Written during a Lighthouse workshop in 2017.
Mona and I grew up together in a field outside of Fresno. She was in my row. We first noticed each other in late January or early February, and we hit it off. She used to call me the ‘tall orange one’, which was funny because it was dark as dirt down there in the sandy loam, and you couldn’t see any colors. And I was pretty sure she was growing faster than I was.
For the next couple of months, we’d spend the warm days just talking and being bored and the cool nights soaking up the wetness that seeped down from the sprinklers above. We didn’t really talk to any of the others in our row.
Mona hated the really hot days. The hot sand made you itch like mad, and you were helpless about it. “Get me out of this hell,” she’d say, but all you could do was wait for it to cool off at night. We had no idea that a worse hell called refrigeration was waiting for us.
Starting in the middle of March, occasionally, one of the others would just suddenly disappear without warning – plop – and leave an elongated hole that slowly re-filled with soil from above until it seemed as if they’d never been there. One day we heard a loud rumbling somewhere above us. It sounded different from the sprayers we’d had to endure every couple of weeks. The noise got louder and louder, and everything started to shake. There was screaming from further up the row. Suddenly huge blades sliced through the dirt within inches of us, and something lifted us up. There was a flash of blue and green. A huge, noisy thing was wrenching us from the soil by our tops. Mona was still next to me, a clump of dirt keeping us together. The machine kept pulling us along and slammed us against a series of metal rollers thunk, thunk, thunk until the dirt that held us together came loose and fell away.
I was still being pulled up and up toward the blinding blue. Ahead of me, there was something whirring and glinting in the sun. I could make out green tops flying to one side and orange bodies disappearing into a chute on the other side. I yelled for Mona, but there was no way off this roller coaster. Soon I was falling end over end down that chute. I landed in a bin on top of hundreds of others. I didn’t know where Mona was.
I was inside that bin for hours, with more and more of the others falling on top of me as the machine kept slashing and mauling its way across the field. At the end of the day, when the bin was full, the machine veered off toward a building and dumped all of us into a giant holding tank. There were millions of us in there. I called out for Mona. Everyone was calling out names or else whispering desperate prayers.
The next day, we were scooped up in batches, and there were more blades. Choppers, peelers, slicers, sorters. Some of the others were cut into neat, uniform sticks. A few unlucky bastards got julienned. I got lucky, just a chlorine bath and a light shave. Then a machine stuffed me and about a dozen others into a plastic bag labeled “Medium, 2 lbs” and boxed us up with a bunch of other bags. A forklift wheeled us into a huge fridge. I felt so cold and alone. I wished for dirt. I longed for Mona.
Then a miracle happened. Somehow Mona was in the bag with me! She stirred and smiled and said, “What are you doing in the medium bag, tall orange one?” God, I had missed her. In that bag inside of that box, we talked quietly for the rest of the night about blades and sand and warmth. She said, “it’s going to be OK.”
The next morning all of the boxes were loaded on a truck, and for two days, there was only the noise and smell of the road. Then we were unloaded into yet another fridge, then out to a well-lit cooler in the produce aisle next to the parsley. That same afternoon someone picked up our bag of “Medium, 2 lbs”, turned us over a few times, and tossed us into their cart. An hour later, we’re in another refrigerator. At least Mona was there. It was going to be OK.
But it wasn’t OK. An hour later, they took our bag out of the fridge, ripped it open, and took out four of the others, including Mona. I remained in the bag on the counter. I heard the worst sound in the world, the shick, shick, shick of a peeler. They hadn’t gotten to Mona yet. I yelled, “roll away!” She shouted back, “I love you!” and again I heard shick, shick, shick and then silence. I heard wine being poured into a glass, and then thwack, thwack, thwack, and everything was over. I couldn’t bear it. I would have spent a thousand years in a freezer to save Mona. I awaited my turn, but eventually, they threw the bag back into the drawer in the fridge.
I grieved for Mona in the dark. Days went by, then weeks. Then in about the first week of June, they finally took our bag out of the drawer. The nine of us were not in great shape. They gave us a quick squeeze and a sniff and tossed us directly into the trash. What a waste, but at least it was warmer in here.
The following Tuesday, we got rolled out to the curb and then heaved up and decanted into yet another truck. We rumbled off and bounced around for the rest of the day before; at sunset, our truck backed up to a cliff, tilted its back end up, and sent our bag of “Medium, 2 lbs” down the cliffside along with fifteen tons of garbage. We tumbled for a long time until we landed with a thud next to half a salmon and a crumpled pair of underwear (Medium).
I miss Mona. Maybe somewhere below this giant blister of garbage, there is some earth, a sandy field where we can meet again and talk and be bored on the warm days.