Tuesday 17 February 2015

Hot Chocolate Day

Hot Chocolate Day

Vanessa Horn

with sprinkles?

I think it was Forrest Gump who said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.’ If so, I think he was right – almost. I’d just change it slightly – not much – to ‘Life is like a mug of hot chocolate’ and then it would be perfect. Just perfect. I’ll tell you why.

March 9th. A new day; cloudless sky of solid blue with a hint of ceramic shine. Just the shade of my best mug, I realise. I’ve had this for years – won it, in fact, for my ‘Springtime’ poem at school, aeons ago. So it’s special to me, not least because I haven’t won anything since. Anyway, as I retrieve my esteemed trophy from the shelf, I’m amazed at the perfect colour match; even the best artist would’ve been hard pushed to recreate the shade as precisely as this. A coincidence? No – it can’t be.
        I pause, hovering over the kettle, undecided at first. I don’t think I’ll use instant chocolate powder – not today. This isn’t a usual day; it is going to be poignant – I know that for sure – but, as yet, I’m not sure exactly how it will play out. Dark, light or mixed emotion? I won’t find out just yet – maybe in half an hour or so. But as it’s unquestionably a day which will warrant recognition, I’ll respect it by making it one of those rare occurrences – a special hot chocolate day. Yes. So, ignoring the kettle, I instead begin to gather my ingredients from cupboards and fridge…

Bittersweet chocolate. Just right for the sensations shadowing me since I woke this morning, knowing that today is the day we will find out the results. Make or break. I shave off a generous amount from the bar, immediately releasing its distinctive aroma. Closing my eyes I inhale it like a bee immersing itself in nectar. Bliss! Unable to resist, I treat myself in nibbling a little, savouring the sweetness that contains a tiny hint of... chilli? Similar to the doctor’s words turning round to taunt us when we’d been lulled into a sense of false security. Unexpected. Unwelcome. My breath catches and I tell myself to relax. We don’t know anything yet. Okay. I select a sharp knife from the drawer and begin to chop the chocolate even more finely on my old wooden board. The repetitive movement provides a welcome diversion. Chopping, chopping. After a few minutes I have a large heap of chocolate shavings ready, plus a little pile put aside for later.  
Cream and sugar. I ignore the high-tech mixer which sits smugly in the corner and instead use a wooden spoon to whip these together in my large and slightly cracked ceramic bowl. I enjoy the physical energy that I need to form the stiff peaks in the mixture. Peaks… Troughs. I like these words; they fit nicely into my beating rhythm: peaks and troughs, peaks and troughs. I’m exorcising my worries as I blend and then blend some more: sugar and cream, peaks and troughs. Finishing, I stand back slightly and admire the results which stand to attention in perfectly-whipped glory. A positive sign? I hope so.
Milk. Plain but necessary to the mixture – an essential part, even. It’s a basic element – bland, some would say; you might not always notice it’s there but you definitely need it; without it, life would be too rich and probably give you a tummy ache. Like the voice of common sense that stops birds from flying too close to the sun or fish from diving too deeply down into the ocean – it keeps life at a sort of a midway point. The milk blends in modestly, fraternising with the cream, sugar and grated chocolate. A dense texture.
        Now it’s getting to the tricky part; I need to keep the consistency smooth and creamy, simmering it to the exact point where the chocolate melts and marbles into the mixture before blending. I hold my breath as I do this because sometimes the concoction boils and spoils when it approaches this point. It’s important – really important – that this doesn’t happen today. It’s a superstitious thing, really, thinking that however this turns out might somehow affect what happens today. Silly, I know, but everyone has their own idiosyncrasies and quirks and I’m no exception. Thankfully, though, the ingredients combine successfully and I sigh in relief.
Vanilla and cinnamon: the final few touches. A drop of vanilla essence and a tiny pinch of powdered cinnamon to spike up the flavouring. Not entirely necessary but definitely something that enhances, in a sharp-intake-of-breath kind of way. Possibly a reminder that you sometimes need a nudge of anxiety to encourage you to appreciate the everyday things – or people – that you may take for granted? I think about this. It wouldn’t have to be too much of a nudge, though; just a hint every now and again is quite sufficient. I carefully pour the thick mixture into my sky-blue mug, and then take one more quick peek outside to check that the colours still match. They do.
Whipped cream and sprinkles. Essential or an indulgence? I don’t expect I really need to ask that question; I suppose, if you had the choice, you’d always go for the embellishments – the little extra-special finishing touches – if you could. Wouldn’t you? After all, they are the things you look most forward to; the little distractions from the everyday, if you like. I watch as the tiny sprinkles begin to penetrate the generous cream topping, sinking happily into its frothiness and creating minute dents as they disappear, never to be seen again…     
My mobile jigs a little on the counter beside me and then bursts into full song, abruptly breaking my reverie. I snatch it up, feeling my heart begin to pound painfully in anticipation. It’s time – time to face reality.
      ‘Mum? What did they s— Yeah… yeah… all clear? Oh, thank God!’ Thankful and grateful, I allow her familiar voice continue to reassure me as I pick up the mug with my free hand and take the first sip of my exquisite drink. Never before has my hot chocolate tasted quite so good.

About the Author
Vanessa Horn is a Junior School teacher who first became interested in writing a few years ago when she took a sabbatical year. Since then, she has written several hundred stories, some of which have been published in magazines, and others having won prizes in short story competitions. She enjoys reading, shopping and going out for meals.  

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