Eye to Eye

“I haven’t eaten a potato since I moved out.”

This was the opening remark from Jennifer’s lover’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Brie.
The announcement, accompanied by a smug grin, lauded Brie’s anti-spud stand as a worthy accomplishment. This from the woman whom Jennifer had expected would outshine her at their first meeting.

On hearing the remark, Jennifer was annoyed that she’d allowed her insecurity to make the previous week a roller coaster of anxieties. When she and Barry could have been whirling through the bliss enjoyed by new lovers and walking the streets late at night, whispering intimacies, she’d been preoccupied with the upcoming meeting. Her concern was what, besides discussions about divvying up the spoils from a marriage gone wrong, she could talk about with Brie and Barry.

Her worst fear, as she lay stiffly beside Barry at two a.m. the day before Brie’s visit, was that the subject of politics would arise and she would be left floundering.

Brie, a winner in everything but marriage, had an honors MA and was now working on her PhD. Besides being the editor of the Saxon University newspaper, she ran for office in a by-election and, representing a party that had, to date, never seen its deposit returned, tripled the vote.

“You’re as smart as she is,” Barry had insisted. “And a much sweeter person. Brie is not very tolerant. She called me eccentric.”

The word eccentric rang a bell with Jennifer. Her friend Bunty used that word, albeit affectionately, when Barry ordered a side of potatoes with his spaghetti.

As for being eccentric, it was hardly conventional to come to your ex’s apartment and, first thing off, announce to his new partner that you hadn’t eaten a potato since you left. She said it as if, during their short marriage, Barry made Brie eat potatoes three meals a day.

Although Jennifer didn’t consider Barry eccentric, she acknowledged that he was different—a one-of-a-kind, old-fashioned guy. Unlike her previous boyfriend, Barry wasn’t a macho man who spent more time in the gym than in her arms, never missed a chance to admire another woman’s cleavage, and played war games on his iPad as they watched her favorite TV show.

Jennifer was pleased with Barry. He was quite a catch. The only time they’d ever disagreed in the short while they were together was on the question of Jennifer attending the meeting with Brie.

His insistence that she be there when Brie came to pick up her odds and ends caused Jennifer a stressful week. When she argued that she wasn’t as interesting as Brie, Barry said, “Everything about you is interesting. Potatoes are the only things as fascinating as you.” She’d had a good laugh at that remark. Barry had such a wit.

Having reluctantly agreed to be present when Brie came over, Jennifer dithered about what she should wear and whether she should offer beer or herbal tea. She settled on wearing jeans and a T-shirt and decided to serve coffee and lemon cake. Thanks goodness she hadn’t presented Brie with one of the six varieties of potato chips they had in the pantry.

Except for Brie’s strange comment, the meeting went better than expected. When Jennifer opened the door, Brie waltzed into the kitchen, plopped herself down and lobbed her potato remark.

After three weeks living with Barry, Jennifer knew her new companion preferred a traditional meal: meat, a vegetable, and potatoes. Old fashion perhaps, but hardly a problem.

But, as Barry noted, some people were narrow-minded. A week earlier, the waiter scowled when Barry asked for a side of fries with sushi. “Rice is nice,” her sweetie said, “but ‘tates are tastier.”

The meeting with Barry and Brie was short and sweet. Within an hour, Brie had carted off all the furniture and household goods she called her own, leaving behind the wedding gifts, still in their boxes in the attic.

Jennifer had never heard of a woman who didn’t bother to use or even appreciate her wedding presents. When she asked why, Brie laughed scornfully. “That’s another story. Final straw. They’re all yours.”

Jennifer concluded that, although Brie tried to appear happy that she was out of the relationship, the poor woman was obviously still in pain, which the sight of the gifts would have only worsened.

After Brie left, Barry and Jennifer settled onto two of the few remaining chairs and talked about how they’d keep their relationship strong. Jennifer suggested weekly date-nights at which she imagined them sharing childhood secrets, dreams, and intimacies. As agreed, they did eat out weekly but candlelight suppers were peppered with conversation about the number of potato varieties, whether Peru was the potato capital of the world, the finest potato recipes from various continents, and ancient potato lore.

“My poor sweetie is so shy,” she told Bunty. “Once he’s more confident, we’ll be whispering our innermost fears and aspirations, planning our future, our dream house, and when to start having kids.

When she moved in with Barry, Jennifer had brought all her worldly goods. To make room for her unpacked boxes, Barry suggested a storage space clean up. Jennifer agreed and took the opportunity to begin the process when Barry was checking his favorite potato sites on the Internet.

She decided to start with the hall cupboard under the stairs. She yanked open the stubborn door, and a mountain of magazines cascaded out, knocking her down and covering all but her forehead.

After quickly saving a rare-find new potato website, Barry responded to her cry for help. As he pulled her from under the pile, he expressed concern about his scattered treasures. “Hope nothing got ripped,” he said. “All of these are keepers. As are you,” he laughed as an after-thought.

Jennifer was surprised to see such a range of potato related magazines, many in languages other than English. “Do you read Chinese?” she asked, impressed by his skills.

“No but I enjoy the photos. Someday we can feature these in our potato archives.”

“Do we have an archives”?”

“Not yet,” he said with a wink.

Jennifer and Barry hoped to keep the romance alive by putting aside weekends as their special Time to Be Together. One weekend they went to see a documentary on potatoes and another to visit a local potato farm where Barry volunteered, lovingly tending his potatoes. One Saturday, the couple invited a potato expert to supper and heard about local farm practices. (Jennifer had no idea so much of the local economy was based on tubers.)

While Jennifer was happy to spend time with Barry and to learn new things, after a few months she was ready to widen their range of activities. “Shall we try something new?” she’d suggested.

“Sure. Let’s break out,” Barry had said.

An hour later, he bustled into the kitchen waving the local newsletter, “It’s opening this weekend,” he cried.

“The show at the Art’s Club?” Jennifer asked, pleased that patience had paid off.

“No, the farmer’s market.”

Jennifer heard about the Market from a classmate. As well as organic fruit and vegetables there were local crafts, cappuccino, and baked treats. Musicians were on hand to entertain, and chefs from high-end restaurants explained how to prepare the more exotic vegetables.

“Good choice, I hear it’s fun,” Jennifer said, giving her sweetie a hug.

“Fantastic, they bring in potatoes from the valley. All sorts, mostly organic, and all varieties, shapes, and colors. I’m loyal to old potatoes strains, of course, but these new spring potatoes, properly seasoned, make a great side dish.”

“Isn’t there more than potatoes?”

“Could be. I never bother with anything else.”

At least he’s not interested in other women, Jennifer thought, but her confidence was shattered the day she came home early from school and heard Barry in the living room speaking in a tender whisper. “You are the dearest thing. Your skin like silk and your smell so sweet.” She had thrown open the door to discover Barry fondling her rival: a small golden potato.

“Jennifer look at this darling spud,” he said. “If only I could find a way to keep her young forever.”

The longer they were together, the more curious Jennifer got about the wedding presents. Barry’s comment, “We can open that can of worms later,” had set her wondering what was in those gift boxes that caused such bitterness?

One Sunday, when Barry was off at the organic farm, Jennifer ventured up to the attic. From the pale light seeping through the small triangular window, she could see a pile of dusty boxes in the corner. It looked like they had been torn open and carelessly rewrapped.

Jennifer carefully opened the first gift to discover one of four potato mashers (made in China). She then uncovered two potato ricers (one of German make), a set of eight potato tea towels (two from Ireland), sheets with hand embroidered potato plants, bathroom towels, a tablecloth featuring a spud motif, and more. Every item was related to potatoes. Jennifer concluded that Brie must have been over the moon in love to make a registry with a potato theme.

When Barry came home she fessed up immediately. “We’ve promised to be open with one another.”

“Of course, “ he said wiping the loam off his face. “Smell me, I am totally potato farm.”
Not a pleasant odor, she thought but gave him a hug with her face to the side. “I peeked into the boxes with your wedding gifts.”

“Good. Now we can enjoy them.”

“Why is everything focused on potatoes?”

“Brie was in charge of the wedding registry.”

“And only asked for potato related items? She must have been head over heals for you.”

“On the contrary. When guests followed her registry, we ended up with a bunch of useless things: a blender, a toaster, a microwave, green bed sheets and other unnecessary items.

Luckily, my brother Ted explained that wedding presents usually had gift certificates so you could go back to the store and exchange them. So I did.”

“Every one?”

“Yes, every last one. Some of the things we might have used but we could get them second-hand. Potato related items—like potatoes—are best if they’re fresh from the box. And, in an emergency, if one masher breaks, it’s good to have another on hand.”

“Wasn’t Brie angry?”

“Was she ever! She ranted and raved and even threw one masher out the window. Luckily it was open. I put everything back in the boxes and stored them in the attic for safe keeping until Brie saw reason.”

A month after Jennifer set up in her new apartment, she got a call from Barry. “I’ve met a new woman—well a girl actually—she wants to move in so I thought you should come by and pick up your stuff. She’s anxious to meet you.”

Jennifer was glad of the opportunity. She’d left so quickly, she’d not taken all her belongings. Although she had no fear of meeting the new girlfriend—a bouncy young undergrad she’d seen sitting with Barry in the cafeteria, eating a stack of fries—it felt strange to come up to the door of what she still felt was her place and knock.

The young women—her fair hair swept up and fastened in little potato clips—threw open the door and smiled broadly, “So glad to meet you. I heard good things about you, not from Barry of course, who is a little hard on his exes, but at the university.

Jennifer was guided into the kitchen and greeted by a large plate of cooling potato scones and the unmistakable aroma of potato tea steeping.

“I haven’t eaten a potato since I left,” Jennifer blurted.

The remark was met with an indulgent smile from her replacement. “Barry said you were intolerant.”

~ Melodie Corrigall

Published in Romantic Ruckus, Strange Musing Press, June 2014.