Yustufus and Optimus

Yustufus likes to say that a thousand donuts won’t make me fat, but that a donut a day will. He says this through a mouthful of chocolate cruller, and when I ask for one he asks if I’ve had one already in the last forty-eight hours. Yustufus takes things literally.

“I could die tomorrow,” I say each time. This whole disagreement has become routine. He says if I’m worried about that, I should see a doctor immediately, and anyways once I’m dead I won’t care if I had had that donut.

“I also won’t care if I didn’t have the donut. That’s the point.” He asks how I can enjoy it knowing how bad it is for me.

“It’s so crispy, sweet, rich, and chocolatey. How can I not enjoy it?” I ask rhetorically. Yustufus answers by licking the last flakes of glaze off his thumb and index finger and asking if it’s more delicious than it is poisonous.

“One, you know I can’t compare immediate subjective evaluations of quality with potential future subjective evaluations of objective health risks even if I knew the risks, which I do not. Two, fuck your slippery slope. Just because I have a donut today does not mean I will have one every day for the next three decades.” Finally Yustufus smiles, opens the muted-pink box on his lap, and displays the rows of pastries inside. I reach through the steel bars and pick a smooth-looking chocolate glazed yeast donut with green, pink, and white sprinkles covering the entire top surface.

As I take my first bite and feel my brain tingle delicately from the calorie rush, Yustufus stands up rigidly, scraping the metal folding chair back on the concrete floor with his calves. He nods at me, I nod at him, and he carries the box back up the stairs to the left of my cell. Licking the sugar off the back of my incisors, I read the word on the back of his shirt, printed in bold, fixed-pitch font, ‘GAOLER.’

We do this every morning.

---

Around noon, Gaoler Optimus steps lightly down the stairs and leans back on the bare concrete wall opposite my cell, sandwiching himself between the light switch and fire alarm lever so they don’t dig into his back. He stares at me for a moment, sizing me up and enjoying the silence of my dungeon. Then he bends down toward my cell and slides a tray of sweetened yogurt and dark bread through a slot under the door. On the tray, beneath the food, is a stack of reading material: a Wired magazine from 2009 about self-driving cars, the 2006 SI Swimsuit Edition, a book of Kipling short stories, an intermediate microeconomics textbook, and a Betty & Veronica Double Digest. I slide the food off the top and take a bite of bread while I wait for Optimus to ask me which I’m going to read.

“All of them, I guess, though I hardly call flipping through 60 pages of photoshopped women in wet underwear ‘reading,’” I say after he asks. He smiles grimly and tells me that I know the drill. He explains patiently that I have lights out at eight o’ clock and I need to push the books and magazines outside my cell before that time. I won’t have time to read all of them.

“Fine. Kipling.” Optimus shakes his head slowly and says that’s a bad choice; it’s dense and I’ll barely get through two stories before eight and I won’t understand either of them.

“It’s not about understanding it,” I say. “It’s art. And if I cared about finishing, I’d go right for SI.” That gets him to laugh. Then he hesitates for a second before asking how I know that the Gaolers are not just waiting to let me out until I finally finish a book. Maybe that’s all they want, he suggests. Surely testing that would be the most productive use of my time.

“I read books before I was locked away. So that doesn’t make sense. And nobody imprisons people for not finishing books. That’s stupid.” Optimus nods and agrees in his soft, gracious way. He asks if my time’s not better spent, anyways, trying to figure out how to find my freedom than trying to appreciate dense, confusing literature. I snort.

“Maybe putting on pseudo-intellectual airs will set me free. Who knows?” He leaves me to my reading. I finish eating, flip open the catalog of digitally enhanced supermodels, and touch myself.

###

Thought I would try my hand at a high concept short-short-story. I like these characters a lot. I might work with them in the future.