Minah had a butterfly collection that she inherited from her grandfather. Her grandfather’s favorite food was meatloaf, with mashed potatoes, green beans, and angel food cake, that her grandmother made with fresh goose eggs every spring. Minah never got the hang of baking. Her angel food came out tough – you beat it too much, she can hear her mother’s voice, whining like a buzz saw.
Don’t listen like that, she thinks to herself and beats the eggs some more. Poor eggs. Throttled. No greatness, no soufflé, her eggs were always fallen like angels. This did eventually lead her to chocolate, which can accept some brutal handling, some sweet heavy evil, some shame. She reminded herself to be grateful for her failure with eggs, especially after chocolate shook her loose from home and into her own sweetest baking moments.
Chocolate was the name of Minah’s first dog. He was an unintentional mastiff, rescued from the shelter as a tiny tiny pup who suddenly and like the incredible hulk became much larger than expected. Holy cow, she said to her mom, to her granddad, to her kid. OMG, said the kid to his friends. WTF said the friends to each other. They compared Chocolate to Clifford as he grew and grew, as he grew too large to lie with his monstrous feet under the dining room table. They compared Chocolate to Puff as he grew huge, affectionate and exiled out in the yard, where he fit and yet did not fit, lonely dog, lonely dragon.
One day they met an unusual man, a spelunking man who had no fear of dark spaces, big dogs, butterflies or the exact science and mystery of baking. He became the friend and sponsor of one large dog, Minah, and her son Kel. This man had a talent for dogs, friends, chocolate, baking, teaching, and mixing things up.
The first time they met was in the caverns down south, a series of deep caverns with one wide open mouth. Invisible in the dark on the trail into the main cave, Kel was singing songs to himself about his big dog, songs that rhymed and almost rapped. He could see his hands making gangsta moves in the absolute darkness and he felt cool as the inner sanctum and the wet inner wind licking his skin. The guide turned off his light and then the darkness was absolute, an absolution, an absolute acceptance that the eyes would find nothing. The earth shifted around them, there was a smell of damp and guano, and the lights came back on.
Later there were sodas and sandwiches in a brightly lit cafeteria at the bottom, then the walk back up to the surface. They came out just at sunset and the bats were coming home, dark clouds, red sky, air 104 degrees. Arm hairs shaken and rising in the interim space between dark, light, hot, cold, childhood, death. They laughed as strangers on short journeys do, but met again later at the hotel pool, where they talked generally about caves, bats, dogs, baking and butterflies. Then more specifically about chocolate, Chocolate, grandfather’s butterfly collection, and Minah’s difficulty with angel food cake and eggs. This was a natural friendship of man boy dog and woman, lightly mixed, risen and set to cool.
Chocolate lived a very short life, as large dogs do. Minah and Kel had a box of recipes for chocolate desserts with his picture on the lid, and thought of him every time they made something sweet, and thought of the darkness, and thought of the bats rising up into the sunset sky.