The lady forgot my hot chocolate. The receipt says I was charged for it, but the product never materialized, and I had a lapse and completely forgot about it until now. I worry over the receipt. So much time has passed, yet the reluctance I feel blooming up inside me must be overcome, and soon. Clearly I was charged, and must right this wrong. Up at the counter I see the shift has changed, so I catch the eye of the new attendant and explain my situation. “I was charged but never received,” I say, and flash a hapless smile. He has no reason to disbelieve me, and in fact probably remembers me from previous visits, so he prepares another cup.

No, not “another” cup, make that “a” cup. The first cup. Because of course I never got the cup I ordered. Or so he thinks. In truth he knows absolutely nothing about me. Maybe I’ve been patronizing this shop for the past two years only to set up this heist. In fact perhaps my nerve is such that – even now – I still have the first cup balled up in my clenched fist, and when the man at the counter passes me the fresh cup I will bean him in the forehead with the balled up first cup, righteous in my judgment that it’s all been too easy.

The thought is so perfect in my mind that it summons a wince, and passers by think I’ve just bitten my tongue. The truth is that I’m feeling guilty over nothing. It’s a phantom guilt. Pangs over what I might have done, or may yet do still.

The veracity of my story is assumed how? Faith alone: a fragile truth, a fragile trust, a bond borne on absence of suspicion above anything else. It offers almost too tempting an opening for disaster. I imagine wheeling around and spraying my hot chocolate on the nearest patron. “There! You happy now? You should have said no when I asked for a hot chocolate! You should have charged me treble! This all might have been avoided!”

Most of the things I feel bad about are things I’ve manufactured, though they’re no less plausible than any truth. And what is truth, really? I may well have purchased my lunch with money stolen from some beggar’s cup, so why not? Two paths lead to the same destination, one a path of virtue, and the other a path of deceit. Who knows which path I’ve taken but myself? Knowing the truth is insufficient to excuse me from the possibility of guilt.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be feeling this guilt at all if people knew what I was capable of, and realized just how flimsy and inadequate an assumption can be. I return to my seat with the certainty that I’ve just stolen a cup of hot chocolate.

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