Everyone worked together on the watermelons. The men pulled out the plastic tarp and spread it over the field. After several days and with their wives behind them, the men pulled the tarp back. A single, great waft of baked earth rose and swept through the town and up into the mountains stirring the harpies in their nests.
The women walked in the men's footsteps sewing watermelon seeds in the hot dirt. The maidens tiptoed behind them draping a fine mesh net over the soil to keep the beetles and the borers off the seedlings. The men walked their women back to town but the maidens came and went throughout the season. A married maid never returned. They would come back to the melon patch as quite different women next season.
The fruits grew for months. The lightest on their feet, the maidens raised the net for the vines to ramble. The fairest left their sentry duties first. The comely ones never saw the watermelons. Even the average girls were gone by mid-summer so the fruit ripened to only a few homely girls. When the sentries could no longer judge watermelon ripeness by sight, the maidens had to taste the fruit to be absolutely certain. The first watermelon they broke open was not big enough. The plain maidens rotated the fruits in the field. The fruits' underbellies filled out immediately. The maidens tasted a second watermelon. It was not yet sweet enough to their liking. A further few days in the sun passed. They tried the third watermelon and it was just right. The juices from the one bite that each maiden took sealed her lips up tight. One of them, and it never mattered whom since they were all very plain and now dumb, gave a note to the town crier that the watermelons
The women who planted the seeds came back to the field with their husbands' hammers. The
dumb maidens picked and piled the watermelons by the apparatus at the edge of the field for
them. All the married ones stood at the head of the apparatus and smashed the fruit. The
watermelon juice ran down special made channels and hardened into string in the sun. When all
the watermelons were destroyed, each woman helped herself to a piece of fruit because her labor
was hard. The fruit made their voices sweet when they sang to the harpies. They swooped down
from the mountains and picked up the strings. The harpies flew up to the heavens and tied the
strings to the skies so the children could crawl up and have a place to play for Indian Summer.
The homely maidens had no voices to cajole the harpies. They were taken back to the nests and
reared to become the future.
Everyone needed a break from potatoes so the men got going pulling the tubers out of the earth.
The youngest men lugged the potatoes that the older ones pulled out to a spot the oldtimers
picked and they made a great pile. But shortly after the mound was made the work passed to the
women. Their Potato Mountain changed the landscape entirely.
The women put down the tools and rested the wheelbarrows. They followed their husbands into
the Mountain where everyone enjoyed a bit of its shade from one craggy outcrop or another. The task fell to Q. She knelt in the dirt of the first row. She put her hand down the potato hole and felt
root. Q gave it a good tug. The underground stem easily gave way without the potato attached. Q
pulled and pulled. Then she cut this one to be the guide. She stood and walked along the rest of
potato row pulling the rest of the stem to match it. Q draped these lengths over her shoulder and
carried them until she reached the end. She left all but one in a heap. It was the guide for the next
row. And so on until sunset.
Q scrambled into the hammock strung between the only two trees in the field. Sitting in it, she
ate most of something she brought from home before the sun went down. Q pulled her feet inside
and dropped her remaining supper on the ground. The beetles emerged and took the remains with
them into the field. They tilled the soil overnight.
The morning dew evaporated with the first light of day and, without water to drink, the beetles
retreated. Q looked over the edge of the hammock. She got out when they were all gone. She
distributed the heaps of root back on top of the rows. When all of the potato stems were laid out
Q returned to the beginning and picked up the first root. She knelt in the dirt and held the root
high above her head. With two hands Q brought it down and stabbed the earth. The root stiffened
into a stalk. The ground hardened all around its base keeping it upright. There was a rumbling up
on Potato Mountain as husbands and wives shifted in their chairs to see what was happening in
the field down below. Q went onto the next and so on stabbing roots until the field was full of
It came from the salad. The beetles stirred Q's supper evenly into the soil so each stalk had its
own piece. The stalks absorbed them for they were quite thirsty in the sun. The salad transmitted
to the stalks. Q stood at the top of the green field. Her work was not quite done. A loose potato
rolled off the Mountain and struck Q in the back of her head. The potato knocked her hair loose.
