Excerpted from Enid Futterman's:
"BITTERSWEET JOURNEY: A Modestly Erotic Novel of Love, Longing, and Chocolate"

High in the sulfurous air, waiting for the bubbles to break through the surface of the moonscape, Charlotte felt even queasier. Here was the equivalent of the shakey ground she had always stood on, bubbling to the surface, glistening and threatening.

She drove like a lunatic, all the way down the fiery mountain and beyond, not stopping until she came to a field of amazing trees, laden with deep-purple and burnt-orange pods, as big as gourds. It was a wonderland--natural and fantastic.

"Strange fruit," she whispered to the trees, mesmerized.

"Cacao," said a voice behind her. She turned around to find a man standing there, smiling at her astonishment.

"Chocolate," he said, translating. It wasn't a language problem. "It can't be."

"It is."

He took a flat, round, quarter-size piece out of his pocket.

"Cacao doesn't grow here."

"Nothing grew here once. But I'm impressed that you know enough to get it wrong. No one in the civilized world knows anything about cacao."

For nearly five centuries, a line had divided crown from colony, oppressor from oppressed, culture from nature, chocolate from cacao, and this man had erased it. "Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate," he said, offering it to her.

"Born and made in the U.S.A." "Vintage?" She was still not used to hearing the words "Hawaiian" and "chocolate" in the same sentence.

"Chocolate is the wine of the Americas."

"I'm off the stuff."

"All you need is one." Was he pushing...or flirting?

"One drink?"

"One pistole." She hesitated. "Come on. It took eight years. I traveled the world in search of beans. Java for Criollo. And Venezuela. Trinidad for Trinitario. Beans that grow wild in the rain forest, and Gran di Floria, the godfather bean...one botanical step before Theobroma cacao." He grinned. "Food of the gods."

"Whose gods?"

"The Aztecs", but Mayans worshiped them first. Maybe even Toltecs. Cacao was a gift from Quetzalcoatl, god of knowledge and culture ... especially agriculture. In Hawaii, he's Lono; in Greece, Dionysus."

"My point."

"Dionysus, not Bacchus. One glass of wine, not a bottle. A piece of chocolate, not a box."

"it isn't that simple."

"It's the most complex plant on the planet; this plant, even more so. It's a new bean, crossbred from all the others, growing in who knows how many layers of volcanic soil." He took a breath. "But it is a plant. Elemental. Organic."

"Organically grown?"

"Organically... and lovingly."

"What about pests?"

"No insects?"

"I didn't say that. Come with me."

She went. She was smitten, with him, with Hawaii, with cacao.

"After the harvest ... and before the drying..." He picked a purple pod and hacked it open with a machete. Inside, it was lavender-white, almost iridescent, and sticky. Pulp. It looked less like chocolate than anything she'd ever seen.

"That's it?"

"This is it," he said removing a bean from inside the pulp, like an embryo from a sac. "But that's part of it. Taste it."

It was juicy, and fruity; it was fruit. After a beat, and with a slightly theatrical flourish, Jim opened a large wooden box, unleashing a smell so sweet and pungent she turned away. When she turned back, embarrassed, she saw it - a steaming, insect-filled ooze, a living, breathing, horror-movie slime.

"God."

"I think so." Charlotte laughed. He made her laugh.

"What is it?"

"It's fermenting. When you make a new batch, you use a piece of wood from the old one, like yogurt ... or sourdough starter. The wood attracts insects, which attract a hundred and thirty-two bacteria and yeasts."

"You've counted."

"Come here."

"No."

"Touch it."

"I'm not good at this."

"It doesn't have teeth."

"Is it sanitary?"

"If it was sanitary, it wouldn't ferment. Bend your arm, and dip your elbow in it. Just a few inches. I want you to feel it." Why did he want her to feel it? What did he want her to feel? "Come on." It was hot. It was alive - the slimiest thing she had ever felt on her skin, and some slimy part of her loved it.

"This is where chocolate's flavor is formed - its roundness and depth. It's the primal, low-tech stuff. What happens in the factory... the roasting, grinding, pressing, refining, conching, tempering... all about texture."

"It doesn't come off."

"It's a souvenir." But he grabbed a wet towel from the side of the box and wiped her arm with it in a way she could only describe as ambiguous. "It's mostly cocoa butter." The skin on her arm was left clean, but slightly slippery, and as soft as the skin on her breasts. The slimy part of her wanted to bathe in that box.

She told him. He laughed. His laugh was attractive, but what made him irresistible was what he knew.

"I'll take the chocolate," she said, with a half-smile.

"Kona 'Ninety-four. Hodges Estate."

"It's a different food," she said, as it assumed the shape of her tongue.

"Voluptuous."

"Yes." "Can you taste the flowers?"

"Yes."

"Everything is in it. The bean. The weather. The soil. The bacteria. And the past."

She was staring into the mouth of another crater, about to jump off the edge, when the sun lit on something gold. A ring. A wedding ring. How could she not have seen a wedding ring?...

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