The smell of chocolate streamed through the large manila parcel in Mom’s hands. It was roughly the size of a cookie sheet, and at least three times as thick. My mouth watered as she droned on and on about how this was not a chocolate bar—about how it was baking chocolate, and that we needed to stay away from it. But that didn’t stop us from following her down the stairs (where our imaginary crocodiles nipped at our heels) and into the storage room to watch her put the parcel on the highest, most inaccessible shelf available. We stayed a little behind, savoring the smell, but she called us all out quickly—Linda, Evan, Crystal and me. We dashed up the stairs again (didn’t want to be bitten by the crocks) and resumed our usual, rowdy play.
Sometimes I’d go into the store room just to smell that package—so rich, so dark-chocolaty, that it permeated the whole room – drowned out the metallic smell of home-canned bottles (some at least 10 years old). Drowned out the smell of oriental spices and dried shitake mushrooms – drowned out the dust and the mold and the inevitable mice. It was a wonderful aroma. It drowned out the smell of everything else in life. And I was dying to take a bite—no, just a nibble—no, just the teensiest, ever-so-slight of a nick. That’s right.
So on a day when no one would notice me absent, I sneaked into the storage room. Carefully—oh, so carefully—because the shelves were so very rickety, I climbed to that shelf and braced myself with my elbows. Then, I carefully pealed a corner down. It was surprisingly easier than I had imagined—almost came open at the slightest touch. I leaned forward—caught my balance—and scraped a tidbit—just the tiniest of tidbits off with my tooth and caught it with my tongue. YUCK! It was terribly bitter.
I hastily, as hastily as I could without losing my balance, rewrapped the corner and scuttled down the shelves and ran into my room. My heart was beating so fast. Mom would know it was me. She’d KNOW! I tried to calm my beating heart. I sat on the bed and broke out my scriptures. If I read a verse or two, then God would forgive me, and I wouldn’t have to tell my mom. I read one, then two, then three verses. There. That’s good. I said a quick prayer—God was on my side. I knew he secretly loved me best in all the world. He was on my side. It would be okay. She would never know. My heart slowed down. I felt better. I nonchalantly opened my door and walked to the stairs. I didn’t even hurry that quickly up them. Crocodiles? Really. I was much too mature to believe in them anyways. And that night at the dinner table, Mom didn’t mention anything about the chocolate nick. In my mind’s eye, I felt God’s wink.
Some time that week, Mom asked me to go downstairs and get her some toilet paper for the bathroom, and a can of Cream of Mushroom soup. I ran down the stairs—avoiding the crocodiles—and went into the store room. Now, where was that box of toilet pa…? The smell of chocolate hit me. My mouth positively watered. How could it be that it even smelled stronger now than before? If I hurried…. I didn’t even pause to think as I scurried up the shelves for another nibble—just the itsiest, teeniest nibble. The corner was more rounded than I remembered. I must have taken more than I thought I had. No matter. I put another dent or two into the corner, quickly folded it back up, and scurried back down. Toilet paper and what was it... Oh yeah, Cream of Chicken soup. I grabbed them and took them upstairs. My heart was pounding again, but I don’t know if that was from the crocodiles or from the chocolate. Who was I kidding? I’d have to read scriptures again tonight before I went to bed. This time I’d read five verses. That would suffice. Of course, five minutes later I was sent down again. This time I got the Cream of Mushroom Soup. I didn’t even notice the chocolate smell. Guilt was far more potent.
After that, I’d sneak a nibble or two a week. Now that the corner was already sufficiently rounded, what was a nibble or two more? It was no big deal. I didn’t even have to read my scriptures or say a prayer anymore. There was nothing wrong with it. Besides, there was plenty more for baking. It was a very large hunk of chocolate after all. So, while my fear of Mom subsided, the crocodile fear grew larger. And I soon did not fear Mother at all.
I shouldn’t have been so confident. Mom had gone downstairs—she had no respect for the crocodiles that guarded that sanctuary. She went down there to get some baking chocolate, and she found less than she’d bargained for.
We all sat around the dinner table with our hands folded in our laps, waiting for the storm that was my father’s wrath to blow over. “We are not eating a bite of food, until somebody confesses to chewing on the baking chocolate!” He started to the right of Mom and went around the table clockwise: “Angela. Did you eat the chocolate?”
“No. I did not.”
“I believe you.”
“Amy, did you?”
“No. I didn’t eat the chocolate, Daddy.”
“I believe you.”
“Linda, did you eat from the chocolate?”
“How about you, Crystal?”
My stomach was in positive knots. I’d never lied to Dad before. But I was gonna lie for sure, and my turn was coming.
“Charlie-girl, did you eat some of the baking chocolate?” Technically I didn’t eat the chocolate. I’d just nibbled it. Thank goodness; I didn’t have to lie.
“No.” I said, with a clean conscience.
“Well, that leaves you, Evan. Did you eat the chocolate?” Poor Evan squirmed under Dad’s gaze. I suddenly felt guilty again. Dad thought it was Evan. I could tell. His eyes bore into my brother like the brands he burned on the steers' hides, and Evan could only tell the truth.
“But I didn’t, Dad.”
“Nobody’s gonna eat until you come clean, Evan. Now everybody else says they didn’t eat it, so it has to be you.”
“Then nobody’s gonna eat, because it wasn’t me.”
They battled; dinner got cold; nobody was hungry anymore—especially not me. I tried to cut in to say that it wasn’t Evan, but Dad shushed me. We all sat around gloomily, watching them quarrel. My stomach, churning inside of me. I could never, ever, ever tell anyone—not even God, because I’d lied to Him too. No. This secret would have to go to the grave with me.
“Mom,” I said. “Dad,” I said, “There’s mice down in the basement. It probably was a mouse.”
“Hmm.” Mom said, “That mouse must have pretty big teeth, and must be pretty smart, because he knows just how to fold up the corner nice and neatly.” We all sat quietly for a while, and then Mom threw up her hands and gave in. What did it matter who ate the chocolate? It was done. “Let’s eat.” So we did. But no one savored it.
The scent of the chocolate diminished with time, and eventually faded away. The guilt of the chocolate diminished with time, but it never fully faded away. Five years later, it came out. I was walking back from our cousins with Crystal. It was late afternoon—a little confessional between the two of us. “Remember that chocolate?” I didn’t even have to specify…
“That was YOU? Oh, Char! And Evan ate all that blame for you. That was five years ago. You are such a liar!”
“I know. But you have to promise not to tell. I won’t tell your secret.” She promised. But the cat was out of the bag. And now freed, the secret was easier to tell. So I told Evan. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I know it’s been a long time. But I don’t want you to have to take the blame for it anymore.”
“What are you talking about?” He asked me.
“You know, the chocolate. The baking chocolate. I ate it.”
He grinned and laughed at me. I looked at him, curious. Then he said, “I did too.”
Note: I read this to my family this Christmas, and we had a great chuckle, because, turns out, every last one of us bit that chocolate slab! Whether other members of my family felt guilty about it...? Well, I guess they’ll take that to the grave…