Baby Carrots in Two Hundred and Forty-Four

1. We can’t have children—“we” meaning “me.”
2. My wife could likely have a child—many children—with another man, a more reproductively competent man.
3. Unfortunately, I’m not this man; I have flawed sperm. Defective swimmies. A maladjusted genital region.
4. There is a medical term for this.
5. The medical term, however, is not frankly that important. What is important is the net effect of oligospermia.
6. The net effect of oligospermia is multifaceted.
7. If the net effect of oligospermia were a color it would be puce, perhaps a particularly pukey puce.
8. Or grey.
9. I’m struggling, frankly, with the cause and effect.
10. It is difficult to quantify.
11. It is difficult to be precise about.
12. A plus B=?
13. Activities I do more of than I used to (pre-diagnosis):
–Swill cabernet.
–Smoke cigarillos.
–Give the finger to motorists who act rudely.
–Punch my pillow in frustration.
–Cry and wail.
–Swill vodka and Coke.
–Listen to the music of my youth: The Clash, et cetera.
14. Activities which I rarely do compared to my previous (pre-diagnosis) existence:
–Tend to my rose bushes.
–Purchase peaches from the farmer’s market.
–Listen to Miles Davis.
–Play softball for my church league.
–Make love to Celia gently.
–Enjoy candlelight dinners.
–Research home repairs.
15. Last week my wife and I were out to eat at a tapas place—great food.
16. We sat at a table in the middle of the restaurant (I had asked for a private booth, but this was all they had available).
17. I felt uncomfortable, as if the entire restaurant was inspecting us—me in particular.
18. It was almost a physical sensation—I felt itchy with eyes.
19. “What?” I said to a man two tables over. “What?”
20. He didn’t respond, or didn’t hear me.
21. “It’s okay, Peter,” Celia said. “It will be fine.”
22. I felt she was being a Pollyanna, so I told her so.
23. The way in which I deal with emotions is to have them, deal with them, move on.
24. My philosophy exactly, when I told her I feel like a useless piece of shit.
25. King Henry the Eighth decapitated his wives for their failure to produce an heir.
26. “So you want to have me decapitated, Peter?”
27. “Of course not. That’s not what I’m saying.”
28. “It’s not as if….I mean, my womb–”
29. “Are you trying to make me feel better or worse?”
30. She drank her pinot grigio, bowed her head into the menus.
31. Good, I thought—tapas.
32. “What’re we getting?”
33. “Tapas,” I said. “Some tapas.”
34. We selected—rather I let her select.
35. Tapas is overpriced bullshit anyway—not a real meal; just an excuse to rake in money for appetizers.
36. Candles, soft Andres Segoviaesque plucking, warm atmospherics. Fine.
37. Lots of red, orange, yellow. Pandering?
38. We’re supposed to think Spain—we’re in Spain.
39. I’m thinking pedagogical strategies—bright colors to distract us, to keep us compliant, pliant.
40. Are we here for the food or the faux travel experience, I wonder.
41. No, we’re there so we can tell our friends we had tapas last night.
42. So they’ll be impressed (they’ll know tapas ain’t cheap), and they’ll think more highly of us.
43. It’s like marking territory with our feces—except that would be considerably less expensive.
44. We ate our marinated mussels.
45. We ate our white asparagus with yogurt and black olives.
46. We ate our chorizo wrapped in potato, our fennel salad with apples, our chicken croquetas.
47. “What? What? What?”
48. I’m evil-eyeing the couple with toddler; I’m evil-eying the couple with high school age daughter; I’m evil-eying the pregnant woman.
49. The fuckers don’t know how lucky they have it.
50. Commandment number 4 squared. Do not envy thy neighbor’s ability to reproduce their dumbshit genes.
51. Fuckers.
52. That night I sleep in the guest room.
53. The guest room is a might clammy—it’s in the basement.
54. I don’t care.
55. I wanted to keep my wife from seeing me at my worst.
56. She has a long way to go.
57. She came to bring me to bed anyway.
58. I should’ve locked the door, but I didn’t.
59. I wasn’t asleep.
60. She curled up next to me in the bed in the guest room.
61. We are guests, I thought.
62. We slept like that.
63. Celia whispered that “she doesn’t want anything dividing us.”
64. “It doesn’t have to be something to worry over,” she said.
65. “But it is,” I said.
66. “You’re so stubborn,” she said.
67. She had me there.
68. I could hear her breathing—the movement of her lungs.
69. This calmed me—it did.
70. This was also the night the dreams began.
71. The dreams were vivid, initially colors—dreams of colors.
72. When you close your eyes you see a muted blackness.
73. In these dreams I saw a vivid puceness.
74. The dreams were more color than substance.
75. The color was the dreams: the puce blanketed the horses trampling over the desert floor, galloping into the distance to the sea where they would find a schooner and board it and sail for fifty days to an island of horses where they would congregate, breed, and through the process of evolution develop into a society, a civilization, an empire of horses—all of this was puce.
