Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Flash Fiction
416 words
SHJ Issue 1
Spring 2010

Tasting the New

Clare MacQueen

Stirring pintos on simmer, I find their freckles floating on the skin of our supper. Weird, I think, and stir deeper, lifting ham hocks to breach the surface—“Mama!” I call. “Something’s floating in the beans!”

She ignores me. Specks multiply in our soup. Alarmed, I capture a few specimens to examine. Ten feet away, a fixture at the oak table that she rescued and refinished by hand herself, my mother reads about care and feeding of tropical fish. I carry spoon and bowl to her. “Should I throw these beans away?” Surely, I know her mind this time.

“Of course not,” she says. “Why waste good food?” And I feel my ears bloom red as peppers, my face shrivel. “But they’re baby roaches!” I say.

Mama glares at me. “Yes, I see that.” Sweat trickles down my jaw. “Just skim off what you can,” she says. “The rest won’t kill us. Whoever eats the most beans, eats the most roaches.”

So I return to the stove, stir the pot, sizzle cornbread in oil. Stir and skim. Hundreds of specks but I keep our meal from burning. Ham slides from bone. Miniscule carcasses still float here and there amongst the pintos. Too frightened to run, I obey, like my younger siblings, all four of us eager to avoid whippings from Mama.

“They won’t hurt you,” she tells us. “They’re cooked. Sterilized, in fact.”

We stare at our bowls, dubious. Mama takes the first bite and raises her left eyebrow. “Not bad,” she says. And she’s right. Our pot of pintos tastes as good as any I’ve made, maybe better. Boiled exoskeletons carry no weight on fearful tongues. Cornbread crumbled in my broth helps me pretend they’re only bits of fried mush.

Forty years later the strategy still serves. You can do this, I coach myself. If you could eat roaches, then surely you can do anything. Scoop chunks from the cat box. Scrub the toilet. Yes you can, even this. Slip fingers into crevices and orifices crawling with microbial thugs. Spar with the office bully. Confront the person who cuts in front of you at the market. Speak in public.

You can do anything. Board a plane and fly through three time zones. Marry. Give birth. Change diapers. Change your mind, your career, your names. Stay single for two decades. Remarry. Switch partners in mid-orgy, kiss a thousand body parts and more. Above all, you can taste the new: escargot, lobster, liver, tongue.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury