He threw the potato across the square. It took a high arc over the thin crowd and hit a boy in the head.
Shit, said the boy and held a red blotch on his brow.
His father turned to reprimand him, hand up, though without real violence. Oh, he answered, when he saw the mark. What’s that?
Another man and his daughter pointed to the potato that had ricocheted off the boy. It was clearly a cooked potato in that it had split and steam rose from its insides.
It’s a tomato, said the boy, peering into the short distance. I mean, potato. He looked to his dad for confirmation.
The man neither confirmed nor denied. Shit, he said. At that, a woman turned about, a stern then softening look on her lips when she took in the scenario.
Potato? she said.
Somebody threw it, said her husband. I saw it sail through the sky.
The eight people looked up. The sky was pale and blue. That hurt, said the boy.
A small commotion had begun about the man who threw the potato. An older man was raising his hand at him, with a degree of violence.
What was that for? he asked the thrower.
The thrower’s face and hair were red. He looked like he were sunburnt, or perhaps embarrassed.
It was hot, said the thrower.
What? said the older man. What was hot? He looked at the sky. It was stupid was what it was.
By now the boy and his father, as well as the father with his little girl, had made their way over.
Is this yours? said the father. He held half the potato in his fist. He didn’t know it, but he moved it in an arc against the sky. At the end of its arc, he didn’t realize he waved it in the thrower’s face.
No, said the thrower. It isn’t mine.
At this, the older woman laughed, her own cheeks red and fair. No, it isn’t? It isn’t yours?
~ ~ ~
The character wants a new job. He is a good worker but because of his disability people have a hard time believing he can do the kind of work he does. This is not only unfair—socially, politically, and to him, personally—it also challenges his ability to keep his anger in check. This is the complication.
The character used to be a child. He has a long history of anger, which can be seen in the scene with his mother. She nags him to get a paper route like his buddy, Roger, the tow-headed neighbor boy. His disability has not yet been diagnosed, but it nonetheless causes him problems. The character gets angry at his mother, and this is a bit of backstory.
He lives in a nice home in Des Moines. Some of this is described, like the salt and pepper shakers left behind by his ex-wife and the frayed but beautiful rug in the dining room, but there aren’t too many details. This is not the more we want.
What’s important is the scene where he does something concrete, where he confronts one of his prospective employers, the discrimination he has felt since he was a child, then throughout his marriage to his smart, ambitious, but materialistic wife, and up until the present time. The scene will be rendered crisply, but what happens isn’t as critical as the realistic psychology of his thoughts, and the fact that he is bested once again by his anger.
After the confrontation, the character will drive back to his home. He will feel beat by life. He will recount a line or two of dialogue he and his wife shared when they bought the beautiful but now frayed rug. Can we afford it, Linda? he says, feeling angry. How can we not afford it? she replies, materialistically. And why do you shy away from beauty? she adds, complicating her character.
He sighs. He does, he thinks, he does shy away from beauty. This is because of his disability, the ugliness of his own body. He distrusts his body. The irony, we are made to know, is that women find him handsome.
He gets up to stand at the window. There is something symbolic happening outdoors, probably something to do with the industrious couple next door and their own tow-headed boy. The scene hints at both despair and hope. He resolves to do something, to act, though we aren’t sure he will. All of this is given in poetic but lucid prose.
As the story ends, we want just a sentence or two more, a takeaway, a change in tone—there he is, the ice in his glass, the settling quiet, the deepening sky behind the neighborhood chimneys.
~ ~ ~
Edgar Atkins Teagarden
He left his yard, closed his gate, opened his neighbors’. He headed for the garden, there planted with a score of tropicals: banana, ginger, palm, and bird of paradise. By its base, he pulled a canna from its soil, bright red in bloom.
I don’t care, he told his wife. They’ve got plenty.
It’s theft, she answered, down and dirty theft.
Ha, he said. Where do you think they got them from? He already knew: whenever they went home they brought them back, stolen from the ground they claimed to love so well.
For Jesus sake, Ed. They didn’t bring heavy plants on an airplane. They got them from a catalogue, same as everyone else.
He took his canna into the backyard. If he placed it against the high wooden fence he shared with the Nguyens, they’d never know. With his trowel, he dug a hole and planted his new procurement, there next to the taro he’d acquired next door as well.
It’s beautiful, he said, admiring his work. It’s Vietnam in Virginia.
That night, he had a dream. He was a pianist and the Nguyens came to hear him play. He played Bach and Chopin, and he played Jelly Roll and Joplin.
Thank you, he told his audience. I’m very proud. I’m proud to be here.
One of the Nguyens—a son or brother—got to his feet. Go home! he said. Go home right now!
He looked around him, surprised to see that the concert hall of all his life was a desert of strange and wonderful cacti. The new moon of New Year’s was invisible in the sky.
I am home, he said.
At this, the audience laughed.
I’m always home, he said.
The audience bowed their heads.
The audience was silent so he looked up for the missing moon. It was a disk of black in the black sky and for a moment he trembled.
It’s OK, said the Nguyen brother or son. But go home. Go home to your wife.
For just a moment, he trembled. The cacti in their desert reached out their arms. The world and its creatures were as wide as the sea.