76. And the puce horses swam to other islands and built schooners of their own and seeded the planet with their horseness, their puce horseness.
77. And they encountered humans, but the humans were little match for the immensity of the horses—these former beasts of burden.
78. I awoke in a sweat, wondering if I had ever abused a horse, ridden a horse, used a horse as a beast of burden.
79. There was a petting zoo—I may have abused a horse then, I thought.
80. I may have teased a horse, or more likely a pony.
81. Perhaps I didn’t offer enough in the way of apple slices and sugar cubes.
82. Puce.
83. I began to see puce everywhere—in clothes, in cars, in rug patterns, in jewelry, in sandwiches, in the fur of cats, in upholstery, in the freckles of children, in bathroom wallpaper, in tree leaves, in weedy garden plots.
84. In paintings.
85. I went to an art gallery—Celia was at work—and stared at the puce paintings: dead sparrows, olive trees, female peacocks.
86. The owner asked if she “could help me.”
87. “You already are,” I told her.
88. “Oh,” she said. “How so?”
89. “The palette; I dream in puce,” I said.
90. Silence.
91. “The same color as your paintings,” I said.
92. Silence.
93. “Do these paintings seem dreamlike to you?”
94. “No, you don’t understand.”
95. “They strike me as a latent attempt at representation, a post-modern, post-hierarchy—”
96. “They are my dreams,” I said.
97. Which was true.
98. The more I saw, the more I realized what I saw was merely a reflection of what my mind unspooled in my unconscious.
99. I told her this.
100. She seemed nice, sweet, a young girl just out of her M.F.A. program.
101. She had a tattoo of a moon crescent on her wrist.
102. The moon almost looked watery, shimmering.
103. It was not puce.
104. The gallery girl:
–Henna hair.
–Pierced nose—silver stud.
–White t-shirt featuring a pink blue jay.
–Skin the color of concrete.
–Sandal thingies.
–Breasts compressed/squashed under her t-shirt.
–Crooked mouth.
–Slightly crossed eyes.
105. “What’s the significance of the bird?”
106. “The bird?”
107. “On your shirt,” I say.
108. “Oh,” she said. “This. Something I got at this, you know, totally random thrift store.”
109. I wondered if I would dream of pink bluejays, and if I did what kind of society they would form.
110. “I’m just going to stand here for a while,” I said.
111. “Be my guest,” she said.
112. So that’s what I did, though she looked doubtful.
113. This is the only way to tell this story.
114. Otherwise it doesn’t work, doesn’t congeal.
115. The list is the ultimate congealer.
116. When Time Magazine doesn’t know what to do it makes a list.
117. We all make lists, different types of lists.
118. The list gives us a sense of purpose—a beginning, middle, end.
119. It ranks.
120. It provides a hierarchy in a hierarchy-less world.
121. Order.
122. She gave me that look.
123. That look is usually a result of judgment—something odd or unusual or bizarre which I did and which the looker is making readily apparent.
124. This is problematic for them—not for me.
125. The judger is at fault, not the judged.
126. She gave me that look because I told her my sperm is defective, in those words, more or less.
127. Roughly that.
128. She picked up the phone to call. And then she called.
129. “Hello, security?”
130. I understood her concerns.
131. She could’ve been more compassionate, however.
132. Not to judge, but she could’ve listened to my story, my deep inner pain.
133. I told her this.
134. “I’ve asked you to leave,” she said.
135. “You have?”
136. “Don’t play dumb—at any rate, security is on its way.”
137. So I left—fine.
138. Who needs the hassle of strangers?
139. Who needs the waste of time?
140. As if security scares me.
141. Rent-a-cops.
142. Rent-a-jerks.
143. Celia was a good woman, still is.
144. Celia has been responsible enough to pay the bills and tend to the cleaning and cooking and work part-time as a barista at Stonehenge Coffee on top of her position as an employee of the U.S. of A.—meaning the Feds, the gov, the man.
145. She is the man—though she’s not a man.
146. She likes the stability of being a Fed, the comfort it gives her on a daily basis.
147. She feels as if the position she has can’t easily be liquidated or eliminated.
148. She feels as if she’s solid.
149. I think every time you’re solid you’re not really solid.
150. That’s usually the moment solidity transforms to liquidity.
151. E.g. my defective swimmies.
152. Literally….
153. So she was not present when I returned home.
154. Celia was out earning the bacon, while I doodled and dabbled.
155. I took a long nap.
156. When I awoke from the long nap I could hear sounds emanating from the kitchen, sounds of food preparation (I think).
