pages A Full Boil

by Carol J. Arnold

Published in Issue No. 163 ~ December, 2010

Her editor at the grocery weekly had wanted several pieces about root vegetables and Evelyn was assigned the turnips. She hated turnips almost as much as she hated her nose, which not only sloped upward, but was pushed in at the end giving it a slightly porcine look. “Hump the ski jump,” Bobby Biddle had yelled the first day of 7th grade Health Ed class, a refrain that had quickly morphed into “pump the jump” when Randy Jakowski joined in. “Pump the jump. Hump the jump,” the boys’ chorus went. “Oink, oink.”

“You guys are … big … fat … assholes!” Evelyn had screeched, the cause of a two-day expulsion for her. The boys got off Scot free, just being boys, the teacher had said. The experience was so mortifying – she became known not only as the girl with the piggy nose, but the one who said “asshole” out loud – she vowed never to speak a swear word again.

“But I’ve never made anything with a turnip,” Evelyn told Jeanne (pronounced Jawn in the French way), her editor at the Pay & Save Weekly. “I hate them!” Jeanne was sitting at her desk perusing Allison’s carrot draft, every so often scribbling “Good!” or “Great!” in red pen in the margin. Evelyn sighed as she watched the exclamations mount. As usual, her co-worker had gotten the best assignment, and, Evelyn was convinced, the most exuberant praise. Allison also had the prettiest nose Evelyn had ever seen, the perfect size and shape for kissing up to Jeanne. “Brown nose if I’ve ever seen one,” she told her husband Warren.

But this night, turnips were her concern, not Allison. “Carrots would be easy,” she grumbled to Warren, “but what could be more hateful than a turnip?” Warren sighed into his pillow, his perpetually aching back only part of the story. He was reaching his limit with Evelyn, her complaints about her job. The last time she groused about Jeanne and Allison he had reminded her that she had wanted to be a food writer more than anything else, referring, of course, to the thousands of dollars he had paid for her two-week workshop in Tuscany the previous summer where the instructor had all but promised a career extolling the virtues of haute cuisine. “What could be better?” Evelyn had written to Warren. “I’ll be noshing my way through Paris or Rome, then writing about it!”

But haute cuisine was nowhere to be found at The Weekly, the only ad she found in the newspaper whose offering contained both the words food and write. She wouldn’t have taken the job at all if Warren hadn’t looked askance at the way she scrunched up her nose even more than it already was after she came home from the interview. “Seven career workshops are quite enough, Evelyn,” he had said, and when faced with the raw sting of the number of times she had convinced him to pay for a jaunt to exotic locals – the glass blowing workshop in Prague had been thrilling and the voodoo dolls from the local women’s cooperative in Jamaica would fill quite a niche in the import business – Evelyn had nothing more to say.

The Weekly’s specialty was vegetables – their vitamin content, how to select them in the market, how to slip them into meals so the whole family “won’t even know they are there.” Those were Jeanne’s words when she assigned Evelyn the turnip piece, accompanied by her usual sharp glare over chartreuse half-glasses that always hung precariously at the end of her nose. She was letting Evelyn know the gist of what she wanted, something she always did, apparently unwilling to trust Evelyn’s instincts for the written word in the same way she did Allison’s.

“It’s time you cooked a turnip,” Jeanne said the next day, depositing one of the pale bruised orbs on Evelyn’s desk. “You never know what might turn up.” Pleased with her pun, she smirked so widely her glasses slipped off and fell on the floor. “Besides, it’s good experience to write about things you hate,” she added, picking up her glasses and sashaying down the hall. Her full hips rotated in a circle as if swinging an invisible hula-hoop.

Evelyn picked up one of the paper clips she had previously mangled – a habit born of both boredom and anxiety – and stuck the pointed end into the wide rump of the turnip. As she did, inspiration sprinkled over her like a shower of fairy dust. Cupping her hands over her keyboard, she started to type. “Things I Hate,” she wrote, her fingers clumsy at first, but beginning to fly as she warmed to the task. “Turnips are versatile root vegetables, healthful and robust, and excellent for adding to stews and soups. Here’s a recipe from my Gram’s kitchen that nicely combines all ingredients: Scrub turnips and place in a large pot. Bring to a boil. When bubbling nicely, add finely chopped editors and shredded teacher’s pets. Pierce with a fork for doneness, then puree all to a fine pulp leaving no lumps. Serve warm with butter. Evelyn O’Neill, Food Writer.” Reading the piece over, she scrunched up her nose, then added fat ass in front of “editors,” and kiss ass in front of “teacher’s pets.”

That night Evelyn surprised Warren with the news that she had finished her turnip article. She waited until they were getting ready for bed. “It was a whole day before the deadline,” she said, as her husband climbed onto the Posturpedic they had recently purchased and eased himself into the slightly crooked position he preferred for sleep. “Jeanne will read it tomorrow.”

“Good!” he said, as exuberantly as he could manage while settling under the quilt. “Great!”

Evelyn scrambled into bed, the words she had longed to hear ringing happily in her ears. “I love you,” she whispered as she kissed the nape of her husband’s tired neck.

“I love you too,” he said, and both fell quickly to sleep.

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Carol J. Arnold was awarded New Millennium Journal’s 2009 first prize for flash fiction. Her work has appeared in the Traveler’s Tales’ anthology, Best Women’s Travel Writing, and numerous literary journals. One of her short stories was a finalist for the Steinbeck Short Story Award. Her short essays have been featured on San Francisco’s National Public Radio. She can be reached at c.arnold@astound.net.
  • Anne Wright

    What a great story! I love its original premise and buoyant tone, plus the outstanding great wit.