It flew into the field and was caught on the stalks. The husbands and wives rose from their chairs
and came down from the Mountain to harvest the corn. Q was staked to keep the crows off the
Old Man Winter howled outside. Q watched from the tower high up on the hill. A dozen robins
refuged in the tree below. The front door of an apartment swiftly closed behind a four-poster bed
that washed into the street. The water carried it right beneath the tree with the robins. The drain
took the water to the river.
The bed linens fluttered a bit in the cold wind. The robins fanned their wings in the updraft from
the bed. Old Man Winter came along through the tunnel the brownstones created and beat
against the robins’ breasts until their bellies were frozen. The dozen fought the Old Man to drop
their wings to their sides. When they did the robins broke the red ice off their breasts. Red
crystals fell on the bed linens below.
A maiden walked up the hill. Weary from her walk, she rested on the bed and made the sheets
hot with her body. The red ice melted and seeped into her hair. A handsome man was called away from work and so he, too, took up the hill. When he reached the bed, the maiden was just
the redhead he was looking for.
A dozen swallows alighted and scratched at the bed linens after they left.
There came to be one ugly tree up on Alban Hill. The dang thing suddenly dropped it leaves
baring the beehives that clogged the branches. The exposed queens of the beehives met on a
common branch and devised a plan. The queens returned to their areas of administration and
ordered their hives to gather green nectar. The bees alighted; the queens waited and so passed the
day. The honeybees returned at dusk with green nectar on their backs and hovered outside their
hives with the last of the day’s light waiting for their queen to assign them to a position on a
Once seated the bees secreted royal jelly from their mouths and, to keep from filling up their
small cheeks, pulled it out in continuous strands. At dawn the honeybees tacked the end of their
jelly ropes to the tree. With the other end still in their mouths, the bees jumped off their
branches. Millions of jelly ropes tightened at once suspending the bees about an inch and a half
from the tree limbs. The queens flicked their wings in their hives. This signaled the breezes.
They came and spun the bees so their bodies blurred into the green nectar across their backs. The
tree was no longer defoliated. The ugly tree up on Alban Hill disappeared.
Sometimes the green nectar dried and fell off in the sun. Or else the bees were hungry. In either
case, the bees spat their jelly ropes out and the ornamental leaves became honeybees again. At
first, the voids were intermittent like the wind blew the leaves backward. The local supply
waned, the bees travelled further for green pollen and the voids lasted.
One of honeybees heard it from a bumblebee who lived in the old rose bush. The honeybee
reported to his queen who shared with the others on a common branch, a house with an open
window. The queens returned to their hives and ordered the honeybees to pick up the broken
mirror. The honeybee who heard it from a bumblebee led the way and was the first to pick up a
shard of mirror. The pile on the living room floor was swiftly born across the bees' backs. They
carried the mirror to their branch position and secreted royal jelly for the last time. In the
morning they tacked one end to the tree and the other to the mirror. When the light was just right
the honeybees kicked their mirrors over the edge and season of the woods around them up on
Alban Hill was forever reflected onto their tree.
After many days the lone fisherman came to a spot on the ocean. He set the dumper in the stern
of the boat to automatic. It unloaded his ship's Long Island Potatoes in the water. In the
meantime, the fisherman leaned over the bow and pulled the fishes from the area into the boat.
He balanced his ship and created more room in the water for the potatoes.
The boat was not anchored and so it drifted in a circle about the spot. Man and machine worked
to keep the potatoes coming. The dumper may have been automatic but it was not exact. It never
picked up the same amount of potatoes. Sometimes the dumper picked up more potatoes and so
the distribution was thicker in those places. That the boat set this unburdening to motion, a potato
ring rose above sea level.
The fisherman left a ring on a spot in the ocean when he'd collected all the fishes from the area
and the dumper unloaded every last potato. He returned to port and never went back out on the
water. The Long Island Potatoes absorbed the salt at the spot on the ocean making fresh water in
the middle of the ring. The winds brought grass and tree seeds finishing the heap into an island.
