Friday Flash: Root Baby

She was dangling at the end of carrot leaves clutched in Jane’s fist, a tiny dirt baby. On her knees in the garden, Jane stared at the doll-like face covered in dark soil; halfway expecting it to inhale and start crying, while knowing this would be impossible. However, when wet bubbles began to form on the bottom lip, it rattled Jane to the core and she almost dropped the creature.  She fell back in the damp soil, still keeping tight grip on those carrot leaves. Opening her eyes, she confirmed she hadn’t gone insane. The baby was there, still swinging in the air.

“Impossible.”  Jane lowered her into the basket, on top of the three or four carrots she had already plucked from the soil. Removing her gloves, she wiped the soil from its eyelids. They fluttered at her touch. Then she brushed the dirt from its neck and chest. Its skin was almost translucent, tinged yellow in the sunlight; thin fibers on its arms and legs glistened as it became animated, opening and closing tiny fists, kicking tiny toes. Jane brushed back the leaves from its forehead, in awe.

Then, in a flurry of fear she crawled, plucking out row after row of carrots, imagining other root babies entombed in fertilized soil. But, thankfully, this was the only one. When Jane peeked back into the basket, the eyes were open. It was staring at her quietly with eyes the color of the sun.

“Marge? Hi, this is Jane. Listen, I have a problem.”

“Okay.”

Jane sat at the kitchen table, the root baby still in the basket of carrots, staring quietly back at her. The smell of damp soil permeated the air.

“You know how I was telling you this spring I couldn’t afford Pureorganics seeds?”

“Oh no, Jane, you didn’t buy that genetically modified crap did you?”

“Well…yes. I figured, well how bad could it be, really. Right?”

“So,” Marge sighed, “how bad is it?”

“It’s…it’s alive,” Jane whispered. “And staring at me. I don’t know what to do with her.”

There was a long silence.

“Do you need a recipe?”

“What!” Jane sat up in her chair. “No! I can’t…can’t eat her. She looks human!”

“So, what are you going to do? Raise her and send her off to college? Jane, listen, you grew her in your garden, for food. You plucked her out of the dirt, she…it, is obviously not human. So, what’s the problem?”

Jane was feeling frantic. “What’s the problem? She has eyes, tiny clear eyelashes, toes…”

“So do cows, so what?”

Jane had no answer.

“Look, you know Evan Rogers at Knoll Hill Market? If you really can’t eat it, he’ll buy it from you. Sylvia was telling me her brother got some bad GM seeds, ended up with some kind of fish turnips. They smelled awful, but Evan bought ‘em. He specializes in exotic meats.”

Jane felt bile rising in her throat. “I have to go.” She barely made it to the bathroom.

When she returned, the rootbaby had lost her glow, her skin was graying. Was she dying?

Jane frantically offered her milk, the last of her pureed potatoes, water. She refused everything silently.

“What do you eat?”

She turned to the internet for answers. The few hits she got only gave cooking advice, not feeding advice.

Jane rushed her back out into the sunlight. Maybe her energy system was more plant like, she seemed to come alive when exposed to the sun before. In the sunlight, she could see tiny flakes and fissures on the rootbaby’s skin. So dry. She unwound the hose and trickled cool water across her belly and legs.

Her tiny mouth twitched. Was that a smile? The sunlight faded from her eyes and they closed. The animation left her.

Jane turned off the water, the rootbaby now bathed in her tears.

Jane knew she was supposed to call a disposal unit, but she also knew what they would do, the dissection, the tests. That would be worse than being eaten.

She scooped up the tiny body in her palm and held it gently to her chest as she walked back to the garden.

(photo credit: Jonathan Boeke)

35 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Root Baby

  1. Cascade Lily

    Awwwwww Shannon! I’ve come over all maternal. Great visuals again…I bow down in awe (again).

    (PS. you asked after the pic on my piece this week – got it from Wikimedia Commons – if you click on the pic it will take you to the photographer’s Flickr page)

    Reply
  2. mazzz_in_Leeds

    Well I found this creepy first and foremost 🙂
    I have visions of the root baby resurrecting itself gremlin-like or fertilising the ground so that more root babies are born!!

    Great concept!

    Reply
  3. soesposito Post author

    Thanks, guys! Creepy, yes. We don’t very often think about what we eat or where it comes from anymore. Everything is neatly packaged and boxed. I’ve been struggling with the ethics of food lately & where genetic modification is taking us. Creepy, yes. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Anticrombie

    Genetic engineering… what’ll turnip next? Lettuce hope they squash this technology from the start. They just dont carrot all about the side effects.

