Her love for Mentos began in Taipei when a conference colleague offered one to her son to keep him content while Kay viewed the Palace Museum exhibits—the boy held the flattened orb in his small palm before reverently placing it on his tongue. The colleague offered one to Kay, too, and while staring into cases displaying translucent Ju ware and celadons, Kay bit into it, chewed it like gum for a moment, then slowly played it over her teeth until the mass dissolved into a few crystals, then a mere cool memory.
A year later when she returned to Taiwan on vacation with her family, the taste for them returned. She bought a pack from a convenience store and doled them out as they toured city sights, offering white orbs to her children and husband to cope with the odors of stinky tofu and duck blood or the sight of unrecognizable meats under sauce. She presented them to her family in taxis when they were stuck in traffic, and on the putrid bus riding south from Kaoshiung when the ride grew hotter, dustier, longer and the ocean stubbornly refused to appear. Soon she found herself producing the mints after every not-entirely-identifiable meal.
Back home in Japan, the taste for the chewy mints lingered. She sought them out along her usual routes and began to store a roll in her purse to keep handy, producing them on a delayed train, a hot walk, any sort of frustration. She loved how the faces of her children and husband lit up, how they thanked her at such moments—Mentos moments they joked.
Kay began to note which kiosks sold mint flavor and which only grape; she didn’t like grape or that new apple abomination. And she learned that not one of the three convenience stores by the train station in her neighborhood sold mint. The kiosk by the station at her university did. The pharmacy did. The grocery store did not. She began buying two rolls at a time, stocking up, just to be safe.
More and more Mentos moments seemed to occur. Not quite prepared for class? She ate a Mentos. Tired and hungry but dinner yet to prepare? She ate a Mentos. The children soon learned that she always had a Mentos on hand.
But too soon the children no longer seemed so pleased when she offered one. They didn’t want a second as she always did. Her husband often refused them. “You eat too many of those things,” he said.
Kay began to eat them in secret. She kept spare rolls in her briefcase, her purse and her underwear drawer. She became adept at keeping them from getting stuck in her teeth. She learned that she could eat one in the time it took to go from the university gates to her office, but from her office to her seminar classrooms was half a mint—she took attendance with a clump stowed by a molar. Grading papers late at night, sometimes she would eat three. Then three more.
When Kay took her son to start university in New York City she kept three packets in her handbag at all times. They had many Mentos moments—as they sank down into the back seats of taxi cabs, while deciphering cell phone plans, after opening a bank account, and as they stood in long snaking lines to buy sheets, towels, pillows, shelving, a lamp. After she’d bid a final good-bye to him for the four full months until his winter break when he would return to Japan for nineteen days, she bought two rolls and promptly ate all fourteen orbs from one pack on a park bench.
In Japan Kay missed him terribly. Her daughter was still home. Her husband was home. She was not entirely alone. But her son was the one who had truly understood those Mentos moments. Shared in them. Appreciated them.
She began consuming half-rolls routinely and panicked when she ran low. Soon she was doing four rolls a week. Her daughter caught her out one night when she came down to use the bathroom and found her mother eating one for each paper she graded, the orbs lined up before her. “You’ve got to stop, Mom. They’re just sugar. Try some sugarless mints.” But Kay needed the chewiness, not just the mint.
She kept the Mentos secret from everyone now—hidden deep in the inner zip pockets of her bags. She never doled them out; she let her husband and daughter think she’d given them up. To herself she justified them as diet mints, since they helped control her appetite. She managed to cut down to two rolls a week, and some weeks she lasted days without eating a single orb, but then she’d have a Mentos moment and suddenly half a roll would disappear.
In December, she took a day off work to meet her son at the airport. She made a full day’s expedition of it, saving money by taking the local train. As she neared the airport, she felt conspicuous without any luggage besides her briefcase of papers to grade.
But in an inside zipper pocket she had two rolls of Mentos. She would be good, she kept telling herself. She would be good. She would wait until the train ride back when they’d nearly reached Tokyo, or even Yokohama, and they still had all the way to go to Ofuna—so far after such a long plane ride, before she casually reached into her bag and offered him one.
Then she would watch his face light up in appreciation, full of cool memories.