Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flash fiction challenge: Ginger Root

The challenge is here. Go there! Read the other stories! Mine is about a plant my mother is growing.

Kitchens in the Cookie Factory Lofts were small, so Kimberley didn't have to walk far to show Mitch the ginger they had left in the cupboard.

"Look at it," Kimberley said. "I wonder if you can eat the shoots." Four branches, hard like bamboo, grew off the corners of the wizened 3-inch root.

"It's not a burger," Mitch said. He was working from home on the dining room table. The loft didn't really have an office.

"Maybe I'll plant it," said Kimberley. She used ground ginger instead, and dinner was sub-standard that evening. Mitch knew enough not to say anything.

After dinner, Kimberley took a flowerpot off the windowsill, and threw out the dead poinsettia it had held. She dug a hole and nestled the ginger root in with coffee grounds and potato peels. She watered the whole mess and set it beside the spindly avocados and garlic scapes. By then, Mitch had the scent of compost stuck in his head, and could smell nothing else for the rest of the evening.

"Kind of pointless to give up meat and be so nice to the plants," Mitch said. They had met working at a vegetarian restaurant while they were in University. He was afraid they were growing apart. Sometimes on his lunch break, he would leave his office and buy a hotdog from the street vendor.

Kimberley was disturbingly thin. More and more foods refused to cross her lips. She was down to potatoes, cabbage, apples, and kale. If it wasn't for vodka, she wouldn't get any calories at all. But she came up behind him where he sat at the table, kissed him on the top of his head, and said, "It's so nice to see them try."

So he let it go.

The southern exposure seemed to be just what it wanted. The four branches were a foot taller when Mitch got home the next evening.

"It's definitely taller," Mitch agreed when Kimberley pointed it out.

"I think the pot is too small," Kimberley said.

She was right, but Mitch didn't need to see the fronds waving in agreement.

After a dinner of spinach nut loaf (no substitute for meatloaf), they picked up a bag of soil and the largest planter the hardware store had. They filled the new pot with dirt and took the planted the ginger again.

"Does ginger reproduce by growing new bulbs, like a tulip?" Mitch asked. A small bubble had appeared on one end, between the two shorter branches. It hadn't been there yesterday.

"I guess so," said Kimberley. "It's all broken bits at the grocery store. Maybe it grows in mats the size of the table."

The next night when he got home, the peanuts were chopped, garlic crushed, green onions sliced, rice in the rice cooker, and extra-firm tofu fried. Soy sauce, sesame seeds, and hoisin sat measured on the counter. But Kimberley stood with the paring knife poised over another ginger root, not peeling or mincing. She wasn't even grating.

"I feel a little guilty about this, in her presence," she said, and gestured at the ginger plant. It hadn't gotten any taller, but had filled out. The four limbs stood like trunks in their own right.

"Oh, just cut the thing," Mitch said. It wasn't like butchering a cow after all.

Kimberley squeezed shut her eyes, gripped the knife, and sliced the ginger root in half. She opened her eyes and hastily trimmed the rough outer skin from the fibrous flesh. The smell of ginger filled the room, though none had yet landed in the hot broth in the wok.

Kimberley didn't notice the rustling by the balcony door, but Mitch did. He turned around to see the ginger plant climb out of the planter as if it was a bathtub. The shorter branches looked remarkably like arms, and the leaves bent like many-jointed fingers, brushing the dirt away. What yesterday had been a bubble on the main root was now a head wrapped in what looked like burlap. Green hands stroked that face until the husk came loose and hung around her neck and under dangerous red hair.

"Kimberley," was all Mitch could think to say.

Just as she was about to brush the minced ginger into the wok, Kimberley turned. "Oh my," she said, setting the knife and cutting board down on the counter. "I'm so sorry."

"If you were really sorry," said the ginger plant girl, "It wouldn't have happened in the first place."

Mitch didn't move until she was past him on her way to the kitchen. He wasn't fast enough. The ginger girl grabbed up the cleaver from the wood block and lopped off Kimberley's head.

"Oh god," was all Mitch could say, as the ginger girl held Kimberley's head over the wok, dripping blood over the sizzling garlic.

"For flavor," she said, as the air took on a pleasant meaty smell.

"I can't eat that," Mitch said. He could taste the vitamin B-12 already.

The ginger girl poured the peanuts into the wok. It would take a couple of minutes for them to absorb the liquid. "You will when you're hungry enough," she said. She came from the kitchen five steps to the dining room, pulling the papery skin off her neck like a mummy tearing off its wrappings. Her flesh underneath wasn't desiccated at all. She pushed Mitch, dominatrix-like, onto a chair and tied his arms and legs down.

Back in the kitchen, all the other ingredients went into the wok. She put rice and tofu on two plates and stepped over Kimberley's body to set them on the table. She sat down across from Mitch.

"One hand free?" she asked.

It would be better than eating like a dog.

She tore the bindings off his right hand. He picked up a fork and took a bite. Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you put on it. The slightly meaty taste was divine.

"I'm sorry, Kimberley," Mitch said.

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