The boatload was enough fish for a lifetime. The fisherman told his son about the Long Island
Potatoes so when he turned eighteen the son went to sea with a commercial fishing fleet. They
motored for days passing the spot headed to tuna waters.
The fisherman's son jumped overboard on the way back. He swam for shore until the water was
shallow enough that his feet touched the bottom. Then he started to walk. The fisherman's son
felt potato. He picked one out of the water and left it out on the land to bake.
He built a house with all the wood on the island. He went freshwater fishing in the middle and
shingled his house with his catch's scales. Then he ate his potato and went indoors with a full
stomach. The house the fisherman's son built jumped into the ocean and drowned its occupant.
RAINBOW SUGAR TEA
Dad sat at the head of the table and waited for his family to join him. When all his other
daughters brought men to supper, he sent Q to see his mother.
Granny made very special tea just for her grandchildren. So even though she was no longer
small, Q was sent over to tea. The task was the same. Granny opened the screen door and asked
her nicely to go out in the backyard. Q walked through that back door and Granny pulled out her
hair tie. She jogged the perimeter of Granny’s lawn. Her flaxen hair waved in the breeze she
created running and caught the rainbow's attention. Q was still too tiny for the rainbow to make
out from so far away so the rainbow drew close to the yard to get a better look. Granny reached
up in the sky and ripped off a piece for their tea. The rainbow went away.
Granny changed the rainbow into crystals with the mortar and pestle from the cupboard. Then
she called Q back inside. Q tied her hair back as Granny poured hot water from the kettle into
two cups. Both women sat down on opposite sides of the kitchen table and watched the crystals
vanish when Granny dropped a spoonful of it in each cup. Tea ruined rainbow sugar but it sure
Granny was first to pick up her cup. She held it to her lips and blew across the top. The surface
froze. Granny blew across it again. Her second breath broke the ice and blew it across the table.
The crystals caught the light on their way into Q’s face casting rainbows on the kitchen walls. Q
opened her mouth and caught them. Granny exhaled over her cup until all her tea was gone filling Q's mouth with rainbow crystals. Granny reached across the table with her tea spoon and
spun the sugar round Q's mouth. She pulled out long hanks of cotton candy and sealed it in a
plastic bag. Granny gave it all to Q and told her to put the bag under her pillow.
Q hadn't touched her tea.
The first time Q tried to get to the island she got as far as the submerged tree. Her rowboat took
on water as she passed its green canopy. Q recovered onto a low branch just above the water.
There the water lapped gently against her legs while just beyond the tree her boat sank to the
bottom. When she was ready Q swam back to where she started from. She climbed onto the dock
and sunbathed until she was more than dried off. Q went looking for another way to the island.
The land ran away from the island so Q was actually getting farther and farther away. The
lakeside houses got better and better. Q liked the one with the beach roses and the one with large
tomato plants but her favorite house was the one with mint growing in its front yard.
Q could barely see the island over her left shoulder. She climbed easily over the stone wall and
ripped off a mint leaf. She was careful not to tug too hard. She did not want the whole plant. She
picked a few leaves and then a few more until she had so many that three slipped out of her
fingers on the breeze. They flew over the wall and landed right side up on the water.
Q went after her mint. She stumbled at the water's edge but did not fall in. Her right foot steadied
herself on the first mint leaf so Q deliberately stepped on the second leaf. The two leaves held Q
up and so did the third when she stepped on it. Q dropped a few more mint leaves from her
bundle. They landed faced up like the others, like all the others so Q just walked on leaves to the
island. When she reached the shore she crammed the rest of the mint into her pant's pockets.
Q stacked the firewood. She made a long line right down the middle of the island ending the turf
war between the bunnies and the grasshoppers. Before she left Q tied two leggy sticks to the
back of her boots. The spurs dispersed the mint highway as she went.
Back then they ate potatoes up where giants roam. The giant Cook invented mashed potatoes and
hired giant Lumberjack just to peel those potatoes.
