|Art by Dario Bijelac
Kicking off the year with an issue full of food and drink, Flash Fiction Online opens 2019 with three stories that explore the comforts, fears, and griefs of cooking. From a couple who use food in intimate and foundational ways to a young woman trying to connect to a dead relative through a special libation to a pair of chefs searching Mars for a vital ingredient, the three pieces all show the power of food and drink to bring people together. To connect people through flavor and through labor, through joy and through sorrow. It’s a story full of strangeness, and the danger of dissolution, but also full of the love of food, and family, and all the flavors of home. To the reviews!
“Salt, Spices, Fat, Honey” by N. R. M. Roshak (967 words)
No Spoilers: This story focuses on a pair of people, a man who eats and the unnamed narrator who feeds him. To takes care of him. Who oils and powders him and makes sure that he has his fill of delicious foods. The piece in that sense is sensual, showing what each person gets out of this relationship, how it fulfills them and brings them closer. How they each find some fulfillment with it. Except following an accident, the man is hospitalized and convinced that he needs to lose weight, throwing the relationship with the narrator into a state of chaos and doubt. The piece takes a relationship that has a feel of hedonism to it, of indulgence, but also of care, and it tackles the idea of health and wellness in a society that often views physical size as inverse to moral integrity.
Keywords: Food, Relationships, Hospitals, Feeding, CW- Dieting
Review: This is something of an uncomfortable read for me, in part because the relationship portrayed here is incredibly loaded by society, because it’s centered around eating, and because the narrator cares for this man who is considered unhealthy because of his weight—who is considered in some ways both abuser and abused by the medical staff to witness him. And there are certainly dangers to him not being able to walk or even really stand. When he falls, it might have killed him. But the kind of concern that the medical staff has about him doesn’t really seem on the level either. They immediately see his eating as dangerous and immoral, as something disfunctional about his life and his relationship with the narrator, when it’s also this thing that brings him joy, that makes him feel good and appreciated and cared for. And he makes the call to try and lose weight, something that the narrator doesn’t really like but also doesn’t really argue with. Though the medical people see their relationship as probably very messed up, I’m not sure if the story fully embraces that opinion, and to me through everything it does show that these people are not really abusing each other. That what they have is outside of what many would consider normal, but that it works for them. And that while it might not seem healthy to a society that has such a value placed on being thin, it’s also something that works for them. They aren’t unhappy until he is convinced he has to change, and it introduces a strain between them and a sorrow that moves as the narrator tries to hold onto the man that they care about. An interesting read!
“Blackberry Wine” by Carrie Johnson (892 words)
No Spoilers: This story finds Susan dealing with the loss of her grandmother, a figure who meant a lot to her, and whose passing forces Susan to examine her own life and place within her family. Because Susan was the one closest to her grandmother, who was something of a figure within the family, audacious and powerful and fun. Without her, Susan faces a future without one of the brightest stars in her sky, someone she’s used to guide her in the absence of a lot of other family. It’s a story of growing up and tasting the bitterness of that, but also the potential and the possibility of a future that can stretch on ever after loss makes things seen grim and hopeless.
Keywords: Family, Grandparents, Wine, CW- Funerals, Loss, Grief, Recipes
Review: I like how a lot of this story for me comes back to Susan’s uncertainty in the face of finding herself effectively in charge of her grandmother’s funeral. It’s something she’s never before had to deal with, because she was always before “young.” She was one of the kids, one of the grandchildren, and without her grandmother she’s actually one of the oldest and most responsible left in her family. Her role, in one fell swoop, has been completely upended, and it leaves her feeling like there must be better ways of doing everything. Better ways of putting together a funeral—better ways of grieving. And I like how it comes back to the wine, to this wine that she’s never really been able to make on her own, and never properly learned to make from her grandmother, who is now gone. So she is left with this vinegar she can’t really do anything with, feeling trapped and tired and judged. And just also knowing that her grandmother isn’t completely gone. That what lingers is what she left behind, the advice and the texts that will allow Susan to build herself back up, to become something other than the child she feels herself to be. And for me it’s a piece about the power of grief but also the power of love, the resolve that Susan shows in her mourning, essentially deciding that she can still go forward. That she can learn better. That she’s not done, and hasn’t let her grandmother down so long as she’s still trying. Even so, that might sound a bit more active than the note the story ends on, which is still full of hurt and loss and the possibilities spilling open before her that for now she’s content to let spill until she feels well enough to reach out and try to grab them. A great read!
“The Truffles of Mars” by Jeremy Lichtman (881 words)
No Spoilers: Raul and Nisha are assistant chefs to Anton Antov, the only formally trained chef on Mars. They like their jobs (mostly), but are put in something of an impossible position when Anton demands mushrooms to his omelets, something made rather difficult because of the travel time from Earth. Faced with having to tell Anton that he’ll have to wait years for his demands, the pair go about trying to find mushrooms by any means possible, which turns into a rather fun and light story about tracking down the (seemingly) impossible on a Mars that’s just starting to get on its feet. It’s a charming look at a future on another world but where the most difficult logistic seems to be appeasing one dramatic culinary snob.
Keywords: Cooking, Ingredients, Mushrooms, Mars, Space, Bosses
Review: This piece steps away from the previous one in terms of tone, lightening the mood considerably, but also in terms of distance, taking the reader to another planet where cooking is something still very much pointed back at Earth. Here cooking is something of a fledgling thing, not because people don’t need to eat but because the idea of having a chef on Mars probably seems like an extravagance. It’s something that certainly isn’t required, and yet there’s also something very comforting about it, something nostalgic and stabilizing to know that people can go and eat food that reminds them of the food them left behind, and the new home they’re building on the red planet. I love the playful nature of this work, the treasure hunt for mushrooms which shouldn’t exist so far from Earth, and yet... And I like how the story moves, showing that these assistants are both kind of suffering by being made to hunt down rare or impossible ingredients, but that at the same time they’re quite willing to do the work. Because they know that there’s something about food that makes it worth it. Yes, the cost is huge. Yes, it means putting up with the ego and drama of Anton, which seems like no small thing. But it also means getting access to fine cooking, and helping to bring it to the people of Mars. Which is something with value equal and maybe even greater than its cost. It’s worth it, and it’s definitely worth checking out. A wonderful story!