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A LITTLE BIT OF A GOOD THING • by elissa vann struth

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.’”

She nods.

“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.

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A LITTLE BIT OF A GOOD THING • by elissa vann struth, 3.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
Posted on July 10, 2009 in Literary, Stories
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  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    She not only gave up food, but “She sees the man selling his book, but does not stop to talk.” She has eschewed the two glories of humanity – farming and communication. What she’s waiting for I don’t want. Perhaps this story is a good a warning example for the young, provided they catch the warning. Otherwise it’s a danger to them.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    An excellent piece exposing the dangers of eating disorders and their repercussions – if not their causes.

    The ending could have been a bit stronger, I felt.

  • http://jfjuzwik.blogspot.com Joyce

    Not sure what she is becoming or waiting for. How is she growing fur? Does it have something to do with the recipes in the man’s book? I’m not sure I understand, overall, what the story is trying to convey.

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Sounds as bad as some of the crap diets my wife is always trying. The whole thing made very little sense to me (my wife’s diets don’t make much sense to me either!). Nice writing, good descriptions, but very little “story.”

    I didn’t like it.

  • Pam Richmond

    Joyce, I believe that anorexics actually “grow fur” as their very skinny bodies struggle to keep warm.

    Maybe because the story is so short, it is hard to accept the woman’s total devotion to this destructive diet–but, in fact, this story may be a great one to share with vulnerable teenagers!

  • Lucy Douglas

    I thought this was beautifully written and I really enjoyed it. I liked the structure and the way it tightened up as the seasons went on and her situation became more intense. It came over clearly that she was right and we’re all wrong, which is so true of eating disorders. But I do agree with Paul (who I think I keep agreeing with, hi Paul!) that the ending is little weak. My creative writing group is **** hot on strong beginnings and endings …

  • http://allotropiclucubrations.blogspot.com Walt Giersbach

    Elissa, great premise but confusing to me. Non-toxic food doesn’t have to be tasteless macrobiotics. I’m an organic locavore…and gaining weight…and writing. Pity, because hunger and pain make me write better.

  • J.C. Towler

    Put me in with the head scratching crowd, though I “got” the end. She’s waiting for her little plants to grow so she can eat them. I think.

    There’s a bit of disconnet in the story for me; the diet-hawker talks about toxins and bad food, but the MC’s health issue seems to be one of weight. (The clue being her concern about the calories). Dunno.

    Well written, though in a flash of this length I don’t know why we don’t get a name at some point.

    –John

  • Jen

    What a great examanation of how an eating disorder can get started. It doesn’t have to be much, just something simple that takes the person the wrong way. I also loved your attention to detail, the things going on at the background in the market and the scenery at the backyard barbecue.
    By the way, some people with eating disorders do get so thin that they grow fine hair all over their bodies in an effort to kep warm, that could be what the writer means by “fur.”

  • Bob

    Well written, but bad structurally. The ominous tone of the ending isn’t reflected or foretold in the beginning – I thought I was reading a nice bucolic slice-of-life story, which slid slowly into a cautionary tale / horror story. That’s not playing fair with the readers.

    And I still don’t know what she’s waiting for.

  • Sharon

    Bob: There’s nothing wrong with the structure. The story *does* begin carefree and end almost as horror. That’s the point. This young woman obviously has an addictive personality. If she’d been in an accident she’d likely have become hooked on the pain meds. Instead, she becomes obsessed with food, or the lack of it, to the point where her very life is in serious jeopardy–but she doesn’t see it.

    As a reader, I found the story quite…satisfying.

  • Emilia

    She’s waiting for her new self, as promised. I loved this story because of how much it resonated with me. The woman is always hungry, not only because she hardly eats, but because she’s looking for something to fill her life, a passion, some meaning, something to give her hope. She goes to the farmers’ market hungry, which is why she gobbles up the man’s promises so eagerly. But it doesn’t work. She becomes even less of who she really is, literally shrinking away. But there’s a sliver of hope, symbolized by the small green sprouts. Whether they do reach the light is, of course, unknown.

  • Margie

    Wait for what??????

  • Dani

    I liked how this story progressed through the seasons, and I found it quite effective as both a cautionary tale and an elegant glimpse into neurosis.

    The only thing I didn’t care for (and this is simply my personal opinion) was the bizarre grammar structure … phrases like as well as the complete lack of commas (yet double end punctuation) in

    I know I’m being nit-picky, but such things make me stumble when I read them, and I find myself stopping continually, very much aware of the writer (and their technique) rather than the story. I wanted to stay interested in the story, but I felt as if those elements kept kicking me out.

  • jennifer walmsley

    I thought the story flowed and enjoyed the language. I don’t think the woman needs to be named.

    Great descriptions of vegetables that achived a good sense of place, colours and smells.

    The story drew me on until the end; an ending that leaves the reader to understand that MC will waste away in her attmept to find herself.

    A good lesson in obsessive behaviour that stem from a person’s dislike of themselves and their minor imperfections that grows out of all proportion.

  • http://www.cocktailfiction.wordpress.com CathrynG

    I agree with Emilia, the story resonated with me and I’m left with a similar response.

  • http://www.shelleydayton.com Shelley

    Marvelous!! The attention to detail…just the few that catch your eye…give the story so much life. I’d like to see more from this author.

  • Casey

    This story is absolutely beautiful….so well written. I wish i could give it a 10! Good job!!

  • snwright

    I like this story. I don’t know why. It’s like having an ugly dog, that enjoys being petted. The critics are too concrete: why this, why that, what’s the real meaning? There are no real meanings. They should build model airplanes and stop concerning themselves with words. This story was a very good portrait of a person. I liked the person. Should there be more?

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