    (sorry… corny, I know)

    🙂

    Reply
  5. Laura Eno

    I’m creeped out about GM food already and now you have this! Loved the “Do you need a recipe?” comment from her friend.

    Strange that we both had carrots today… 🙂

    Reply
  6. peggy

    This was so imaginative! Great attention to details, between the description of the root baby to the dialogue to the internet search. Even comparing the baby to cows–that’ll make one stop and think. Those are the elements that make fiction feel real while in the story.

    I really liked this one.

    Reply
  7. CJ

    I didn’t think it was creepy – well, the OTHER people were creepy, but I think I would have reacted exactly as Jane did.

    Beautifully written, especially love the descriptions of the dirtbaby.

    Reply
  8. ditty1013

    Aw, how heartbreaking! 🙁 You really captured me with this piece. Effective prose, emotion- and thought-provoking story… really, really well done.

    Reply
  9. Scott King

    I sometimes have attention span problems when it comes to reading prose, but I was hooked with this from the title. The whole premise was weird, but not over the top. It was just right.

    Reply
  10. karen from mentor

    I LOVED this Shannon. I would have replanted her as soon as I found her and nurtured her and watched her grow … into what I don’t know… but I do know that you wrote her so stunningly well that I almost barfed when the friend asked about a recipe….man. really well done.

    Reply
    1. soesposito Post author

      Well, I can honestly say I’ve never made anyone barf before…lol. Love that you loved it, Karen.

      Reply
  11. G.P. Ching

    Beware the GM seeds! So creative and well written. The instant attachment Jane feels toward the root baby is palpable and it does make you squirm to think about eating her. Wonderful work.

    Reply
  12. Anne

    I am soooo against GM goods! You ought to share this with the Organic food movement. You may actually be prophetic, and not just entertaining – hehe.

    This is so sad, the root baby sounded so cute. The story reminds me of my childhood, trying to save baby birds who fall out of the nest or have no mother. It never seemed to work then either.

    This was beautifully written!

    Reply
    1. soesposito Post author

      You may have brought up a good point here with the baby birds, Anne. I tried to save baby moles once by putting them on top my slide for safety. They cooked. It was a tramatic childhood memory.

      Reply
  13. Daniel Bayn

    I really enjoy the way you just thrust weirdness at the reader and trust them to figure things out, especially concerning the friend’s unexpected POV. My favorite line, though, has to be…

    “She turned to the internet for answers. The few hits she got only gave cooking advice, not feeding advice.”

    That gives us a wonderful glimpse of a wider world. Very nice.

    –Dan

    Reply
  14. Skycycler

    What a fertile imagination – and a wonderful story. Like David I like the irony of the cow part, and this bit I found chilling:

    She turned to the internet for answers. The few hits she got only gave cooking advice, not feeding advice.

    because it suggests this isn’t an isolated event – and that other people respond as Marge did! Dirt baby could become the poster child for ethical consumers. Great, surreal, well written story.

    Reply
  15. Gram

    Nice.. I can see that you are food involved..as we all are.. Some of us eat to much..so of us do not eat enough.. but you, eat words, put a face on them and bring them to life.

    Reply
  16. Linda

    This is a very cool story on so many levels — surreal almost. Anthropomorphize a veggie and… hard to eat. Returning her to compost (?) fits… Peace, Linda

    Reply
  17. ganymeder

    I liked this a lot. Who would have thought that GMO seeds would produce such results? But then again, who would think anyone would cross fish with tomatoes or put fishoil in OJ either (and that’s true). I’ll have to start checking my produce more carefully now!

    Seriously, nicely written. You hooked me from the beginning. Great.

    Reply
  18. Deanna Schrayer

    Shannon, you never cease to amaze me with your stories. They are so fluid, spot on, just outstanding. I felt for Jane, and believe I would’ve done exactly as she did. And you nailed the character of her friend – just nonchalant, “it’s only food, just eat it”. I’m in awe, as usual.

    Reply
  19. Mark Kerstetter

    I love it, the imagery, your descriptions, the ease of your language.

    “Do you need a recipe?” is the key of the story for me. The question comes with a burst of laughter and yet it’s very disturbing. Several readers have used the word “surreal” and I think that’s accurate, since your tale is really just an exaggeration of our world. (damn you’re good)

    Reply

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