Onion Man

Hey folks, below is a sneak peak at a short story in three parts that I wrote. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Two colors of onions

“Meet my husband Gabriel. He is an onion connoisseur,” she would say as a way to introduce me to anyone and everyone who would listen. When she smiled, she was unforgettable, and rightfully so. She simply had to smile and she already had an audience. She was one of the most delicate people you could have met, my wife was. She was graced with equal parts grace and beauty, just the very perfect dosage, with dimples that barely formed on her right cheek when she smiled.

Oh, she always found odd jobs, and had so far been a shop assistant selling rabbit fur gloves, a model for deodorant, a glass cleaner for tall buildings, and an accountant for an Indian dance club. Through this random array of various jobs, seven years of living together passed quickly, while he won fellowship and research scholarships that continued to fund his forays into the world before they came to London’s glittering river side, full of optimisms.

She had long known that she wanted to write, but when the opportunity had presented itself to work in a publishing firm as a sub-editor, she declined and told me, “But I cannot imagine doing anything with such a grandiose arc, when I have to take care of us too.”

I had not felt burdened by the fact that we were each silently moving towards abstract goals in our heads, which accompanied us on walks into grocery shops to pick out asparagus and mushrooms and baby spinach for this very party, as well newly mulled wine and cheese platters extraordinaire, but in reality, she took care of me in the silent way that she had always had. Somehow, this silence, which had always been reassuring, was now starting to irk me.

It is true though that I get sick a lot these days. Damn those cigarettes. Somehow I can’t seem to get off them, and the sheer stolen pleasure of a puff or two creates a balance for the day. Nicotine is so much poison. Blackening and yet desirable.

She was never flustered. In the many years that I have known her, she has never screamed at me, for example.

My wife has never had a problem finding admirers. They swarm her as flies swarm a dead body.

Of course, she is unimaginable in such a grotesque manner as a corpse, but they did swarm her everywhere we went.

They would come up to her and excuse themselves, and then pester on with their singular resolve to interest her in silks and spices at the markets, a free pair of earrings by this artist couple at Spitalfields market even one time. She wore the earrings like a badge of the respect that strangers gave her. She never took them off.

They were small glass vials filled with the tiniest golden beads and silver flecks of what I speculated where scraps of aluminum, but which she insisted were not so mediocre.

Clear glass, corked with original wooden corks, pastel background walls.

Sometimes, when we lay down in bed, she would wonder about how long it had taken the artist couple to make this particular pair of bottle earrings. They sold these bottle earrings for years before the couple fell out with each other, and thus the earrings were discontinued from the weekend market.

Gabriela was dressed now in a lavender sundress with large yellow and white printed flowers. Her smile was crooked as she introduced me to her latest admirer. To my utmost surprise, I found that it was, for once, a female.

Shirah, the woman I was being introduced to, said politely, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

I nodded. These conversations were usual at the dinner parties and the soirees that we attended.

“Oh, yes, you must read his latest. It is a wonderful testimony to the arts of ribollita and soupe a l’oignon.”

“I’m really not that into onions,” Shirah said.

Red onion slices

Red onion slices (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was silent.

“Oh dear, then I guess the shallot vinaigrette dipped over the fresh fisherman’s lettuce, oranges and pine nuts is out for the night?” my wife said.

“Well, if you insist.”

My wife excused herself in search of the waiter who was supposed to be walking around, but was nowhere to be found in the cursory look I took of the lawns. Then I turned back to this Shirah woman.

Shirah was a tall and skinny brunette with a flared black dress tapered at the waist. We were at a gallery opening, drinking chardonnay and admiring the works of a photography obsessed with depicting herself as a means of providing a lens of looking out into the landscape.

The artist’s face was not even captivating, and I wondered why she would not have exaggerated her features for effect. The landscapes were of her looking dully, like a doll, out into the landscape.

I was very bored with the work, and said so right now to Shirah, “It’s like she discovered that Ana Mendieta existed, and decided to copy everything. What a ridiculous insult to the installation artists of the 60s and 70s. I bet Mendieta is cringing in her grave in shock and disgust,” I said.

The entire exhibit seemed a bit forced to me. You had to enter the building in a non-descript mechanical elevator, and into a confined hundred by hundred feet of open space, but one which was devoid of all but artificial light, as it was surrounded by the taller buildings that had come up just next door.

The artist’s work was filled with mediocre articulations, perfect replicas of the Silueta series introduced by the Cuban artist. My mind was ingesting the ice, fire, water, pebbles, petals, sands and leaves that had been used to leave an imprint on the landscape, with the pop quality and poorly generated computer graphic of Sula’s face. Sula, the artist, the legendary ridiculous waste of two hours of my life.

