"The Bite" by Deborah Nedelman

Categories: ISSUE 04: Eleanor

The Bite

The cherries–blood red, long stemmed and fleshy enough for easy pitting

The hairnet–flimsy filaments tangled around cherry-sized holes; only visible by its confining effect on Belle’s corkscrew curls–mashing them into a dense helmet

The chocolate–dark mahogany, smooth as polished chrome under streetlights, reflecting Belle’s beauty

The shoes–black leather laced around her toes, soles thick and pliant, cushioning her feet from long standing on cement

The shop–Feed Your Craving–chocolate to indulge your fantasies. The owner, Carlos, prowls the kitchen, guards the cash; bright-lit windows display Belle dipping

The air–polluted with intoxicating sweetness, deep breaths not recommended, mirages abound

The customer–helpless before it all: Belle’s restrained curls; the chocolate dream; the sound of her padded tread; the cherries, bleeding fresh from the ritual of pitting, held with reverence between her gloved thumb and forefinger. She dips each one with the self awareness of a prima ballerina: once–holding it over the cauldron, letting the slow sweetness drip off; twice–lifting it with a dexterous turn of her bony wrist, the last threads twisting into a precise nipple shining at the tip of the fruit; the third and final dip, submerged seconds longer before she pulls it straight up and twirls the stem with a flick; the dance concludes as Belle settles her tiny partner upright on the waiting tray before releasing the guiding stem.

The desire–enraptured, he stands 15, 20, 30 minutes watching through the glass, the ripe fruit smothered in brown elixir–a tease–the red now unseen. And Belle–her hands, her wrists, her matted curls, the grace of her inseparable from it all. His craving is renewed each day, like sweat–chocolate perfumed and slippery.

The boyfriend–Carlos, who pulled Belle off the street, her knee-high boots, stiletto heels, her curls undisciplined; Carlos, who placed her in his window smelling of sugar and cocoa, an invitation. From behind the cash register Carlos watches the customer’s mouth, the tip of tongue licking the lower lip.

The conversation–Carlos and Belle at the end of the day. Barely words. He accuses, she denies.

The bruise–in the morning it blooms at the crest of Belle’s cheek, blue and sorrowful. She tips her face away from the vat of chocolate, avoiding inspection. She loses the precision of the twist after the second dip, and the flick of stem after the third is slowed. The trance is broken. There is Belle and there are the cherries, the chocolate. Bitterness tints the air.

The purchase–Carlos stands behind the cash register. The customer approaches. What do you really want? Carlos asks. The stammering answer–a chocolate covered cherry, that one, there. Carlos growls low.

The end–Belle looks up, a forgotten cherry dripping brown puddles from her fingers. She sees the customer; she hears Carlos growl. She shakes her head, lifting the stem for both to see. Her lips part, the cherry slips between, she bites down.

--Story by Deborah Nedelman
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--Foreground photo by Lisa Guidarini
--Background photo by Ira Joel Haber