From New Page‘s review of Upstreet 10. Read the full review here.
In the casual same way he did everything
eat a plum, pluck a string
trip into an inheritance, or
the arms of a bathing bachelorette heiress
(this happened on more than one occasion)
he stepped out with the sea
We felt nor grief nor affection
according to fashion
Though we each of us miss his – insouciance?
Is this the word?
We miss his insouciance
His mistress has his insurance
but misses his insouciance, too
Poem and drawing from Plum Stuff, a poetry/art book by Rolli.
Mr. Xavery was a chocolatier – a maker of chocolate. He wasn’t a rich chocolatier (few of them are) but he was a good one, the best in the city. The Great Wave – this was the name of his shop – was forever busy, for the taste of Xavery Chocolate was beyond delicious. It was a vacation, that took only a minute.
He had a daughter, this Xavery. Dochais. A child with hair the very color of chocolate, and the skin of cream. She was lovely. Her duty was to help prepare the chocolate, and to stir it, as it cooked. She did this in the kitchen, which was in the rear of the shop.
Dochais was one day preparing a small batch of chocolate. She had cooked together the sugar, and cream, and was just adding cocoa to the pot, when too much fell in – a little too much.
“This chocolate will be too dark to use,” said her father, severely. “You will have to dump it out.” Then he left her – for someone had come into the shop.
Dochais was going to throw out the chocolate, when she noticed something. It looked like … a face. In the chocolate. A dark face that for an instant appeared – and then vanished.
“Imagination,” she told her self, emptying the pot.
A day later, as she hurried to prepare a fresh batch, the same thing happened. Too much – this time far too much – cocoa fell in. This chocolate was as dark as coal, and not at all useable. If her father saw….
Dochais rushed to the garbage. She was about to discard the chocolate, when it came again. The face. The dark face in the chocolate. It lasted longer, this time. The lips moved, as if it were speaking – but she could hear nothing. The face remained, even as Dochais tipped the mixture, as the chocolate poured out. She trembled as she cleaned the pot.
A month passed. It was now the busy season, when those in love buy chocolates for their loves, and those who aren’t in love – who are in love with chocolate – buy twice as much. Dochais and her father worked like ants.
It was in her haste and busyness to keep up that Dochais made her greatest error. This time, when she added the cocoa, she was far from careful, and close to the whole thing fell into the pot. She scooped out as much as she could (not a lot), and then stirred the rest in. This was the darkest possible chocolate. It was midnight in a pot. And in the middle of this midnight, again, came the face.
“Dochais,” it whispered. For now, when the lips moved, there was a sound.
The child said nothing. She was too amazed.
“Dochais,” came the voice, again. “Dochais.”
“Dochais,” said the girl’s father, stepping into the kitchen. She quickly put the lid on the pot. “Are you finished that new batch of chocolate?”
“Al-most,” she said, trembling.
“Well, hurry. At this pace, we’ll be sold out by noon.” Then he turned, for someone else had come into the shop.
Dochais lifted the lid. The face remained. It turned and turned in the pot. The child thought she would dump the mixture – but no, it was a large one, and there would never be time to prepare a fresh one. So she added some more sugar, and cream – that helped the color a little, and covered the face, besides – and poured the mixture into the molds, to cool. No one would have to know her error.
The Great Wave was so very busy that afternoon (for the customers were an even greater wave) that Dochais had to work at the counter, side-by-side with her father, merely to keep up. If her chocolate was too dark, her father was too busy even to notice, and the people too greedy to care. Some men bought three boxes of chocolate, some women four or more. By the end of the day, the two were exhausted – and the shelves empty.
The next day was Sunday – a day of rest for the chocolatiers. Dochais enjoyed her morning off by strolling through the Green Mansion, the great park of the city. It was a crisp day, but not at all uncomfortable.
There was a pretty woman sitting on a bench, a box of Xavery Chocolates on her lap. Dochais watched her open the box, and lift a very dark chocolate to her lips.
