It is spring. She is at the first farmers’ market of the season. Here is the early lettuce, the Swiss chard, the spring peas. “I’m growing the peas in a cold frame,” the stall owner tells her. He wears an apron, a toque, a heavy jacket. The radishes huddle together in brilliant clusters, red purple white pink. “They’re called Easter Egg. For the colors,” he says, seeing her interest. His hands are cracked, ridges traced in black, dirt trapped under his nails. He palms the radishes gently. “Got a nice bite to them, crisp.”
She wanders through the market, past the slim pickings of early harvest. The largest crowd clusters around the coffee van, clamoring for steaming lattes, mochas, americanos. The bakery stalls dole out fresh bread and muffins to the carb-starved masses, just for a treat. She buys an oat-fudge bar and washes down gummy bites with bitter hot coffee. She will worry about the calories later.
The busker starts to sing, a warbling voice over strummed guitar. This land is your land. Only the dogs notice.
Two stalls down, a small table is sandwiched between a large meat cooler Bison! Grass-fed beef! Spring Lamb! and beeswax candles. A man stands in front of the table, holding a book. He is smiling nodding at everyone calling out “Hello! Nice day!”.
He stands beside a life-size cardboard cutout of himself, holding a book. The book is titled The Importance of Healthy Eating.
She looks from the book to the cutout to the man in front of her. His teeth gleam blue-white in a lean face, tan skin stretched tight over bone scaffolding. His dark eyes lock on and draw her in like a retractor beam, tugging against her reluctance, propelling her towards him as the outside world seals shut against them.
“Let me tell you something that will change your life,” he says.
“There I was, dying. Literally, I was on my deathbed. I was killing myself with food. My doctor said, ‘Steve,’ he said, ‘You’re going to be dead in a year.’”
“I had an epiphany. Do you know how many toxins there are in our environment? In our soil? In the food that we eat?”
She nods again.
He talks about the antibiotics in dairy, the steroids in meat, the mercury in fish. He preaches to her about his approach to eating a little bit of a good thing.
“I’m half the man I was.”
She buys a book. She buys her freedom, she buys her escape for twenty dollars. He throws in a fridge magnet.
“You won’t regret this!” he says as she tucks the book and the magnet into her shopping bag. “You’ll be a new woman.”
It is summer. She takes a new recipe to Jennifer’s dinner party. The recipe is from the book. Brown rice, cold-pressed sesame oil, miso, rice vinegar. She sets the dish down on the crowded counter in Jennifer’s kitchen, beside the bocconcini salad. She is wearing a dress that she bought yesterday.
“Can I get you a drink?” Jennifer asks. “You look fabulous. Have you done a cleanse?”
They serve themselves buffet-style in the kitchen. She holds her plate and looks at the food, piled high in an explosion of color and scent and texture and taste. There is nothing for her to eat.
She takes a spoonful of the rice she brought and heads out to the patio. Chinese paper lanterns hang over the long wooden table and the buzz of conversation rises up overhead to mingle with the wasps and the smoke from the barbeque.
“Is that all you’re going to eat?” the man seated next to her asks.
She tells him she is detoxing. She tells him about the toxins and the chemicals and the poisons. She tells him about the importance of healthy eating.
She fits the words in between small mouthfuls that she chews assiduously, her brown rice cud masticated to sweet grainy liquid before she swallows it down.
She is still hungry when she leaves the party.
It is fall. She is flaking away, flying off. She finds strands of her hair sprinkled around the house in the oddest places. Hanging off the soy milk. Curled around her tea mug. She is shedding her former self.
She still goes to the market every Saturday, to stock up for the week. Her cupboards are bare, but her refrigerator holds the produce that she harvests from the farmers’ stalls. It’s all down to the roots now, pumpkins and gourds and squashes. At every stall, she stops to ask is it organic is it local did you grow it yourself? She buys a russet baking potato and it lasts her all week.
She sees the man selling his book, but she does not stop to talk. His cardboard cutout self looks frayed around the edges, from exposure to the sun and the occasional summer shower. He continues on undimmed, although he seems smaller, tighter, as though his mass is condensing around his nuclear core, increasing the intensity and strength of his personal radiation.
It is winter. She is cold all the time and her body has begun to grow fur, a soft downy coating of hair to cushion her from the cool air.
She has weaned herself from coffee to tea, from tea to hot water. The water heats her from the inside; she is a bag of water on legs that totter tremble. The water is warm and she wraps her hands around the mug and holds it tight.
She stays inside, where it is warm. The kitchen window faces south, trapping the afternoon sun in a pocket of yellow. The plant pots line the counter, by the window. Each pot cups a small green sprout that is pushing its head up above the soil, slowly emerging into the light.
She is hungry, she is always hungry, but she is patient. She is hungry but she will wait.
elissa vann struth wrote for awhile and then stopped. she has now resumed.