Monday, January 26, 2009

Spud (Food Fiction)

Food fiction, from the perspective of an articulate potato…

I wrote this story purely as an experiment in narrative, but my graduate workshop roundly disliked my potato. They were right that it didn’t really work as a story. Who cares about a potato, anyway? It was fun to write, though. For some reason I wrote the story imagining the potato speaking in the voice of the Indian grocer from The Simpsons. If you bother to read what follows, which is but a portion of the story, you might want to use the same voice. If you think that suggestion is insane, well, feel free to disregard it.



(an excerpt)

I am sitting on a marble windowsill, gazing through a pane of glass at Ms. Sally’s beautiful garden. I miss the cool soft soil and the peaceful community from which I came. But here is good, I suppose, with the ripening bananas and avocado beside me, all of us covered by warm sunshine. It is when humans appear that my dun skin tightens and the flesh concealed within it grows hard. I wish there were other spuds around to keep me company, but I am afraid of what fate would befall them; two days ago, Ms. Sally dropped a jicama into a pan popping with hot oil, and later she chopped it up with a long knife and devoured it with dipping sauce and beer. The knife still sits in the sink below me, with specks of dried jicama clinging to its sparkling blade.

Every time I look into this kitchen, I am reminded of my confinement. It is not bad on this sill, and the demise of the jicama alerts me that it could be worse, but still I pine for my old home in the rich wormy earth, which I can see is quite near. If only I could gain enough momentum to roll myself into the window and shatter it, and then, with my dark eyes, I might beckon for the nearest bird to–

But look! Out the window! I see the car of Mr. Jerry! Behind his yellow behemoth of a Mustang, or whatever breed of car he drives, there is dust rising like fog from the road and diffusing precious sunlight. Already I am cold from the sudden dimness, and as I look at the avocado I notice goosebumps on his black skin. He is a ripe one, that avocado, and it would not surprise me to see him quartered and mixed with an assortment of hacked vegetables, then speared by a terrible fork. But such thoughts are without hope. I must be more optimistic!

Perhaps Mr. Jerry has reconsidered my pleading from four nights ago, in the time he spent drinking beer in the kitchen before returning to bicker further with Ms. Sally, when I promised to pay him handsomely if he were only to heave me a great distance toward the garden. But he did not hear me, for the hair as thick as cornsilk in his ears, and he left in a huff when Ms. Sally threw the porcelain dish at his head and said she would call the police unless he left. He merely stood there, though, glaring at her from behind a long-upturned bottle of beer. So she lifted the phone and started dialing. Which is precisely when Mr. Jerry stormed out her door and jumped into his automobile and noisily motored off.

But the night did not end then. I watched Ms. Sally sob and weep, sob and weep, crumpled on the floor like an empty sack of mulch. It was a strange situation for a potato to be in, let me tell you, as if I were as insignificant a figure as some dull stone or shard of brick. I felt slightly embarrassed to see her slovenly figure sprawled out on the dirty floor, with the dust heaps and marauding ants around her, and the beady cockroach eyes that gleamed from beneath the refrigerator, and with Ms. Sally’s dress bunched up around her waist and showing her lavender panties. Poor wretched girl. Though I fear she will boil me and perhaps stuff me in a turkey’s ass, I must say I feel awful seeing her in such pitiful condition. Where I come from, this kind of thing would never happen. And where I come from is a marvelous, beautiful place…


The sky was cloudy and the air rather cold when Ms. Sally dug me from the earth with a trowel. I had fallen into a siesta, it being midday, when I heard a persistent scraping overhead. Her presence was not new to my community, and we respected her for the obsessive way in which she kept her garden beautiful. All of us had been planted simultaneously, several months prior, when the air was more moist and much warmer. I remember how warm her hands were in comparison to the earth, when carefully she removed me from the hard soil. They were soft, even more so than the wettest mud I have known, and I felt strangely secure upon gazing into her smiling face. Her eyes were brown, her skin tan, her hair fell almost forever in a brilliant shiny black, and her feet rose and fell with delightful nakedness. I remember fondly the touch of her fingers as she lightly brushed specks of dirt off my skin. She patted down the hole she had dug, then carried me clutched to her supple but slight bosom. Then she brought me inside her house and set me directly upon the windowsill over her sink.

Later that night, I met Mr. Jerry for the first time. He walked strangely, as if on stilts he could not master. When he approached the goose-necked faucet beneath my perch and started sucking water from its rusty nozzle, a strange and powerful odor came to me off of his breath. This odor I would come to know better over the course of the next week; soon I learned it was called ALCOHOL. This behavior was repeated over consecutive nights, and oftentimes violence was committed by Mr. Jerry upon Ms. Sally. It has been unbearable for me to witness it, helpless as I have been to prevent it, stop it, end it once and for all.

