For 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 back home.
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 close ups 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.