John Haymaker is a freelance writer and web programmer who lives in Denver. Previous publications include story translations in Chinese Literature and Pig Iron Press. His work has also appeared in Sudden Fiction, the Houston Poetry Fest, Popline, Kansas City Star, and Christian Science Monitor. Contact John online at http://johnhaymaker.com
Pickles, Canopic Jars and a Dirty Martini
Sam should be having this dream. The thought crossed my mind more than once during my troubled sleep a few nights before. He’s the one always filling up with pickles off my plate when we get together for lunch, overly trusting in the ability of his iron stomach to forestall a bad night of indigestion — not to mention thoroughly testing the limits of my generosity.
It should have been Sam’s eyes floating hypnotically within a slim olive jar, the dark green iris of each stuffed with stewed pimiento. It should have been the reflection of his green-eyed envy in the glass, staring back upon itself from within the jar — even while straining to get a look around the pantry shelf upon which the eyes began a languid return to consciousness. But there was no mistaking that bunion in a jar of pickled-people-feet placed next to the olives. So the feet, and then the eyes, I came to understand, were my own. And weren’t those my stubby fingers, halved, smothered with pepper sauce, and tightly packed in concentric circles like Vienna sausages in that half pint Ball-Mason jar? My shattered spirit, trembling horribly, came near to rattling these Canopic jars off the shelves with the shocking realization that my person had been processed into varieties of pickled condiments, no less like the extracted organs of a mummy.
Sam should be having this dream. A vengeful thought, admittedly, but comfort enough that night to keep me from waking up in a cold sweat. Although we take turns picking up the tab at lunch, either way, Sam always gets my pickle.
And then, miraculously reconstituted, I found myself seated in a kosher style deli about to take a bite of my-own-tongue sandwich when a waiter dressed in formal black and white attire appeared with a large stoneware platter of pickles, which he rested on the upraised palm of one hand so that it fairly floated along above his own height. With a nonchalant sweep of his arm, the
waiter set the platter down at my table, presenting me with a generous spread of snappy dills, sweet gherkins, bread and butter slices, pepper slices, tomato pickles, watermelon pickles, French cornichons, jalapeno rings and even my favorite, kalmatta olives.
Intrigued, I put the sandwich down, carefully withdrawing my tongue, intact, from between two thin slices of pumpernickel, and began to sample the pickles — until I noticed they were off, some nearly putrid with pickling. They must have been lying around for months, even years. I gagged and reached for a glass of ice water to get rid of the foul taste, but a sudden shiver went down my spine as if I had forgotten an important engagement, a dinner date with someone, and I awkwardly set the water aside, moistening the tablecloth with a few drops I sent splashing backward over the rim.
Sam should be having this dream, but as recurring nightmares. Sometimes after he’s taken a bite of my pickle, he shakes the ragged end at me and rants on about some point he’s forever becoming too emotional over.
I called for the waiter, who had taken to levitating himself with his own serving tray, seated upon it cross-legged like a venerable old maharaja. Eager to make a show of himself, he promptly glided toward me and hovered near at the exact height of my table with a slight, undulating wobble in his midair balance. Already pressing pen to his booklet of checks, he was smug with the assumption I would want to order something more. I ignored his antics and demanded to see the cook. The meal had not been to my satisfaction, and I intended to send everything back.
If Sam were having this dream, he could have had the whole platter.
The cook appeared — all in white, with one of those hats that look like a dinner roll billowing over at the top. “YES?!” he exclaimed with a questioning air of self-importance, angry at my affront.
But rather than hear of my complaints, the cook seated himself across from me with a flourish and began to partake of everything personally to impress upon me that the delicacies he prepared were not only palatable, but delectable besides. I rather found his table manners as lacking as his presumed culinary art. His hands picked over the spread of pickles like the incessant claws of a king crab, mechanically carrying forth pickle to mouth. Taking one bite from the end of a gherkin, the cook forthwith tossed the remnant back onto the platter, then took a bite of pickled pepper out of the other hand, vocalizing all the while with subtle whimpers of satiation and smacking his plump lips as if he were too overcome with sensuous pleasure to contain himself.
And when he’d nearly finished my meal, he dared to ask, “Are you going to eat your pickle?” It seemed to be Sam’s voice! If only Sam could have had this dream and hear how he carries on. He demanded again, “Are you going to eat your pickle?”
“YES, I AM! I have every intention of eating my pickle!” In fact, I had no desire for any of the briny tidbits that still lay before me, and just which exactly he meant to be “my pickle,” I wasn’t sure, but neither was I about to weaken my show of resolve by arguing over particulars. I had, of course, called for the cook to take everything away, yet when I heard Sam’s voice asking after my pickle, I wasn’t about to cede him anything.
No sooner had I reached forth to retrieve a last morsel, however, than the platter dissolved, leaving but one solitary, oblong Kosher dill set so that its ends curved upward from the stoneware platter it rested upon like the ghostly grin of the Cheshire cat. I lunged to retrieve the pickle and wielded it in my hand triumphant. “I ordered it, and God willing, I AM GOING TO EAT IT!”
“And you’re going to pay for it.” The cook gloated at his own guile for a moment, and then a mean smirk appeared on his face. It was Sam’s smirk. Perhaps Sam already had this dream, after all — he certainly seemed to know where things were headed.
“And what if God is not willing?”
It was just like Sam to get off the main point into some tedious digression. But the unusual profundity of the question made me wonder whether it really was Sam, or Sam speaking in the guise of God, or mayhaps, God speaking in the guise of Sam? If Sam were having this dream, Sam would know.
Whomever. Whatever. I gripped the pickle firmly between my thumb and forefinger, making a meek fist of the lower digits, and solemnly explained, “I am going to eat this pickle because God is great and God is good. Let us thank Him for MY food!” And I therewith commenced to munch the pickle, much too agitated to play the connoisseur.
Yet in the flash of an instant, I fell to my knees, powerless, and seemed to be taking communion from the cook, who now donned satiny white vestments:
“Eat of this pickle, it is the flesh . . . .” I woke abruptly with a knuckle wedged between my front teeth, the skin broken and bleeding slightly.
I lunched with Sam that afternoon as usual, excepting that as soon as the waitress brought our food, I bowed my head and said Grace — aloud. And, though I caught him looking at my plate askew more than once, Sam apparently couldn’t muster his usual bravado to ask for my pickle, the usual dill spear. Much to my pleasure, he seemed positively tongue-tied as we ate. Likely, my public display of devotion had embarrassed him. Well, he’d get used to it by and by.
And when I had finished my meal, I snapped my pickle in two so the lightest spray caught him across the face, as he’d done unto me more than a few times. Sam excused himself then to go to the bar for a drink.
“With or without an olive?” the bartender inquired.
“With!” Sam replied. “And make it extra dirty, please.” Sam order a side of dill slices as well.
Enjoy them pal. You won’t be having any more of my pickles, but dream all you want.