Ten Years Ago They Were All So Young
Amy Benson

She first came on the scene at the Presentation -- five foot one, angel-faced, with chocolates for everyone. Individually wrapped in cellophane, the chocolates were like craggy planets or futuristic golf balls. Some had them out of the packaging and into their mouths before she opened hers; free food was a rarity. A few sunk a tooth in to see if there was something (or nothing) inside. Others were more circumspect, holding it up for a closer look -- was it chocolate or art?
It was more and more difficult to answer questions like that.

"What you hold in your hand is a representation in chocolate of a virus that threatens human lives. This virus is invisible to us, and scary. And maybe it's scary partly because it's invisible." She went on to tell them what the virus did, how many people had it now, and how many people might have it in a difficult-to-imagine future. People collected such projections: in 2015, one in 100 will be homeless; in 2040 fresh water will be more precious than oil; in 2050 we will have to abandon our coastal dwellings.
She said she had taken electron microscope images of the virus and stolen time with a 3-D printer at work when she should have been creating a Client Portfolio. With the printer she fabricated molds of the virus, and in her kitchen filled them with chocolate -- the good kind, she said with a smile, though she didn't elaborate. At first the chocolate was a vehicle, but soon she became absorbed in the chocolatiering -- the smoothest taste, glossiest finish. "This is the fifth generation model." A hint of pride passed over her lips.

She said she had grown to love the shape of it; she could see it behind her eyelids. She did not say she was sick. In fact, she looked radiant. Everyone thought about her face, which might bloat or pock or jaundice with the disease or its medicine.

The immediate eaters now looked a little chagrined by their gluttony. Or was that queasiness at having unwittingly popped back a virus? A few acquired the sullen look of one tricked.
A few held their chocolate from a cellophane corner, left it on the counter near the exit. Perhaps they were imagining her kitchen -- she had invited them to imagine her kitchen -- the relative cleanliness of the sponge, a tiny cut on her hand.
Many, though, took the virus out, held it up, turned it around, felt it softening into their fingers. Though she had not said what she wanted, they gingerly tasted the virus, then took it in as something sweet.

She resurfaced a year later at the Museum's annual artists-under-thirty exhibit, and everyone was there to break their hearts on who was or was not on the walls or the floor or hanging from the ceiling. She was none of those things. They found her on the great lawn, which sloped steeply from the museum's back terrace. She had her viruses with her again, only this time she was standing next to them and they rose several feet above her. An aluminum structure was covered by an inflated outer layer, dimpled and ridged just like the virus. It was a giant, bumpy beach ball that you could climb inside. The free-swinging seat kept the passenger upright, even as the ball rolled down the hill.

The visual was lost on no one: shunting downhill, gathering speed, engulfed by the virus. Still, there was a line behind the beaming artist. She helped them inside the next virus and gave them a slight nudge. And for ten seconds, they had the time of their lives.