Cucumber may wander and meander far from where she begin, but she sends out tendrils grabbing ahold of friends along her journey and she refuses to let them go. She abandons Facebook in search of genuine connection. She prefers the old-fashion romance of opening her mailbox to find a letter from a penpal or answering a phone call from a distant area code in the middle of the night. Her friends do not want to let go of her either, for as diverse as they all are, they all see themselves in her, in her faith, in her joy, in her acceptance. She soothes with her huge smile; it is her secret weapon. Whether ebullient or annoyed, she cannot help but embrace the world.
She could not remember the last time she had slept in the luggage closet. As a child, she would sleep in the windowless space with her cousins every February when her family gathered at their Cape Cod timeshare. Then, she had loved sharing close quarters with cousins that she only saw a couple times a year. She had strangely looked forward to it, and her family would laugh about the lack of space. Now, she and her mother were the last to arrive, and the luggage closet was her only option at 11pm that Friday night. At the prospect of sleeping sooner rather than later, she took it.
She woke up at 6am, unable to stand up straight in part because of the slanted ceiling and in part because the cotton sleeping bag proved to be insufficient padding. At home, the lethargy of February was beginning to set in, and she never wanted to get out of bed until she needed to get ready for work. Here, she bolted out of her sleeping bag and wanted to leave the crawl space for the sauna and hot tub at the club house.
She swapped her pajamas for her bathing suit and slipped on her snow pants and down jacket. She trudged to the club house to find the pool did not open for another hour. Rather than return to the locked condo, she went for a walk in the coldest temperatures she had ever experienced in the Cape and returned once the building opened.
She did not gain clarity about her sleeping arrangement until she had soaked in the hot tub, and puttered in the pool, and stayed in the sauna long enough to glow. Being a goddess is not about lingering in bed, she thought. Although she savored lingering in bed, although it could feel like one of the most decadent luxuries in the world to sprawl across a mattress, there she felt more in a womb than she felt alive and invigorated. She needed this morning of slight discomfort and solitude to shake her awake in a way that she had been fighting….
things I love about myself: my mainstays of my wardrobe are clothing that my parents wore when I was a small child, so comforting and classic; my collection of hiking maps in the bathroom; the way that I decorate a room or arrange a produce shelf; that I truly do resemble a chicken in terms of both my excitability and panic; that I know my way around Acadia without a map; that my knees lock when I am truly joyful; that I found produce at an early age and rediscovered it at twenty and that will be a theme for the rest of my life; that I am so willing to share anything I have with anyone who needs it; that I consider picking up lots of hitch-hikers but only offer rides to the ones who remind me of myself; that dressed appropriately, I can spend an entire winter day outside…
She woke up to go to the bathroom at 4am, and once she realized the water was not running, she knew she was awake for the day. For her, she could not crawl back into bed and shaking a husband or boyfriend or lover awake to fix it. She had no father or uncle or grandfather or cousin within 300 miles from her, and her landlord lived on a cranberry barren in Massachusetts. Should she ever have the decadence of having a man help her, she would be even more appreciative, but for now, at that hour, she would need to do what she could for herself. She thought of her friend writing a children’s book about being a “self-rescuing Princess”, and slipping on her snow pants and her muck boots and her father’s red-white-and-blue sweater, she fit the part….
She had gone to bed hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve. She woke up at 4am on New Year’s Day, and stumbled upon something to celebrate: according to the Internet, the Ellsworth outdoor skating rink would be open for the first day of the season that morning, January 1.
Not a party girl, she could not feel excited about New Year’s Eve, but ice-skating!!! She had fond childhood memories of skating on an ephemeral pond on her neighbor’s field in Norridgewock. She and her sister would attempt to imitate the Olympic figure skaters the best they could, and score each other. She remembered Central Maine winters where every Sunday her family would go to a skating party at a different pond.