The child breathed in sharply. Was it? And could it be?
Yes. It was. In the chocolate. A face. In all of the chocolates – for she’d drawn near enough, now, to see them.
“Dochais,” said one of the chocolates. “Dochais,” said another. “Dochais,” said all of them, together.
The woman bit into the chocolate – and made a bitter face. She looked up at Dochais just as bitterly. She shut the box. And she rushed away.
Dochais sat down on the empty bench, and set her head in her hands. It was a long while before she got up again.
On her way home, as she walked through the crowded Plaza, Dochais passed three young men standing alongside a fountain. They were eating chocolates. But it was not only them – everywhere she looked, Dochais saw women and men eating chocolates, and gazing at her with such extraordinary bitterness, that she wished to cry.
“Dochais,” said a voice, and another. It was surely the chocolates. “Dochais.” Though it could have been the people, as they gazed.
The frightened child covered her ears, and ran. She ran to the back steps of The Great Wave, into the living quarters in the rear of the shop – and was stopped in her tracks by her father. He too wore an expression of such bitterness; it was unlike him. He was holding a box of chocolates.
“Dochais,” said Mr. Xavery. Or was it the chocolates?
“Yes?” said his daughter, feeling small.
But her father said nothing. Instead, he opened the box. All the chocolates were there but one. And in each of the chocolates was … a face.
Mr. Xavery at last continued, raising his voice:
“Madame Jardin has returned the box of chocolates she purchased yesterday. Do you have any idea why?”
Dochais shook her head. She was too afraid to say.
“Are you certain? Is there not something unusual about these chocolates?”
She wondered … if he too could see the dark faces. If he could hear them speaking.
“Do you not think,” her father went on, “that these chocolates are … unusually dark?”
“Dochais,” said the chocolates. “Dochais.”
Again the girl trembled. A million lies entered her head, among a million voices. If she could select the right one, perhaps he would believe her. Even as he gazed at her.
“Dochais … Dochais.”
But she could bear the strain no more. Breaking down, she told her father what happened. Mr. Xavery stood there, with his arms crossed, as he listened.
“Are you upset?” she asked him, when she’d finished.
Mr. Xavery regarded her for a long time. At last he said:
“No. No, Dochais. Or – I am angry not because of your mistake, but because you didn’t tell me about it. A secret is not so terrible, when you tell someone. It is no longer even a secret, then; it is nothing.”
Even as he spoke, the faces in the chocolate seemed to fade. Their whispers grew softer, until they were not even there.
Dochais picked out a chocolate, and tasted it. Yes, it was bitter. But it was not terrible. It was really not too terrible, after all.
From The Susan Tree, an unpublished collection of darkly delicious middle grade fairy tales.
Orangutan, do me a flavour!
Orange like you, my sweet.
Just take this jar of marmalade,
and smear it on my feet.
And when my toes are stuck together, dear,
won’t that be neat?
I will, if you do ME a flavour.
Why child, a strawberry one.
Just take this triple ice-cream cone,
and melt it in the sun,
then very gently pour it on my head,
and watch it run.
Of course I can, orang-utan!
And you know I’LL do IT -
of all the favours in the world,
THAT’S my flavourite!
From The Conga Lion, an unpublished collection of jungle-themed poetry for children.
“I dreamed about him,” said my Master, grabbing my hand. “Last night. I was in the garden. It was night. There were no roses, on the hedges. I looked … everywhere. They were gone. On the edge of the fountain, I sat down. I looked, up. There were no stars. I looked down. There was one. One rose, the flower, in the water. Floating. I reached out. I picked it up. I looked up.
“And there he was. Flying. He was flying. In the night sky. The sky … full of stars. He was smiling. I didn’t—I couldn’t call out to him. I only watched him. Flying. My son.”
He became emotional, my Master. He released my hand. He drew his black handkerchief from his pocket. Rose petals fell to the floor.
He took my hand again. He embraced me. His tears ran down my skin.
“He was smiling.”