Bitter Hot Chocolate

Sudha Balagopal

“72% Ecuador Hot Chocolate – Monsieur Truffe AUD5” by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The doctor laughs when my ten-year-old says her throat is too narrow to swallow the chunky pill for her ear infection, but I convince him her gullet tightens around the tablet until she cannot breathe, so he asks her to open wide, shines a flashlight, then says there’s nothing physically wrong, plenty of room for the antibiotic to slide down, but, once home, she makes gagging sounds, wraps fingers around her neck, and turns beet red when she must take her medicine, so I’m forced to call the physician, who chuckles and says I should stir the pill into hot chocolate, at which I gasp, and he says he’s not joking, so I buy the fanciest Swiss package, dissolve the medicine into the beverage, and my daughter swallows the frothiness, licks the mustache off her upper lip, and remarks that the creamy chocolate is bitter, but tasty, to which I respond, that’s chocolate for you, and because she grins, after the course of antibiotics ends, I add to her Minnie Mouse mug multivitamins, cough medicine, even anti-diarrheals on occasion, so she believes this is good chocolate, the drink everyone loves despite the taste, and I tell her it’s sort of how beer is popular, how people love it, and I shouldn’t have used that particular comparison, because too soon, at sixteen, she begins to relish beer, and before I absorb the beer situation she gets attached to this guy who has a pungent temper and a delicious smile, a wild man who cannot be tamed, a creature all her friends adore, and she swallows his temper, his hot words, his beatings, his cheatings, but won’t let go of him, even when I say she should, even after I introduce her to an upright young man, who on their first date places a cup of unadulterated hot chocolate before her, but she accuses him of doctoring the beverage, screaming that it tastes all wrong before she goes back to find that fellow with the pungent temper, so I call the doctor and tell him he should never again recommend mixing medicine into a beverage, and he responds, no laugh, there are reflexive actions involved in swallowing; fixing those is beyond his medical expertise. 

Sudha Balagopal’s recent short fiction appears in Matchbook, Smokelong Quarterly and Split Lip Magazine, among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn. Her work will appear in Best Microfiction 2021, has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the  Pushcart Prize and is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50. More at, and follow her on Twitter at @authorsudha.

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