Sweet Potatoes by Helen Hofling

It was still during the early years of flooding when I began to develop phantom protuberances. What a disorienting time. Geography was changing so quickly, people reacted in unexpected ways. I heard of some who became addicted to taking baths, others who got rashy when their skin was wet. The hobby industry exploded. That was when the ballroom dancing fad first caught on and you couldn’t go anywhere without someone trying to give you tango lessons or hawk foxtrot-themed espresso drinks. The fashionable diet of the day was to eat nothing but tomatoes, and tomato-based products. On television all that played were dancing competitions, ketchup commercials, and more news of the disaster—water water everywhere.

I myself discovered a mania for cut flowers. I’d long been a passionate home botanist, but before, bouquets had seemed to me morbid somehow, like displaying mummies or death masks; perhaps even cruel, a sacrifice of life for beauty. Suddenly I couldn’t get enough of them! I’d walk to the flower store, bring home an armload of well-seeded varieties, and arrange them carefully. That’s another thing that changed with me, when I was younger I found sunflowers distasteful. Their seeds displayed origins, earth, reproductive methods. I loved perfumed blossoms so sharp and delicate they could have been made from cut paper. Roses and lilies. The seeded ones were like their dirty cousins. As a child I scorned them as I did sweet potatoes, and raisin bread. I wanted something clean and perfect, something that concealed the dirt. I wanted something sweeter. Chocolate morsels, potato chips, pumpkin pie.  Then the rains came and my heart responded. I wanted the real thing. Vases exploded with sunflowers, Echinacea, and gerberas throughout my house.

My phantom protuberances were a separate but perhaps not unrelated affliction. My body’s response. They were misshapen and soft. They sprouted erratically from my trunk and all four limbs. The only thing ghostly about them was their invisibility. Some who felt my lumpen bulbs likened them to especially firm silicone breast implants. Lacking in sexual expertise, I had to take their word for it. Others, more disturbingly, said my protuberances felt like amputated stumps. You ought to keep some thoughts to yourself. To me they most resembled mushy root vegetables. My shape became so irregular I had to wear muumuus. No way I was going to squeeze into a leotard and take up tap dancing. Not even close. When my muumuus were in the laundry I cut a hole in the center of a marinara-stained tablecloth and wore it like a poncho, topping off my look with a winning beret. Thankfully, my head was free from the plague.

The protuberances weren’t all bad. They stripped away my sinful vanity and gave me a special affinity for camels. And I don’t want to be unfair here, they distracted from the rising waters and mutating coasts, installing a personal event with which to mark the era.  However, fact is, they threw me off balance. They wiggled, disturbing my aerodynamic adjustment as I walked back and forth from the flower store under heavy rains. I toppled over and a stampede of waltzers danced over my lumpy body. Seeds flew everywhere! A new field began.

Helen Hofling is a writer, editor, collage artist, and part-time nanny. Her work appears (or soon will) in Barrow StreetHobartPrelude Magazine, and PANK. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her girlfriend and two reckless cats.

Which historical rebel does Helen wish had been a literary writer, and why? “I’d like to read a novel by Emma Goldman, who famously said ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.’ I’ve been stuck on these words since my friend first quoted them to me years ago, I think they have the potential for wide application. For example, if I can’t dance with a book of fiction, I don’t know if I particularly want to read it. When a writer finds joyful movement within their plays of language, even a little breathlessness, that’s when I feel gripped and changed by reading, when I surrender myself willingly to a new world. In a sense I think there’s something revolutionary in all novels, the reader hops on another planet and experiences a new path of orbit, or revolution, around the sun. Maybe in the novels I love best, there is an added tier of revolution—the reader prances still further out, revolves around a different star.”

Art — Aleksandra Apocalisse was born in the USSR, from which her family fled when she was only 6 years old. She spent most of my childhood and young adulthood in Brooklyn, New York until she moved to Portland, Oregon in 2015. There, she is living the dream; spending the days outside with my dog, playing in the dirt, hanging out with plants, and expressing her dreams and innermost musings through art. She also loves animals, reading, learning about nature, getting lost in music, and traveling to tropical jungles.

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