She had to be there at dawn. She would feel like an oddball skating amidst the small children inching their way along. She loaded her laundry into her car, and drove to her mother’s house, only to find her mother spent New Year’s elsewhere. She started her laundry, and carried her skates up State Street in the darkness.
At Christmas, only a week before, the rink remained a pool of water, and her sister pointed out the “rink not ready” sign. “Do they really need that sign? Anyone who would attempt to skate on that needs round-the-clock supervision.”
In fact, the “rink not ready” sign remained up but the smooth glassy surface suggested otherwise. “Arrest me,” she thought, and she took off her boots and slid on her skates and began tying them up.
After all, lest she forget her “wholesome badass” quota, some ridiculous concept she invented her sophomore year of college. She could not break the law but she certainly found ways to push the envelope.
Now was one of those instances. Even before she took off, she felt confident that she would not fall through. Sure enough, not a creak or a crack, not a bubble to be found. Shear perfection.
Having the ice to herself, she made figure-eights and raced from one end to the other and tried to scratch up every inch of the surface. She remembered how soothing the gliding motion could be, she who felt frustrated with certain parts of her life but not this, not now.
Around 7am, someone from Parks and Rec pulled in. She apologized, always her first instinct, and told him she did not know what time the rink opened. The sign only posted that it closed at 7pm.
“Oh, no, I am happy to have someone test the ice,” the kind man said. “How is it?”
Wow, not only was it okay, but she could be useful. “Perfect, no rough patches.”
“Last year we opened it too early, and it didn’t take the weight of ten people very well.”
She did a few laps closer to the edges, this time scrutinizing, listening for imperfections. She still could not find any.
She stayed a little while longer, the cold eventually reaching her toes. She waddled to the bench, removed her skates and slid her muck boots back on, and told the gentleman that she would be back.
Content and a little tired, she carried her ice skates down State Street. She held them by the string, for all the motorists to see, and they dangled as if she caught a fish. She felt the joy that one must feel catching a fish, how all of the cautious optimism becomes beaming certainty…
After all, lest I forget
She had pared down on sweet things, and begun to accept that some nights she needed to sleep alone. Some nights she would need to boil the water for herself, and fix a cup of tea, and shower while it cooled, shower and relax all the muscles in her high-strung body. It was that time of day when she would crave being held, but she was learning that just like with sweets, the less she indulged, the less she wanted it. She wanted peace of mind, she wanted to accept that no one was coming to save her, that she could not lay down and die in any spot of misery but she would need to push her way out…
Every woman always told Snow Pea that she wanted to grow old with him. He would kiss each one on the neck, and hold her, and tell her everything she wanted to hear, perhaps because it was easier that way. No use in ruining the night or the afternoon by saying that he just wanted that moment, that he had no taste for forever. For as long as she stayed, he gave it all to her, the most he could be capable of.
He was a carrot. You could see his life as plain or extraordinary. He was always pushing in the opposite direction than you would expect to become sweet or respectable. Yet who does not love a carrot, someone who concentrates his roots rather than spread than rampant yet shallow?
Cilantro swaggers into the room and starts telling offensive jokes, either to everyone’s dismay or delight. He never apologizes, and even if he did, no one would be able to tell if he were serious. Every once in a while, he cleans himself up, wears a button-up shirt, and holds a door open for a lady.
Fennel shows up to dinner still smelling like sawdust, hair clinging to his forehead, ever a Calvin Klein model. He has the muscles of a man who works with his hands and the manners of a business man.
Celeriac covers his track marks with tattoos, and covers his tattoos with layers of t-shirts and thermals and sweatshirts. His wild days will never be over. He is too smart for that. Indeed, he is as quick with his tongue as he ever was.
Kohl rabi has an odd laugh and an even odder last name. In school, she spent recesses alone on the swing set, and she frequently came home in tears from being teased. Yet she became more exotic-looking as she aged, even pretty some would say. She was growing into her uneven eyes and round cheeks and pout of a mouth. She taught herself how to wear eye liner and short dresses. Most importantly, she learned how to please herself, a gift that freed her.