“Only a novice makes references to herself,” Shirah said.

“What a splendid notion,” I thought, as I looked at this woman’s depictions of being tied to a railway track with a night train approaching, her illuminated shadows contoured over like a graphic novel. Just a silhouette of leaves the length of her body tied to the railway tracks of course, the body missing, except for the face. She seemed rather neurotic, I thought, as we moved onto the next painting, where she seemed to be gazing out of a train window- or rather, just her face, along with a silhouette created out of blue metallic rods. The lines were drawn like a child who has just discovered oils and has not learned the techniques of mixing or creating contours through applying different types of skin.

Inwardly, I was making calculations about the perfect harmony of the yellow onions of Parma when mixed in with baby papayas, two crushed pieces of garlic and chili flakes. Thankfully, Shirah did not seem to mind, and we moved slowly along the room, looking at various paintings as we waited for my wife to come back.

My heirloom seeds had just started budding, and I was about to harvest four onions. I had been waiting for the day for three months. Four pounds of an excellent Italian heirloom, and I wondered how they would taste with chives sprinkled over a bed of goat cheese and arugula.

You can imagine it, and you would not be far from the truth when you guessed that we ate a lot of onions. I liked to try different cuisines. My latest obsession was Indian.

Fish curries of pomfret and red snappers and tilapia and catfish, doused with generous onion-based gravies, cilantro and ginger simmered in sautéed onions, with hints of garlic and sprigs of- you guessed it- spring onions, and a potted mint plant, to have the freshest options available. I had daringly pared the meal with sharpened manchego bought from a farm in the Pyrennes. The guests seemed to like the fares well enough, but I did realize that although everyone invited claimed to eat seafood, Shirah had not touched anything.

Her tall, lean figure and gaunt cheekbones gave way to an array of carefully clipped curls, the kind you get when you forget to shake out the waves after you take the curlers out.

golden sweet onions

golden sweet onions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I must say, your fame in the field of onions is absolutely riveting. I have heard so much about the softness of your rice soubise. My mother in law often quotes your passionate eulogical testimony calling to preserve the Southport Red Globe,” Shirah said, without batting her eyelashes.

“You are quite the onion man. I must say, I admired your cookbook, so bravely written,” she said.

My heart swelled with the joy I felt whenever my work was brought up.

“I cannot wait to come see your greenhouse. My mother-in-law also swears by your sesame and scallion pancakes, and she animatedly continues to quote your dissertation about the need to preserve the Southport Red Globe. It’s such a shame that they are so difficult to come by, wouldn’t you say?”

“Ah yes, I do recommend the Early Yellow Globe as a lovely substitute. The color is different. Sesame and scallion pancakes can work well enough with this variety too.”

My wife had insisted I rest after preparing the other elements of the meal she took on making my onion heavy special creamy sauce with portobello mushrooms dipped in artichokes along with spinach tortillas, mozzarella with cherry tomatoes cut in half and sprinkled with just the right hints of oregano, on the side. We had been invited to cater for this event, but with the wonderful work that was being done by our waiters who were expertly carrying little petite fours around the room on silver trays, I was convinced our work was done.

Gabriela had just come back when I said to her, “Honey we should go.”

“Oh, but I was just about to invite Shirah over to our house. To come test out your latest harvest.

I see.

Oh yes, I remember how I had begun to look for other placements within eight days of this woman Shirah arriving into our lives. How can I forget. It was because she uttered the next words.

Later on of course, I would grow to articulate that I hated the way she always spoke of grace and wealth and the people she had met and seen, the stars and actresses and singers who apparently had followed her through Hollywood and Bollywood and simply everywhere indeed, after she had won a reality television show with her ballet and landed up in Los Angeles, something about tinseltown remained imprinted on her face, in the most plastic manner, but the very first moment was when Shirah giggled and said, “Oh yes, I look forward to seeing you again, Mr. Onion Man.”

In the background right now Bruce Springsteen’s “O Mary Don’t You Weep” came rolling out of out of my laptop’s speakers. The previous song had been “Janey, Don’t You Weep.” I mentally calculated how many Springsteen songs were in my computer.

Seventeen more Springsteen songs.

My wife was strangely attuned to music in a manner that all her behavioural patterns seemed to emerge precisely from the tone set by the musicians she was listening to on a particular day.

Seventeen more songs.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I must do something about the music.”

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