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Joe Potato

The winter was killing the farm. Not even the spiders had food. They shriveled up like the sucked dry carcasses already spun in their webs and fell to the floor gradually in little, silent breaths.

The man, Joe Potato, and his wife, Marjorie, were young while also being old. Their shirts were blue, like their neighbors and their boots were tan. Their hair was combed back to look shorter than it was. At night, they let it hang down freely in the farmhouse, not worried then about looking too frivolous or prideful of their manes.

Marjorie would pat out flat bread for the griddle as she undid her barrette. Or, begin patting out the bread in her mind, always a step ahead of herself with chores. Joe was less rushed, much like his family name perhaps. He was solid, but a bit sluggish. His skin was over white while Marjorie’s was the outside of the potato, a nice brown from the sun.

Any children they had would have been known as small fries, they both knew and somehow, their pride kept them from procreating. It was unspoken but true. They had both been teased as children, he for the obvious and she for a mole just above her lips. Neither wanted that for their own. Or, rather, perhaps, neither could imagine comforting a child each evening after school as they themselves had had to be comforted for over twelve years.

Joe, can you come help with the bread?

That summer had been fruitful. Literally. But then then snow had come early and hard and had shattered all plans of a nice potato harvest. They froze in the ground. Later, they were dug up for home use but were useless for the market or even for trade. They didn’t mind the mealiness themselves but others would.

They kept rabbits in the barn for times like these. They ate the meat themselves or bartered it with neighbors. A man down the road came on Saturdays to do chores just so he could eat a good midday meal with them. Marjorie felt it was the best he had all week and always sent him home with extras.

This week she was uncertain. A man working for food and she with none to give yet too embarrassed to phone him. The phone had been disconnected once due to her pride, her inability to tell the woman on the line that she needed to pay in installments, please.

She paid it in full two days later, but they had already incurred a large fee which they only just got paid off this summer. Joe’s pride was different. He more cared about his TV being polished and no dust on the window sills. That was it for him. Oh, and a swept clean step. That was it.

Can you run down and tell Chuck we can’t afford him this weekend?

He chewed his tobacco thoughtfully, with an eye toward the television. That boy hates me. He’ll just think I don’t want him around anymore after he talked to your sister like that.

No, he won’t. Go tell him we want him, we just can’t afford him this week. She knew it would be another month but she was trying to keep hope.

Oh, let him come. You can always find something.

There is nothing. Go tell him.

You made me ask for more credit at the market on Tuesday. Where did that go?

In your stomach. You can’t let him come here to work and go home with nothing.

He ignored her and went back to the television.

She eyed the door to the barn that connected through the laundry room. Her favorite rabbit had just had kits. To use her now would kill that litter too. They would need a few more weeks with her to get a good start.

She could hear their mewing through the door, though actually she couldn’t. They didn’t mew. Their faces looked like they would but they didn’t. The main sound they made or, really, that Patsy the mother rabbit made, was a low bark, just like a dog, when taken out of the crate unawares. Normally she liked to be picked up, in fact, the dog came and licked her though the wood. Patsy leaned into the dog’s licks the way you might a warm shower after a hot day. She would be a hard one to eat.

Joe, really. I need you to go down and talk to him. I can’t.

He flicked the channel and did not look up.

Really, I meant it. Go tell him. I can’t.

She wiped her hands on the apron. Both were still clean, she hadn’t started chopping yet. He twisted his neck a smidgen. Just enough to let her know she was being ignored, but good.

She went to the fridge. There was cauliflower that had greyed with mildew. She shaved the spots off and added some margarine to a pan and began dinner. She dug into her palm just a small bit with the knife. An indentation, no blood. She exhaled. She searched around the back of the fridge tile she found some peas as a treat for Patsy.

A penance for tomorrow’s duty. She could skin the babies and put them in the grinder for the dog, small bones and all. He would never eat his friends knowingly, but in a round bowl on the floor with warm water to make gravy, they would serve up fine.


Meriwether O’Connor is a farmer, short story writer and columnist.


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