*GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTE
a literary journal of the fictional persuasion

CRY FOR US, TOO

THE POTATO
Anne Marie Jackson

In Lyuba’s kitchen, the two girls work at a linoleum-topped table, pinpoint stars winking from its surface between knife scars. One lame rear leg is propped with tanned issues of Izvestiya and Novosti. The table is covered with vegetables: beets, carrots, tomatoes, onion, and a head of cabbage.

Natasha is a willowy blonde. She wears a silk blouse, sleeves carefully turned up to avoid soiling. A glittering serpentine chain encircles her throat. She grates carrots onto a bleached, warped cutting board, keeping her manicured fingers clear of the sharp edges. The coarse, homespun apron that she wears belongs to Lyuba.

Lyuba has broad, flat, freckled cheeks and colourless rough-hewn lips that dissolve indistinctly into the rest of her face. Her wedge-shaped hands deftly mince the onion. Her eyes do not water.

They work together in agreeable silence. Natasha sweeps the grated carrot into a cracked enamel bowl, then Lyuba adds the onion.

The outer door whooshes and bangs, and into the little kitchen gusts Andrei with a large plastic carryall.

“You wanted potatoes, ladies?” Andrei grins. Light bounces from his wire-rimmed glasses. Andrei is lean, tall. He is the dashing knight, come to rescue the borscht.

“Well, I have only brought you one potato!”

Lyuba looks askance, Natasha smiles, Andrei carries on: “But, my dear ladies, oh what a potato it is!” With a flourish, he sets the Potato upon the cutting board.

The cutting board vanishes into shadow.

The Potato is knobbly, with shiny green patches like a worn pants seat. A few whiskery chins jut out here, there. The Potato is enormous. The Potato eclipses all other potatoes.

“It's a good thing it's so ... huge,” says Natasha. “The market will be closed by now.”

“Where did you find this monster?” Lyuba exclaims. She picks up the Potato with both hands, rolls it carefully from side to side. “Five kilos?”

“Five kilos, 150 grams, to be precise.”

“Gospodi!” exclaims Natasha. She takes the Potato from Lyuba. “This is the biggest potato I've ever seen!" She lowers the Potato into the sink basin and turns on the water. The Potato is tall. Water slops off it onto the counter top and runs down onto the floor. Natasha starts rubbing off the muddy bits.

Now Lyuba’s face darkens. She says to Natasha, “Maybe we shouldn’t eat it.”

Andrei swivels around to Lyuba and exclaims, “What do you mean not eat it! I bought the Potato especially for our supper, and I am hungry!”

“It just seems that this is a special and unique potato. Something should be done with it.”

“Something will be done with it, Lyuba darling. We’re going to eat it!”

But Natasha looks at Lyuba seriously. “You mean it may be of historical significance.”

“Yes,” says Lyuba. “Maybe we should take it to the agricultural museum.”

After a moment, Lyuba says, “The Potato is like you, Natasha.”

Natasha laughs. She has put the kettle on for tea, as a pause has settled over their borscht preparations. “Can this be an obscure compliment?” She smiles.

“As it happens, yes.” Lyuba has recovered the Potato from the sink basin and enthroned it on the cutting board, upon which little pools of water are now accumulating. “Other potatoes are just for eating, but this Potato is special. It’s enormous. It belongs in a museum. And you should be dancing, not working for that pack of dirty old men. Your talent belongs not only to you, but to everyone.“

Natasha sighs.

“Those dirty old men provide a living, Lyuba. You know I would have stayed with the ballet, but at present it simply cannot pay a reasonable wage.”

Andrei has been listening attentively, and adds, “Like me. Doctors of biochemistry don’t buy many potatoes these days!” He laughs mirthlessly and lunges for the Potato. “But as a businessman, I buy potatoes that you would donate for research!”

Lyuba, needled, red-faced, turns on Andrei and tackles the Potato. Clutching it to her breast she says emotionally, “I feel that it is immoral to eat the Potato if it is not completely necessary.”

“Lyubochka, Lyubochka, relax. Have some tea.” Natasha puts a cup in front of her, spoons in lots of sugar, stirs. “It’s not worth getting upset.”

“No,” says Andrei. “It isn’t, and I might add, only small children and foreign students visit the museum anyway. Yes, the Potato would be wasted at the museum.” Andrei straddles a seat opposite and adds sugar to his tea, too.

“No,” says Lyuba, “At the museum they would weigh it and measure it. Supply statistics to the national research institute. They would photograph it and preserve it....”

“Pickle it maybe,” Andrei snorts, “Eat it for zakuzki!”

Natasha stands by the cooker, eyes troubled, rubbing her gold chain between fore and index finger, as Lyuba, agitated, pushes back her stool from the table. Lyuba takes a worn leather change purse from a cabinet drawer and counts out five notes.

“I’m not eating the Potato,” she declares. “Andrei - here. For the potato and the effort. We’ll have borscht without potato.”

Natasha looks relieved. “I know the perfect box we can take the Potato to the museum in.” She leaves the kitchen with Lyuba.

Andrei stands pale-faced and alone. His stomach rumbles audibly.

“Borscht without potato? That’s just beet soup!”

~

The next day at the agricultural museum, the caretaker shuffles into the director’s office with an obviously heavy cardboard box that he places on the desk in front of the director. The caretaker shuffles back out again.

“Why, what is this?” the director asks himself. He snips the twine from around the box and opens it. He whistles.

“If this isn’t the largest potato I have ever seen,” he says out loud. He sees that there is a note in the bag. He takes it out and reads it. Then he drops it in the bin and picks up the telephone.

“Eh, Masha?” he says into the receiver. “Hold the borscht. I’ve got the Potato!”

© Anne Marie Jackson

Anne Marie Jackson (annemay18@yahoo.com) is an American living with a Cornish fisherman who keeps crab pots and lobster pots outside Falmouth harbour. Before this she taught and studied and edited and translated in Russia and Moldova. Her work has appeared in Aesthetica, Penwomanship and edifice WRECKED.


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