Lumberjack sat on a heap in a three-walled room where a chute led directly to the Cook. With
the axe head in his right hand and the potato in his left, Lumberjack aimed the cutting edge away
from his body. He skinned straight down the potato only slightly lifting the blade at the end. The
flourish made the operation of the axe more fluid to bringing the axe back to the top of the
potato. The half-curled potato peel landed on the floor.
Lumberjack brought down his axe in a reciprocal motion at the top for the next potato peel. With
matching circular motions, he coiled both ends of the next and all following potato peels. The hoops flew off his axe and rolled out of the three-walled room. Lumberjack put the peeled
potatoes in the chute.
Far down below the potato room was the lovely wooded Alban Hill. Q hid from her boyfriend
behind one of its trees. He was quite close to finding her when the potato peels started falling
from the skies. The first hoop snake landed blowing out enough trees for a smooth landing. The
others dropped and rolled, deforesting farther and farther as they went on down Alban Hill. One
hoop snake smote Q’s boyfriend. Another hit the tree where Q crouched hiding. Splinters blinded
The clouds shifted so the hoop snakes landed somewhere else. Q sat down with the tree stump.
There is a magic stump at the top of Alban Hill where a lovely tree once stood. The grass does
not grow under foot around the stump or down the hill. The dead earth, instead, keeps the women
in line. Dirty bottom and all, Q sits by the stump and, with a quick swipe of her axe, very often
cuts off the top inch or so of wood.
There is a long line of women going down the hill and the routine is always the same. The
woman approaches and kneels before Q. She takes the small axe and marks the stump with how
many children she and her husband agreed to have. She carefully replaces the stylus in the same
spot, collects herself and pays the fee. Q runs her hand over the stump, counts the Braille and wipes the slate clean for the next woman with a large axe. And so on. So many women have
handled the grip that they’ve collectively left no impression. They are anonymous to the next one
in line and they have no premonition of the preceding ones either.
Nine months later a child is born.
But that is not all that’s up there on Alban Hill. Q has a bottomless jar of milk. Each woman
chooses a tooth for her birthright. She drops the tooth in the jar. It took a very long time for Q to
assemble a complete set. The women tend to pay with the same back teeth but one day she just
did. Q poured the milk out in the dirt and put the full set into her gums. She strung up the extra
teeth and hung the wind chime at a short distance from the stump on her large axe. She’d cleaned
the slate for the last time. Q sat back down in the dirt. The next young woman approached even
though she had no marks to make on the stump. They both heard the wind chime in the distance.
Q smiled and stood up. She bit that young woman's right head off. When the wind from the
chime arrived up at the stump, Q was Mary Poppin-ed away and the headless woman took up her
position at the stump.
Giant stirred her bowl. The soup writhed and slithered easily around her finger because it was
made of just one thing. The eels tasted fine so Giant put the bowl to her lips and strained the
soup through the gap in her front teeth. The eels continued single file down her throat, through
her stomach and out. She wrapped the head of the first eel around a spindle and refilled her bowl. Somewhere in Giant's intestines, the first eel in the next bowl linked up with the last eel from the
first bowl to continue the thread round the spindle, which she powered with a foot pedal. Her
hands kept the bowl full.
Giant ran out of soup when she had just the right amount of spindles for her loom. She threaded
the eels lengthwise in the warp and perpendicular in the weft so, in the very beginning, Giant
wove a great many eel blankets. She laid one blanket on top of another and, in the end, her stack
felted into a bed. The whole time Giant's lover built a raft of driftwood down on Shell Beach, the
path to which is right behind the Giant’s house. Giant easily carried the eel bed down to meet her
Giant walked over the slipper shells that have always covered the shoreline and for which the
beach gets its name, and set the bed on the raft. Her lover climbed on the bed before Giant set it
on the waves so his feet would not get wet. They went to sea. Giant walked the raft out until her
feet couldn't touch the ocean floor. She climbed aboard the raft and joined her lover on the bed.
But when she did, Giant broke the bed. The burst of eels washed her lover into the water and
pushed the raft further out to sea.