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Fiction

Rapini

It is a cruciferous vegetable, which sounds like crucifixion, I know, like crucifix, the tortured crux of it all, the fix is in. But it is not that grim-destinied story, to me. That will not be my own tale, our own tale. It is just so greenly delicious, in the consuming, eaten raw or sautéed or steamed, its clustered tender buds and spiky splayed leaves, its crunchy stems. Blanched bright, it is the grassy bloom of fresh-minted bills, Irish eyes, the emerald of Victorian wallpaper gleaming with arsenic. Its mouthcrunch bodes promise. It rushes my heart to a supercharged beat, greens my blood alive. I could eat it every day, all day, but I know to be moderate, even with such a healthful thing. I know not to overdo. But it has been a long while, and I have been so good. I take a taste, a single small bite, then another, another, and then I am all acrunch, devouring, and

You said you would stop, he says. He stands there, bothered and bewildered, squeegee in hand. We agreed. You told me you could, that you would.

I will, I assure, swallowing the last of a fibrous stalk. I can. Really.

He ponders, debates needling me, shakes his head, but goes with trust, with hope, as he does. He decides on his devotion to me, as he does. He returns to decaling the once-upon-a-time-guestroom walls: bunnies, panda cubs, piglets. He loves a project.

He does not understand its addictive call, this salad’s siren song. His tongue doesn’t crave like mine the olive oil and garlic, the braised snap, the pungent flowering it grants an omelet or sandwich of roasted pork. He is immune to its spell. An understanding and devoted man, he nevertheless does not feel the lure of its temptation, the tug of its promised vegetal bliss.

It’s just a little, I call after him, heady with it. Just this one more time, once. 

I sigh into another bitter bite. It is all promise.

 

*

 

You promised me, he says the next time I am discovered, spoon in hand. He grips a hex key, a rack of wooden prison bars. Now his eyes accuse. My sober judge.

I tried, I make my dry mouth say. I am thick with leafiness. I am reclined on the sofa, limpened and flushed, increasingly convex. Oh, I think, crib. Playpen. Provide for, keep her safe, yes, that is what he thinks he must do. IKEA fatherhood. 

You keep telling me that. I don’t think you’re really trying. 

This time last. Stopping. 

I don’t think you’re really committed. 

Lighten up, I mumble. Have some you too. Let your hair down, baby. 

Yeah, I don’t think so. He peers into the small bowl on the coffee table. Where are you even getting this?

The problem, I see, is that he doesn’t appreciate its nutritive gifts. Calcium, potassium, iron, Vitamins A and C and K, how vital those things are to life. How my very veins swell with its goodness, how needed the sustaining infusion of it is. 

Folic acid, I offer. 

What? he says.

Prevents defects. I languidly rub my belly. Spoonful sugar. Like a B12 shot. All good.

You think this is good? That’s the problem, how your thinking gets messed up with this junk. 

She will be an unpenned child, I am thinking. No bars, no cage. No imprisoning walls for her. I will free her to roam the realm. That is how I will mother.

It’s not your fault, I hear him say. I know it’s a sickness. But you can do this, please. I know you can. If not for yourself, then for her.

Her, for her, I float, will float with her, hand in hand, always together. She will be forever safe in the keeping of my tender care. I will nurse her with this glowing verdant blood of mine, my floaty uncastled princess girl.

Tell me, tell me you will try, he says. His face is grim, so very grim.

 

*

 

I tried. But I am a shaking leaf now, for all the trying, couch-splayed and trapped inside my burning bones. My sweat is acid green. I spit a sickly chartreuse, my nose leaks jade. My veins are leaking essence.  

If you love me, I say to him. 

He puts the pink-slicked paintbrush down, hurries to my side.

I love you, he says. You know I love you. But I love her, too. You can’t do this. I can’t watch this.

He must understand, it is what keeps me alive, us alive. And so it is for her as much as myself, for we are one breath one skin one weakbeating heart, she and I, and I cannot live without it, I need it and thus so does she, I need its bitterness in my blood, our shared blood. 

You need help, he is saying. Please, let me help you.

Then help me, yes, I beg. Help us. If you love us, you will get it for us.

He is shredded by doubt. His eyes shine with mourning. I don’t know how to do that, he says at last. I don’t know what to do. Tell me.

And I understand at last. He needs to hear a story. An instructive, enabling tale of pining and enchantment, of a craving indulged by blinded love, of a strong man’s unceasing devotion, no matter the cost. 

So I tell him of the garden nearby with high encircling walls, that he must climb those walls and clamber down and there he will find the leafy richness I desire, flowering from the earth. I tell him about the Witch, the hag, crone, sorceress, who will be there, it is her garden, after all, she will be angry at his trespass and she will frighten him threaten him but he must be steadfast, speak to her, point to the abundance she has, beg and plead if he must, surely she will share when he explains the pining I suffer, the crave that plagues me, she must spare some for his dear beloved needful wife, he must persuade her, make her listen. And if she will not share she will sell, this Witch, he will have to pay, whatever the price or promise or sacrifice she demands of him he must pay it, promise it, sacrifice even his most beloved and precious thing, and bring the treasure home to me, to us, hurry, you must, for without it I shall surely die. 

And he listens, grimly, nodding in despair, and then flees while I ache for the float and the flush, I am cold so cold, and I curl around her to keep her warm inside me, there is so little warmth left inside me, but I must share all I have, all I am, and then I hear him return, I knew he would return, bewitched by me as he is. He is back, helpless again, but I am too weak to do it, I wave he must do it, hurry, end this torture, get it to the crucial tortured heart of me, now. Fix me up.

I glimpse the tiny concave gleam of metal, sense the flicker heat of a small flame, feel the snapping grip on my arm and the slap slap on my tender-veined skin, then the bitter biting sting. 

And there, my delicious liquid rush, my bloodstream glow. It is the gift I will pass to her, it is all I have to give, the sharing of this sweetest dream, riding the storybook waves with my golden heroine child, my own and only happily ever after.

Tara Ison is the author of three novels, an essay collection, and the short story collection "Ball". She is also the co-writer of the cult film "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead".

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