MIRIAM N. KOTZIN
her twenty-second birthday Celeste's friends gave her a stapler, a
Polaroid camera, and a gift certificate to the photo shop at the mall
where she could have a picture of herself scanned, enlarged, and
printed on glossy paper. They told her that she could put the staples
anywhere she wanted.
No one expected that Celeste
would board a train to the city, swing her purple patent leather makeup
case up onto the shelf over the seat, wave good-bye through the
scratched blur of window, and a year later show up as a real
centerfold, wearing only white lace stockings and a half-dozen long
looping strands of pearls. She'd changed her name to Xeleste, but
the magazine said she still pronounced it Celeste.
In her most famous shot Xeleste posed reclining on a red vinyl
banquette below a black and silver sombrero, her head tilted back, her
bright red mouth open, eager. She held a burrito in her left hand,
looking as though she were about to go Linda Lovelace one better and
deep throat the burrito.
The photographer reminded Xeleste of Woody Woodpecker, with a shock of
red hair and a laugh to match. He called her celery, cellotape, cellar,
and finally stellar, but never Xeleste. Still, he had a way about him,
leaning towards her, coaxing in the same tone you'd hear in a stable,
so that she'd do anything he said and never flinch. She called him
Woody, and when she did, he'd wink. She took up with him, as they said
Woody had a thing for food. He'd told Xeleste that in his family
"nurture" was synonymous with "feed." The burrito shot was just
one of many photos he took of her with food. She licked a
chocolate-coated eclair that was oozing custard cream. She held up to
her right breast, just grazing her nipple, a giant, red-glazed
strawberry still on its stem. Other than the burrito shot, the most
complicated set-up involved a day-glow green Popsicle. Woody's
assistant, Mel, knelt off-camera and held the Popsicle into the
shot. Xeleste, her blonde hair pulled into a pony-tail, posed as though
she were crawling towards the slightly down-tilted Popsicle, her mouth
open. Working with the Popsicle was tricky because it melted and
dripped in the lights. In the end they all decided they liked the
effect of the clear drop on the end and the little green puddle.
Xeleste never got to even lick the Popsicle, but that was all right
because she didn't like lime.
Then a gallery not quite in So-Ho showed Woody's photo collage of
closeups of Xeleste's body parts juxtaposed with extreme close-ups of
food: a red raspberry; a ripe mission fig cut open lengthwise, its red
pulpy flesh glistening; a mussel, mottled, puckered open, sitting on a
half-shell. Woody took her to the opening, and fed her tiny yellow
cheese cubes on toothpicks, while she held both of their plastic cups,
hers filled with white wine, his with red. He introduced her to
the gallery owner as Xeleste, his model, his heavenly body.
After a few months, Xeleste began to grow plump. Woody squeezed her arm
between his thumb and index finger as though he were taking its measure
with a caliper. He did this several times a week. He still
took photos of her, but now only at home, usually in the bedroom,
always doing something with food, most often exotic tropical fruit.
One evening Xeleste was in a drugstore where they sold children's books
and she picked up Hansel and Gretel. When she saw the witch
pinching the children's fingers through the bars of the cage, she began
to worry, but she told Woody and he laughed, heh heh heh heh heh.
Xeleste noticed the bars on his windows, and worried that they were not
designed to keep out would be evil-doers, as Woody called them, but to
keep her in. She told Woody about her fears, for she told him
everything, willingly, even eagerly as he fed her. She ate no morsel
that he did not put in her mouth. And then one day she wondered aloud
why she didn't have a key to the deadbolt lock on the door.
Woody silenced her, stuffing her mouth with chocolate kisses. He
blindfolded her and dipped a spoon in a mixture he'd made of cyanide
and butterscotch sauce, which she licked from the spoon he
held. Dip and lick, dip and lick, dip and lick. He popped
another kiss into her mouth, and then dipped his finger into
sugar. How sweet it was to her. And then the sweetened poison
licked, sucked from the spoon. Again and again and again. He
waited until she lay still, and he pushed a silk pillow onto her face.
Finally the only sounds in the loft were Woody's ragged breathing, the
hum of the refrigerator, and the midnight traffic from four floors down
seeping through the locked barred windows. Woody lowered his face to
hers. Just as he knew it would, Xeleste's mouth smelled sweet,
chocolate, buttterscotch and bitter almond. Woody washed his hands,
unwrapped the remaining kisses and ate them all one by one. He
made a ball of the shiny foil wrappers and dropped it into the trash.
He turned on the trash compactor. Wonderful gadget. Celeste
lay as he left her on the sofa, her head tilted back, her bright red
mouth open, eternally eager.
Kotzin's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Small Spiral
Notebook, Drexel Online Journal, the Vocabula Review, Three
Candles, the Poetry Super Highway, For Poetry.com., Word Riot,
The Front Street Review, Open Wide, Segue, edificeWRECKED!, Shampoo,
Eclectica, FRiGG, Flashquake, Circle Magazine, Branches, Plum Ruby
Review, Gator Springs Gazette, Blaze, The Green Tricycle,
Riverbabble, MAG: Muse Apprentice Guild, Mini Mag, Snow
Monkey, Maverick Magazine and Blaze, Slow Trains, Littoral, Storied
World, Toasted Cheese, SaucyVox, Southern Ocean Review, Xaxx and Smoke