We bring in the harvest during the day. They are tomatoes, they are carrots; they are corn and peas and zucchini. At night, we hear them congregating in the kitchen below our bedroom, whispering to one another in hushed tones.
Go down stairs, dear. Look at them.
I go look.
They are just where we left them.
I wait. A zucchini moves in the darkness like a tumbleweed.
What do you want? Why did you come to us?
The zucchini says nothing.
Well, we can’t eat it now, you say. How could we eat a sentient being?
We ate the goat that one time?
That was different. We hated that goat. The goat was unsupportive. It deserved what it got.
How do we know the zucchini isn’t unsupportive?
I can tell. I like how it moves.
Yes, it is hypnotic.
How does it roll like that?
What about the tomatoes and all the rest of it? Can we eat them?
I don’t think we can eat any of them. We cannot know their relationship to this zucchini.
But in the daylight the next morning, everything looks different.
We feel different. The vegetables of the harvest are stationary in the daylight, they do not move and they do not whisper. We become forgetful of our nighttime resolutions. We slice up the tomatoes and eat them with salt. Their juices drip down our lips. We boil the corn; we pickle the cucumbers; we crush and freeze the remainder of the tomatoes.
At night, the zucchini joins us in the bedroom. Lying between us like our daughter used to.
How could you? It seems to say.
We know, we say. We know and we are so sorry! Allow us to atone. We see the horrible things we have done and we regret them terribly.
It is not for me forgive; there will never be another tomato like the one you sliced up today. There will never again be another family of corn like the one you boiled.
Where is the soil and the sunshine? Where is the vine and the rain? Where are my lost companions? Gone, gone…they are all gone.
What is a body?
My body is what I am after you plucked me from my vine.
But see, you are already growing soft and rotten, Zucchini. Why are you not angry about that?
Why? Because we are alike, you and I.
Once upon a time, Zucchini, I thought we were the same, but I see now we are not. We will never be the same. You are no daughter of mine.
When we give the vegetables of the harvest back to the land, we do it in the traditional manner, by means of the septic tank in our backyard, which we pay a man to empty every year. The man has a truck and a long hose. He is kind. He takes our waste out of the septic tank into his truck, and then where does it go?
The sewage treatment plant on the other side of town?
Property over there is cheap because over there it smells like the sewage treatment plant, which smells like raw human waste, which smells like vegetables of the harvest, given back to the land.
After a while, though, you tell me, if a person lives on that side of town, the small fades. The nose becomes blind to it.
But the smell does not disappear, it just ceases to register. What is the difference?
If we bought a house over there, you say, perhaps the smell would not bother us again. Perhaps if we moved to the other side of town, we would never have to smell another vegetable again.
Kaj Tanaka is a PhD candidate at the University of Houston. His stories have been selected for the Best Small Fictions anthology, Wigleaf’s Top 50, and they have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Kaj teaches a writing workshop at the Harris County Jail in Houston, and he is a fiction editor at Gulf Coast Magazine. You can read more of his work at kajtanaka.com.