I remember one time, when a beautiful bright red strawberry teetered on the edge of the counter and shouted for Mr. Jerry to stop. Mr. Jerry ignored the strawberry, though, and instead pushed Ms. Sally onto the floor, then roughly climbed on top of her. The little red fruit, whom all of us grew to love for her spunk and sense of principle, managed to roll off the edge and bullet herself into his spine. Boom! we shouted as she hurtled through the air. Hurrah for the red berry! But her impact did nothing to the terrible monster. Eventually, to our horror, his leather boot crushed the sweet life out of the strawberry in a juicy scatter of seeds and pink pulp.


Mr. Jerry is darting back and forth around the porch, trying every door and window. What can he be up to now, after Ms. Sally told him never to come back? His face is flushed where he presses it against my window, and his breath clouds a portion of the glass. With both hands clenched, he slams each corner of the window, the force of which ripples beneath me and makes me tumble toward the sink. I hear wood crack, then the window shoots up, and now I can smell the stale alcohol on his breath.

He heaves himself through the square of the open window, and when he pulls in his legs and begins to pitch headfirst into the kitchen sink, his knee hits my forehead and knocks me onto the floor. I roll a few times, to absorb the shock of my fall, and as I try desperately for the nearest door I am stopped cold by the paw of Good Girl, Ms. Sally’s Chinese Crested. I have not noticed her sitting in the doorway, but I see now that her sparse mane is pricked and her shiny dogtag shivers with fear. A low growl emits from her thin spotted throat, but it subsides when she recognizes Mr. Jerry; she collapses cravenly to the floor to acknowledge that he is the boss. Unfortunately, she is smothering me with saggy udders. I try to pinch her with one of my eyes. Good Girl lifts up momentarily, drenches me with foul saliva, then grasps me between her jaws and trots up to Mr. Jerry with her spindly tail awag in relief. Her teeth are cutting into my body and there is nothing for me to do but wait for her to loosen her grip. It is clearly not a time for Good Girl to beg a game of fetch, but she is too stupid to see this.

Mr. Jerry kicks Good Girl in her ribs and I drop to the floor. He directs an obscenity at Good Girl, who has sped to safety beneath Ms. Sally’s reclining couch. “Woof!” Good Girl yips, from behind watering wide eyes. “You are a watchdog!” I remind her, but to no avail. “You betray Ms. Sally!” She pays me no heed. “You betray your species!” I can not help but snicker at her fear and cowardice. She is not such a Good Girl, I think, and I entertain a fleeting desire for hands with which to roll a newspaper and swat her insolent nose. I teeter on the edge of oration about the bravery and courage of the potato, how the potato is known to thrive amongst rock and frequent frost, but a shadow envelops me and whips away my breath. Mr. Jerry is stepping over me on his way to another room, and I see the remnants of an acorn smashed in the sole of his boot.

I am trying to be optimistic, though I feel as if I’ve never had so much to worry about. My body aches with the abuse of this afternoon. My flesh is bruised, my skin torn, I have had my eyes roughly poked, and I am perforated with the marks of canine teeth. Perhaps there is hope for me still. Use your prodigious brain, potato!

Mr. Jerry has closed his eyes, with his lips locked around the mouth of a green beer bottle that he has removed from the refrigerator. As he drinks, I hear the kind of gurgling that was typical on days of heavy rain in the garden, when the earth opened its throat and fed its grateful spuds. It worries me that Mr. Jerry is peering down at me with hard eyes. With his stubbly cheeks puffed wide like a proud robin in spring (but shrinking with successive swallows), he moves slowly forward and bends down. His palm is softer than I imagined, full of wrinkles and healing scabs, and the grip of his fingers is surprisingly tender around my body. The breeze he creates, by tossing me up and down, offers a fleeting effect of calm — but as a potato in a kitchen in the hand of a drunken man, I can not help but distrust this feeling. His smile is uneven, yellow, and wicked, and his sky-blue eyes sparkle with a barbarism I am convinced belongs solely to humans. He drops me on a wooden chopping board atop the counter.

I blink my many eyes madly. On the windowsill the avocado is just rousing, but the bananas stare at the scene in horror. Five of six in the bunch begin to smile at me like angels (for bananas are benevolent fruit), but the one whose attention is directed elsewhere shows a face wracked with fear and dread. I look to where this banana looks, and there is Mr. Jerry picking the knife up out of the sink.


(The story continues, but not in this blog…)

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