by Lisa Beebe —
There was a girl who wanted to be candy. Other children wanted to buy candy, to savor its sweet flavor or torture their tongues with its tartness. This girl didn’t want to consume candy. She wanted candy to consume her.
Her father ran a small candy shop, and she grew up surrounded by sugary scents and artificial flavors. She heard customers beg him to track down one more box of their cherry- or chocolate- or lemon-flavored temptations. As a child, the girl found it all confusing. She had no taste for sweets. She felt out of place in the candy store and out of place in the world.
When she turned thirteen, she was desperate to be noticed, but the boys who visited the store only wanted one thing—and it wasn’t her. She was certain no boy would ever love her as much as he loved candy. Working in the store after school became torture. Every day, her father introduced her to new customers as “the sweetest thing in my life”. Every time she heard it, it sounded like a lie. She was sure there was nothing sweet about her.
In order to sweeten her appearance, she started wearing brighter colors, mimicking the artificial shades she saw around her: pink and purple dresses, lemon yellow tights, red patent-leather shoes. She stocked up on coconut lip gloss, glittery eyeshadow, and cherry-vanilla shampoo. It didn’t help. Beneath the saccharine surface, she felt ugly and dirty. She had body odor, an itchy scalp, oily skin. She was human, and she hated it.
After work each day, she walked a few blocks to the quaint old house where she lived with her father and grandmother and climbed the steep, narrow stairs to her bedroom in the attic. Nobody else ever went up there. One day, while she was taking off her clothes, she felt something in her pocket. She had accidentally carried a packet of candy home. She didn’t want to eat the chewy, rainbow-colored squares, but she unwrapped each piece anyway. Laid out on the bed in front of her, they looked like building blocks. It gave her an idea: She’d create a new version of herself, a better version, made of candy.
The next day she stuffed her bag with treats. The following day, she filled her coat pockets too. Her father thought she’d finally developed a sweet tooth and looked on her petty thievery with pride. Of course, she never ate any of it. Each sourball, each tablet of spearmint gum, each lemon-lime lollipop, was strictly for sculpture. She built her new body inside out, taking great care to make her candy self as anatomically correct as possible. She bought an old medical textbook in a used bookstore and worked to replicate its illustrations, stretching taffy into shapes that resembled organs and using licorice twists to represent her veins and arteries. The new girl had swizzle-stick bones surrounded by muscles made of strawberry gummies, cinnamon coins, and red jellybeans. After a few weeks, she was ready to cover her candy innards with skin.
One Saturday, when she was home alone, she mixed up a large batch of fondant using her grandmother’s favorite recipe and tinted it with food coloring until it was the exact pinkish-brown shade as her skin. She rolled the fondant into smooth sheets and carried them up to her room on wax paper. The candy body, which she now thought of as her true self, lay on her bed. She had started sleeping on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, so that her candy self would be comfortable.
As she tucked the fondant skin over the candy muscles, organs, and skeleton, she felt her dreams coming true. Soon this delicious, desirable body would be hers. She smoothed the fondant over her future calves and her future knees. Once the skin was attached, she inserted eyeballs she’d found in a box of Halloween candy. They were the same warm caramel color as her real eyes. The next day, she lifted a bag of licorice laces from the store. She spent the evening laying the thin black strands onto her new head. She formed eyebrows with a delicate arch and pressed them onto the flawless face. She also applied candy makeup—thin lines of melted chocolate as eyeliner, a dollop of raspberry cream on each cheekbone, and a squeezable cherry-flavored gel on her lips.
The new body was ready. This was a moment of triumph, but also a moment of truth. The girl realized that her soul, or whatever you call it—her essence, her spirit—was stuck in her human body. How could she move it over?
She slept in the bed that night next to her candy twin. She held its hand as she drifted off to sleep, making wish after wish.
At some point that night, the universe listened. In the morning, she opened her eyes and realized her dream had come true. As she sat on the side of the bed, moving her candy limbs for the first time, her former body remained asleep. Was the other her still human, she wondered? She could see it breathing, but watching the chest rise and fall with no soul inside terrified her. She was afraid to leave it alone, so she tied the body to the bed just in case it woke up. Then she went downstairs.
When she entered the kitchen, her grandmother said, “Good morning,” and offered her a cup of tea. Her father asked if she could wash the dishes before she left for school. Neither of them noticed.
When she got home that night, her old body was still sleeping. Over the next few days, it started to smell, and she didn’t know how to handle it. She couldn’t wake the body and force it to eat or drink—she had tried, with no luck—and she couldn’t bring it to the hospital, because she had no way of explaining who it was or why it was unconscious. When she sensed that the body was dying, she untied the ropes and hugged her former self close.
“This is what you wanted,” she said. “This is what we wanted.”
The next day, while her father and grandmother were at work, the candy girl wrapped the dehydrated body in black trash bags. She was surprised at how light it felt without her insecurities weighing it down. She carried the body out of the house and tossed it in the dumpster. An hour or so later, the garbage trucks came through, and the body was gone. The girl pushed away all thoughts of her old self. She was ready for a fresh start.
It was a gorgeous afternoon, and she headed toward the store. As she walked, she found herself smiling at strangers, especially children. They smiled back, and when she got to the store she felt unusually happy.
Instead of busying herself in the stock room to avoid customers, she joined her father behind the counter. She greeted everyone as they came in, and when she recommended popular treats, everyone listened, as if even her words tasted sweet.
For the first time, boys gave her attention. One boy had eyes the color of green-apple gumballs and hair like dark swirls of chocolate. He looked at her as if she made his mouth water. Instead of buying candy, he asked if she’d like to take a walk by the river to watch the sunset. With her father’s permission, she agreed.
She and the boy strolled together, watching the water because they were too nervous to look at each other. They sat on a bench as the sky turned the pale pink of spun-sugar. When the boy leaned in to kiss her, she was thrilled at the warmth of his lips against hers.
Then everything went wrong. His fleshy tongue was in her mouth. He oozed sweat and saliva, reminding her of the human body she’d left behind. His touch made her skin sticky, and she recoiled. She had to get away from him.
She ran for the air-conditioned fluorescence of the candy store, hoping her father was still there to let her in. She would surround herself with candy. She would gulp the candy-scented air and run her fingers over smooth plastic wrappers. She would feel sweet again. She would stay sweet forever.