157. I made my way—no hurry—to the kitchen to find her unloading the dishwasher, putting dishes away.
158. I realized that I hadn’t done this activity in quite a long time.
159. Years.
160. I sat at the kitchen table in front of her.
161. She had a scented candle lit, which smelled of vanilla bean.
162. Enya on the stereo.
163. She unwinds in this way. Everyone has their own flawed methods.
164. Then it hit me.
165. The dream of the baby carrots.
166. In my dream baby carrots hung in space, like a mobile. Rotating above a baby’s crib.
167. They were smooth and an orange color unknown to me—an almost fluorescent orange, the orange of the brightest nubile sun.
168. These baby carrots seemed inbred with…something; spirit; substance; personality.
169. They were there, floating.
170. I wanted to tell her; even more than that, I wanted to return to the baby carrots, to the dream.
171. I wasn’t sure what to say.
172. Paralysis.
173. “What would you like for dinner?” she asked.
174. It was an innocent enough question.
175. I wanted to tell her baby carrots, carrot soup perhaps, carrot cake.
176. And yet…something about the baby carrots.
177. “I don’t feel well,” I told her.
178. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
179. “I think I need to go back to bed,” I told her.
180. In the guest room.
181. Away from her, from everything that is.
182. The glimpse had given me a hunger for more.
183. I traveled.
184. I didn’t like to travel, but I did: train then bus then taxi then one foot in front of another.
185. Mr. Brig was tall and bald and had a hunched shuffling walk.
186. He was the “foreman”—at least this is what his shirt clip thingie said.
187. He seemed to be the kind of man who didn’t suffer fools easily.
188. I wonder if I was a fool to him.
189. In retrospect I must have seemed to be one.
190. He was not the nice lady who corresponded with me via e-mail, telling me that Farmer’s United Baby Carrot Factory would “simply love to offer me a tour of the facility.”
191. I told her I had to find the source.
192. “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘source,’” she responded.
193. “Source of the baby carrots. I have to find out how they are born.”
194. Mr. Brig was not the nice lady, but he did wear a paisley tie, which was green and gold and red.
195. If they were orange the dollops would perhaps have reminded me of baby carrots.
196. His face was pitted.
197. I watched the pits squinch and unsquinch as he spoke to me, as he showed me.
198. “This is the line,” he said, speaking softly.
199. “I mean assembly line—we call it ‘the line.”
200. I wonder if he spoke softly so that he didn’t wake the baby carrots.
201. “This is where it begins,” he said, pointing to a machine which was chopping and peeling carrots.
202. They were long, fairly large carrots.
203. I asked him where the baby carrots were.
204. “These will be baby carrots in a few minutes,” he said.
205. “We start with regular carrots.”
206. “I thought….I thought.”
207. “They aren’t miniature carrots.”
208. “I thought….”
209. “They are regular carrots which are peeled and processed; that’s what a baby carrot is.”
210. I didn’t know what to say.
211. I listened, but inside I was sighing.
212. He showed me the stair step conveyor belt.
213. The small peeled carrots rise up, rise up, rise up.
214. They were suddenly baby carrots.
215. He showed me another conveyor belt where the baby carrots are pushed along and dried.
216. He showed me another conveyor belt where ladies with large orange gloves made swooping motions with their hands to pick out any impure baby carrots.
217. I thought it was odd that the ladies wore orange gloves.
218. I wondered who made that decision.
219. Also, didn’t the orange of the baby carrots blend with the orange of the gloves.
220. I mean, didn’t the ladies have trouble discerning which orange was which.
221. Mr. Brig cleared his throat a lot.
222. I think he was attempting to tell me not to stare, but I was in a tour so why not?
223. Perhaps he was attempting to tell me to move on.
224. Perhaps he wasn’t attempting to tell me much of anything at all and just had something stuck in his throat.
225. However, he didn’t seem to be that kind of guy to me.
226. We watched the baby carrots swooshed down and swooped up and packaged.
227. I watched them tumble by the hundreds.
228. I watched them slide and skid.
229. For some reason I stopped thinking of babies.
230. I was transfixed by the rolling, orange, wet vegetables.
231. “Can I…”
232. “Sample?”
233. “Uh, yes,” I said.
234. “Right this way,” Mr. Brig said, flicking his finger forward.
235. There was a room and in this room were hundreds upon hundreds of baby carrots with all kinds of dip.
236. I took one and dipped it into the white dressing and it snapped in my mouth ever so nicely.
237. I could feel the head of the baby carrot crunch in my mouth and it felt good.
238. I was eating it and swallowing it.
239. My pain.
240. “I love you,” I said, grabbing the next baby carrot.
241. A thin reedy looking woman with long brown hair was staring at me.
242. I wanted to tell her, “That’s right—I’m talking to the baby carrot and then I’m eating it.”
243. Eat the paradox, I thought.
244. Eat it good.

Nathan Leslie

Nathan Leslie’s six books of short fiction include Madre, Believers and Drivers. He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012. His short stories, essays and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, and Cimarron Review. His book Sibs comes out later this year.

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