The Things They Ate

by Margaret Jones

The birds ate the seeds, and Olive ate the birds. My friends had goats, and I ate yogurt we made from their milk, but after they stopped milking I ate Nancy’s Organic Plain with sliced bananas imported from Costa Rica or Guatemala or Honduras or Panama, stirred with peanut butter I ground in the bulk grinder at New Seasons Market, The Friendliest Store in Town, where, when it got hot, the cashiers smoked weed in the walk-in freezers, and they closed early on the 4th of July so that everybody could barbecue, and you could eat freely from the bulk bins—Please Use Tongs, Not Hands, the laminated signs read. The yogurt came in 32oz plastic tubs that said Re-use Me! in orange cursive on their sides, so I re-used them to store leftovers of other foods I ate, or re-used them to transport cooking scraps from the sink to the compost pile out back beside the chicken coop.

In the summer, I ate with Em and Baker in the backyard around a wooden table that was cracked and crooked from being left in the rain. We ate big salads—greens from the farmer’s market, where Em and Baker worked on Saturdays; cold farro or quinoa from an old yogurt container in the fridge; raisins and toasted sunflower seeds; a dressing of good balsamic vinegar and preserved lemons made by Baker’s mother in California—rotating our chairs to keep our backs in the sun and our faces in the shade. We would gossip, though not much ever happened.

On a day in July, we were gossiping about an artist I had dated, who had left in the winter and returned a few weeks earlier with a pregnant fiancé.

“But how pregnant?” Em  asked Baker.

“Pregnant-pregnant,” said Baker, reaching for the wooden salad tongs.  Baker was the tallest and thinnest; she ate oatmeal for breakfast with cream and dried figs, cinnamon and brown sugar. Em and Baker didn’t eat gluten, but Baker still ate special gluten-free bread, made from rice flour. She ate it toasted, with salted butter. She was the only one of us who had met the fiancé, because Em never went out and I was avoiding places that the artist and the fiancé might be.

“Oh,” I said.

“And you still haven’t heard from him,” Em said, leaning back into her chair. Her plate was pushed into the middle of the table, out of her reach. Her small face was smooth and tanned; her body compact from daily yoga and clean living. Em was the oldest, in her late thirties, and ate handfuls of nuts or seeds while she worked in her studio, salad for lunch, and for dinner a Japanese sweet potato. If I was home in the early evening, I would hear Em come down from her studio to put the sweet potato, which had purple skin and pale, yellow flesh, in the oven; soon after, the smell of caramelizing sugar.

Of the three, I was the youngest and plumpest. I ate yogurt and apples and salads all day, and then, willpower exhausted, made someone go to Happy Hour with me. My friends and I knew the places with $3 well drinks and half-priced appetizers—Thai-style barbecued wings or Kobe beef sliders, herbed French fries tossed in truffle oil.

“No,” I said, and there was a sound from the other end of the yard, where the chickens were fenced in. Olive, the black cat, had slinked past the coop and was headed for the wooden table. She had something in her mouth.

“Is that a—”

“Oh, fuck, Olive—”

“Olive!”

Olive, who was skittish even when no one was paying attention to her, dropped it on the ground next to me, and darted beneath the wheelbarrow.

I got up and squatted beside it.

“Is it alive?” Baker asked.

“It’s fucked up,” I said. The bird was lying on one wing. Its eyes were closed, and its free wing, black flecked with gold, was spasming.

“I should kill it,” I said.

“I’m just gonna like, drop a rock on top of it,” I said. I felt very calm, cleaned out on the inside. Of the three of us, I was the best one to kill the bird. I had once seen my roommate’s orange tabby get hit by a car, and had knelt beside him, in the street, while he convulsed and then went still. I had tried to clean his fur, but had only succeeded in staining the white parts pink.

“I’m going inside,” said Em.

A rock was not actually going to do it. I scanned the yard, and spotted a short row of rough-edged cinderblocks, which propped up pots of dried basil and marjoram. I lifted one; it was heavy enough.

“Do you need help?” asked Baker, who was still standing behind her chair, the table between her and the bird.

“It’s okay.” The bird was still twitching. Olive was still crouched under the wheelbarrow, watching.

The artist’s return with the pregnant fiancé had been anticipated by weeks of gossip. I had tried to prepare for his arrival by eating less; I had seen pictures of the fiancé on the internet, and she was very thin. At Happy Hour, my girlfriends had shaken their heads and said things like, “Aren’t you glad it wasn’t you?” as if the artist had been bound to get someone pregnant; as if I had dogged a bullet.

I hoisted the block over the bird, glad that its eyes were closed. My breath caught in my throat, and I let go. The block hit the ground, and Olive, startled by the sound, shot out from beneath the wheelbarrow.

Baker brought out an old yogurt container. We sealed the bird inside of it, to keep Olive, or a raccoon, from digging it out of the trash.

Margaret Jones is a 20-something student of nonfiction at The New School. Her work can be found in Meatpaper and on Twitter.

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