I put down the cornflakes and look Penny in the eye.
"How can you argue in favor of today's foreign policy given your feelings about independence? Explain this to me, Pen. Try to be consistent. Would you do that for me?"
She sighs. "OK, remember that political rally we attended? Do you remember what the speaker said?"
"I remember how he vented. What a troll. The man was so full of hot air I can't believe he didn't take flight. I'm just saying, it was fitting he talked so much about the 'good year...'"
"Oh, come on. This isn't really about foreign policy," she says. "It's not even about your stupid cereal. There's something else going on, isn't there?"
I spoon cornflakes into my mouth. The milk is cold, low-fat, and delicious.
"Yeah. No. I don't know. I'm just...having these weird feelings lately. Strange thoughts in my head. I before E, except after, see? You know?"
"No, Hiro, I don't know. That doesn't make any sense. Actually nothing you've said lately has made any sense. Are you feeling okay? Maybe you should see a doctor."
"Yes, a witch-doctor. But which doctor? Can a witch doctor? Apportion a potion? Shun the Po?" I laugh at my wit without really understanding it, and Penny gives me a strange look. I decide she needs comforting.
"Relax, Penny," I say, consuming more flakes. Fakes? Flake fakes? Fake flakes? Not brand-name. "I'm just under a lot of stress right now. When you aspear to fame and fortune, there's going to be trial."
"Aspire," she says.
"Aspire. You said 'aspear.'"
I think back. So I did. For some reason this strikes me as hilarious and I laugh, which only increases Penny's frown. There is a dragon inside me, clawing its way out.
"You've got me stumped, Hiro," Penny says. "You've been so introspective lately, always saying crazy things, making jokes only you find funny, living inside your head like it's another world. What's the deal? Are you cracking up or what?"
"In more ways than one," I affirm, laughing even more, although it doesn't really feel funny anymore. Am I going crazy? "What I'm feeling lately...it dwarfs anything I've felt before..."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, in terms of magnitude...like, everything I felt before was really just the shadow of feeling, and suddenly here's the real thing. It's so big and different I don't really have any way to understand it; there's no point of reference, you know?"
"I think you're having a giant attack of the crazies. Aren't you supposed to wait 'til midlife for your crisis? Have you seen some sort of sign? This way to madness?"
"You're no help. I guess when you're not on fire you can't grasp the heat. Eh, Pen?" There are no more cornflakes in the bowl. I gaze mournfully on the emptiness, then stand up and reach for the box to make things right.
There is a shift.