Hello?” Chuck repeated, running his tongue down his fingers in an attempt to salvage whatever was left of the Nutella. Something about it was a bit strange, the flavor not quite as rich as he’d hoped it to be. In fact, it was a bit rancid, maybe even slightly sour. It tasted absolutely nothing like the brilliance of its smell.
The phone began beeping with a dull, repetitive dial tone, but he kept it held to his ear. When was the last time he’d eaten the Nutella? Last week? Absolutely not. It had been at least a year, maybe two. Maybe three. Had it been four years? He remembered making s’mores with it when he was fifteen, but they came out horrible. It wasn’t so much the Nutella that tasted poorly back then, but rather it was the fact that he used hamburger bread instead of graham characters. Regardless, he was now twenty five. There was no way that Nutella had been sitting on his cabinet for the last decade, he had to have gotten a new one. Right?
Phone still beeping against Chuck’s ear, he leaned over and grabbed the jar, then lifted it to his face and studied it. He was definitely holding Nutella, definitely just a standard jar of hazelnut spread. He focused closer on the wrapper, reading the tiny, black-stamped lettering. It expired in September, which was not for another four months. The year, however, posed more of a concern: it was not going to be coming up in another four months. Rather, the year had already come and gone almost a decade ago.
Chuck spit the Nutella out into his sink, wiping his tongue down with the back of his hand. Was he going to die? He was definitely going to die. There was no way he wasn’t going to die. He’d just eaten ten-year-old Nutella, which meant it was probably filled with chlorine or cyanide or something. He wasn’t a chemist, but he was confident that was what happened when food was left out for too long. In fact, the last time he’d eaten something spoiled—only a year beyond its expiration date—he spent the better part of a week face-down in a toilet *wishing* to be dead. Now he’d certainly be dying. He needed to call poison control, needed to organize his affairs, needed to write up a will. He wasn’t remotely ready to die yet.
With the phone still pressed to his ear, Chuck frantically threw his body back toward the receiver, dialing “9-1-1” with his chocolate-covered fingers. They left small, brown prints on the keys as he pressed down. It began ringing.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” said a female voice on the phone.
“I’ve been poisoned,” Chuck said, his breathing quickening. “I think I’m going to die.”
“I am transferring you to poison control,” the woman said. The phone went momentarily silent, which convinced Chuck he had just died. The afterlife looked startlingly like his kitchen. He’d hoped it would be significantly more white. It wasn’t until a second voice began speaking that he abruptly realized that he had not, in fact, died. At least not yet.
“Poison control, please tell me what you ingested,” said a male voice.
“Chocolate,” Chuck said. “I ate poisoned chocolate.”
“Nutella,” Chuck said. “I ate it and it tasted horrible.”
“You ate Nutella and thought it tasted horrible?” the voice repeated.
“Yes, it expired ten years ago. I think I’m dying.”
“Wait, you had Nutella and you are claiming it tasted bad?” the man said, his voice somewhat uneasy. “You’re American, correct?”
“Right,” Chuck repeated. “Can you send an ambulance? I can feel my life slipping away.” He hadn’t come this close to death since a recent car accident, which had left a small dent on his front-bumper and no further damages to anything else—himself included.
“So, to get this straight, you’re telling me that you ate Nutella and didn’t find it to be delicious? Oh, dear.” The man paused. “Oh, oh dear.”
“It was expired,” Chuck pleaded through gritted teeth, making an active effort not to cry. What would his mother think? Who would tell her that he had died? More importantly, who would find out who his mother was? Considering he’d never met her, and had been adopted at a very early age, it would be quite a struggle. He would’ve put that in his will if he’d had the time, that someone would have to locate his mother and let her know he succumbed to a poisoning.
“Hey,” said the voice on the phone from a distance, as if it were holding it away from his face, “this guy says Nutella isn’t delicious.” He paused. “Right, I’m positive. Do I make the call? Can we just pretend he didn’t?” Another pause. “I guess it’s a good thing we’re over-seas.”
“Hello?” Chuck said, his face growing hot as he did his best not to die.
“Can I put you on hold? I need to escalate this. May God have mercy on your soul.”
“I’m sorry?” Chuck said. “I’m dying over here. How could you put me on hold?” There was no response, only silence. “Hello?” More silence. He was clearly on hold, the Poison Control operator probably escalating his call to a manager. They’d know how to handle his situation, how to keep him alive for what would likely only be a few more minutes.
Chuck grabbed a small piece of paper and pen and, with his chocolate-covered hand, scribbled the words “My Will” on its top. He’d have to do this quick. “I, Chuck, bestow all my possessions to my cat, Fido—”
“Hello?” said a strangely familiar voice on the phone.
“Hi, yes, I am dying,” Chuck said, pressing the phone closer to his ear. Why was that voice so familiar?
“Are you the guy who says Nutella doesn’t taste good?”
“Right,” Chuck said, letting his shoulders droop. “Mine was expired and didn’t taste great. Can you please send help? I am not going to make it much longer.”
“So you think it tastes bad, is that it? You don’t like Nutella? That the rest of the world is wrong?”
“What?” Chuck said, closing his eyes softly as he felt what he assumed was his life draining away.
“That’s it,” the voice said. “I’ve tried to change America, to make this country better. Yet when Nutella, the only product agreed by the rest of the world to be perfect, is seen as ‘disgusting’ by only our people, that’s when I know we’re beyond saving. Nothing can unite us, nothing can bring peace. We’re the odd man out.”
Chuck tilted his head slightly. He’d heard someone say the word “change” in a very similar way before, and over a few hundred times since. In fact, it had been around the time he’d purchased the Nutella in the first place when he’d heard it.
“Obama?” Chuck said softly into the phone.
“I always knew this was how it would end. To be completely honest, I didn’t think it tasted that good either. A bit too sweet for me. But I lied, pretended it was as perfect as everybody else said it was so we could at least imagine peace. Not you, though. Not you. I want you to know that whatever comes next will be your fault. I tried to enjoy it for the sake of this beautiful country, to see how it unites the world with its perfect flavor, its divine taste. From France to Germany, to Italy and Japan—Nutella united them all. Yet apparently not America, apparently not us. The only way there can be peace is if we’re gone.”
“Help,” Chuck mumbled, crumbling to the floor. “I really need an ambulance.”
“Well, I’m done. I’m done leading the country, I’m done fighting to show we’re not a race of barbarians. If we can’t find common ground in Nutella while the rest of the world can, then we simply don’t deserve to exist. Good bye, to you and to America.” The phone went silent, followed shortly by the repetitive din of the dial tone.
Chuck pushed himself back up to his feet and wandered to his back door. If he was going to die, he figured he should probably do it outside at least. No reason to make a mess. He pulled open the door and stared up at the dark circle in the sky that appeared to be spiraling toward him, several more specs of metallic darkness surrounding it and polka-dotting the otherwise clear, cyan air. This was not at all how he had anticipated his day going, not even in the slightest.