Q is for Qualia

It is a fine wine, isn’t it?” Miranda asked. She smiled, pleased with herself, pleased with the wine, pleased with the circumstances that had led to her sharing the fine wine with the man down on his luck. Her performance review that had gone perfectly, a raise and everything, and she’d stopped at Frederico’s to pick up a bottle to have with dinner. It was expensive, outrageously so, but what was the harm in a little indulgence on a good day?

And then the man had been outside, panhandling in a ragged suit and beat-up hat. She couldn’t decide if he looked like an ancient rail-riding hobo miraculously transported to the modern era or a business man who’d just been violently mugged.

“Spare some change so a man can buy some dinner, ma’am?”

She’d opened her mouth to make up some excuse, then shut it. Considered the weight of the bottle in its paper bag. Smiled. “I’ll do you one better,” she’d said. Twenty minutes later, she and the vagrant were sitting at a table outside of Sac d’Alimentation.

“It is a fine wine, isn’t it?”

The vagrant smiled. “I wouldn’t know, ma’am.”

Miranda raised the glass to her lips and took another sip. “No experience with wine?”

“No experience of it.”

“Well, you should be able to pick out the fruit flavors. There’s pear. Apple. Maybe a hint of cocoa.”

“Cocoa’s not a fruit, ma’am.”

“So you taste it?”

“I don’t taste anything.”

Miranda frowned, but she let the comment slide. If the vagrant was going to be difficult, let him. She’d had a good day at work and she’d followed it up with charity to a stranger who was down on his luck, and nothing was going to take the satisfaction of that away from her. “What would you like to eat? I really like the filet mignon here. The chef, Robert Keaton, gets all their meat from these small farms upstate. Grass-fed. Organic. The works.” The vagrant seemed unimpressed. “I bet he could make a cheeseburger with it and he’d be haute-cuisine.”

The stranger smiled, his teeth straight and white and perfect. Too perfect. They must have been fake. Veneers. Yes, that was the word for them.

“So, what’s your story?”

“I don’t have one. Didn’t exist until an hour ago.”

“I see.”

They sipped their wine. They didn’t move.

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