Leek has always been striking without even trying. She could start a conversation with anyone in a bar, or a celebrity, or the president. She did not hold back. She would call her friends out on their missteps, and she would throw down generous amounts of money if she thought the investment was worth it.
Arugula acquired a reputation as a boyfriend stealer, but she always swore that she did not make the first move. Otherwise content men were smitten with her, she more furry and beautiful than anyone else. She did not know what to do with her appeal. As a teenager, she climbed from one back seat to the next. Once in her twenties, she wanted to nest. She needed security more than admiration.
Mizuna spent her Friday nights as a wing woman. Others complimented her on her personality, on all that she could add to trivia night or a heated debate. Yet she never knew life as the star. She seemed even more potent in her anonymity.
Watercress never should have lived as long as she did. She received diagnosis after diagnosis, death ever eminent. Yet the doctors did not appreciate that she developed roots vigorously and often. She would not let go of life, would not stop baking or bicycling or telling the universe exactly what she thought.
Rutabaga blows his nose so hard that it sounds like a trumpet in dark theaters. In fact, he has played the trumpet since the age of ten, experimenting with every genre from jazz to polka. Rutabaga cannot sit through boredom. He needs to add something stronger to the mix, something that cannot otherwise be replicated.
Beet lives in a house surrounded by things that comfort her and things that comfort her friends. She stashes away an assortment of tea and fingernail polish for times of need, for heartbreak and frustration and disappointment. She always seems to be nursing a kitten and tending a wood stove. Hers is a couch visitors can sink into; her arms never let go of a hug until the other is ready.
Parsley retains the accent of an outsider but slips into a local crowd. Her mother always told her, “Do you know what we all have in common? Our humanity.” Parsley spent her career in social work, catering to every socioeconomic class, laughing at their jokes, being offered gifts of fudge or well-worn clothing. People tended to like the look of her, she secretly beautiful even though her mother always told her she was average. They trusted her, and opened up to her, and asked her for help, and that is what made her glow.
“Have u seen my fleece-lined mittens? They are my favorite.” The first time her mother asked about the mittens, she played deaf and hoped her mother would forget about them. The next time, she looked blankly at her and said, “Oh no, I have no idea.”
Yet she did have an idea. She knew exactly to whom she lent the mittens: her father, her mother’s ex-husband. He had returned to Maine to vote in the election, in hopes of booting a politician out of office. He rented a car and drove up on November 2nd, the first snow storm of the year.
Incidentally, her mother was out of town, so she and her father were going to shovel her mother’s driveway. That was when she opened the chest of cold weather gear and offered the only pair that looked liked they would fit him. He ended up paying a plow truck to take care of the drive way, and she never asked for them back, not until nearly a month later after her father had flown to India.
She frantically emailed her father. “What happened to those mittens I lent you? They are my mother’s favorite.”
“Don’t worry, they are right here in my suitcase.” Of course, he did not throw them away. He and her mother share an aversion to tossing things, even when they are flying to a foreign country with weight restrictions.
“Can you mail them back, please?”
“I will reimburse you for a new pair. I leave to go on my camel trek tomorrow.”
“This is not a joke, Dad. Take the money out of my inheritance. She needs that pair. It is not Thanksgiving there, all the mail services should be open.”
He finally did it. He told her that it costs 1200 rupees, roughly 20 dollars, and the package would arrive in 8-10 days.
The strangest part of this episode is that her father predicted this scenario twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, her father started writing but never finished a book for her sister and her entitled “In Search of P.B.”. P.B. was the affectionate name of her sister’s baby blanket, which she called her blanket as well. The book told of the sisters losing their P.B.s, and they travelled around the world trying to recover them. Her father blended together National Geographic photos and family photographs to create the book.
Yet he never had to address what would happen if the P.B.s were found and needed to be returned urgently. Now the family knows that for 1200 rupees, everything can be fixed.