SmokeLong Quarterly

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When Chase Prays Chocolate

Story by Christopher Allen (Read author interview) June 26, 2012

art by Cosimo Cavallaro

Chase is Thirty Six. His hands are rubbing his wife’s shoulders, but his thoughts are readying themselves for escape. “Chase, please. It’s too hard.” She turns her head to look at him, but Chase is already five and leaping onto a granite kitchen countertop. He swivels in midair and lands. Sitting. His wife says again, “Chase, please. It’s too hard.” The landing’s never smooth. And then there’s always the awkwardness of turning to kneel, to reach the third shelf and the dwindling bar of chocolate his mother (never) uses to bake. He pulls back the label that reads “Pure Baker’s Chocolate” and sinks his teeth deep, hard into a corner.

Chase is forty-nine. Dribbling sounds are coming from the bath and his wife. His heart races at the thought of being caught clicking through porn sites. He swallows hard, a dark memory of chocolate coating the back of his throat. He’s five again and kneeling on the cold, hard countertop. Mommy’s asleep on the couch. He nibbles on the chocolate and tries to make his knees—first the left then right—feel old and innocent at the same time. That would be perfect. Chase lusts for the dusty, drab quality of pure chocolate without all the sugar, butter and sprinkles. In the bathroom a plug glugs from the drain. A hairdryer roars. He clicks back to CNN.com, deletes his cache, swallows his memory and smiles. Chocolate in its purest form, he thinks, is like a life uncorrupted. In the thunder of his wife’s preening, he shouts, “Chocolate liquor, soy lecithin.”

People aren’t pure. They have a troubling number of ingredients. They have retinas and freckles, fists and curly hairs. And thoughts: weeping thoughts, raging and perverse thoughts. They have nipples and knuckles and dilemmas. They have lips and hopes and vertebrae, which some animals don’t even have—but thoughts most of all. Chase keeps a list of people ingredients in a canister on a high kitchen shelf to remind himself that innocence needs a ladder. And that’s why he prays. He’s five and forty-nine, sixty-two and twelve and twenty-three. But most of all five. His latest people ingredient—number 3042—is a little demon called corticotropin-releasing hormone, which Chase doesn’t understand completely, but he knows it makes him mad.

Chase is nineteen. And five. He’s taking his new girlfriend to see Jaws. She smells like jasmine; he hopes he smells like a Hershey’s bar. He swallows and scoots the chocolate back behind a can of baking soda and shimmies off the counter. But his mother is standing there when he turns around. “Little man, what have I told you about climbing—” A palm stings his face as the movie starts and his girlfriend reaches for his trembling hand. She tickles his palm as Mommy holds a cold cloth to a rising bruise on Chase’s cheek. “Chase,” she says, “I was angry. That’s all.” But the tiny bits contaminate us, he thinks, gripping his girlfriend’s hand, white and skeletal in the cinema’s pall. “Anger,” he whispers, “is like salmonella.” “Chase, you’re hurting me.” His girlfriend is trying to pull her hand away. “Anger’s like a demon,” he says to his mother/girlfriend. “No,” his mother says—steely now. “Not like that at all. It’s nine o’clock. Time to say your prayer.”

Chase—always and ever five—falls to his knees. He raises pinched-shut eyes to the shelf he’s too small, too old to reach and prays: “Chocolate liquor. Soy lecithin. Chocolate liquor. Soy lecithin.”

About the Author

Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press, 2018). His work has appeared in Flash Fiction America (Norton, 2023), The Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Split Lip, Booth, PANK, and Indiana Review, among other very nice places. Allen has been the publisher and editor-in-chief of SmokeLong Quarterly since January 2020 and was the 2023 judge of the Bridport Prize for flash fiction. He and his husband are nomads.

About the Artist

Cosimo Cavallaro was born in Montreal in 1961. The son of Italian immigrants, Cavallaro was raised both in Canada and Italy. As a director Cavallaro has won numerous awards including the Director of the Year Award in Canada and the 1990 Canadian Film Festival Award for Best Video of the Year. Although film and video monopolized the majority of Cavallaro’s time in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, his art remained evident in all of his work and foremost in his mind. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the world. His cheese installations have attracted features in hundreds of media outlets throughout the world including The New York Times, Contemporary Visual Arts Magazine, CNN, Global Japan Television, People Magazine, BBC, Harpers, the Associated Press, CBC and the Fox News Channel.


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