For a year my friend paints only vegetables. While I work on alpine landscapes she traces the fine hairs on a runner bean.
I drop by one day, uninvited, and there they are: portraits of smiling capsicums and glossy aubergines arm-in-arm, stacked up against the door frame and spread across the walls. Accusatory, as if they know what I ate for dinner last night. I edge back out into the hallway.
When I ask her why, she holds a painting of a disgruntled zucchini up in front of my face. “How could I not is the question,” she says and rattles off a twisting trail of reasons – extinction of bees, global warming, plastic gyres.
The next time I visit she seems much the same. The vegetables are not. Each is misshapen in its own way – unsymmetrical, blemished by sun or rain. She has positioned them so that their defects are more prominent.
“I saved them,” she says and her face glows crisply.
As I tuck into steak and salad that night, I picture her in her studio talking earnestly to a sunburnt capsicum. It will have a name, Grace or Ella perhaps.
The Saint of Defected Vegetables. A saint of something I guess is better than nothing at all.
By winter she is down to a select group of produce, her belt a notch tighter. It is too cold to sit outside but she insists, tells me of her new fear of markets as she leads me out to the garden.
“A deformed potato might catch my eye. Once I’ve drawn them I can no longer eat them,” she explains.
She makes me tea and triangles of bread with butter. Usually there is slice of tomato but not today. Instead an empty plate, waiting for something.
Rachel Smith lives and writes in the Cook Islands. Her flash and short fiction, and poetry, has been published in print and online journals in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. She was placed second in 2017 NZ National Flash Fiction Day and is the fiction editor for takahē. Twitter: @rachelmsmithnz1 | Website: rachelmsmithnz.wix.com/rachel-smith.
Image: ‘Moody Tomato’ by Judith Kunzle