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Saldana Roca's Magic Mushrooms
flash fiction by Martin Weissgerber
I’ve taken a long break from writing. Feels long perhaps, but it's been a little less than a month. I’d like to say I spent that time in a constant state of reassessment. Others may even claim I did. But really I did very little—I didn’t even sleep much, and on the days I felt particularly inspired, I cleaned, faithfully committed to what I now seem to do daily.
In time it got warmer, still no assessments or reassessments were held, and I got sunburned with two German diplomats who recounted in mellifluous voices the time they spent in the German embassy in São Paulo. But it's nothing like Hellada, they repeated again and again, as the sunspots on their backs grew rounder and rounder, disk-like and pronounced, like their maker above.
Instead of writing, I swam, hiked, drank, wasted the weekdays working, and met with a group of radio producers from Vienna, summoned from the unblemished avenues of their city to the rugged, lacerated streets of Athens for a vacation.
Since the rest of my time was wasted watching television, I made myself a new set of resolutions—quixotic and untenable, though commendable in their own right—which will perhaps make time scurry on, quicker than before, simply because its hollowness has been replaced with some fresh pursuit, unrealistic as it may be.
I need resolutions, because in a few weeks, Saldaña Roca, the greatest horticulturalist to have ever lived, as well as one of the world’s most decorated pacifists, will arrive to dissect the colossal mason jars full of mushrooms he left behind in my freezer about a year and a half ago.
He is always aghast when I speak of wasted time. He eyes my self-deprecation with a feral look, asks why every moment must be productive. Yet somehow, he always moves, always does. What does it mean to do? he will ask, as the plants around him regain their composure. Electrifying, jolting as ever, Saldaña Roca’s energies still make the leaves around him shudder: they are, afterall, in the presence of a great cultivator.
When he forgets the eternal debates and the questions, and ignores the clamorous dialogue unraveling in his mind, Saldaña Roca is still a man who does, and this is just the issue. He picks locks with one hand, curates collages for the walls of his next home in his sleep; he cuts his garlic with razor blades, a book propped open before him, leaning on a sack of lemons, so that he reads and chops, reads and chops, until either the book is read, or the head of garlic diced.
I’ve noticed he sucks on screws throughout the day, as he paints banners, then hangs them from abandoned buildings while cops below roll their cigarettes. There is always a cat on his back when he conjures up a batch of fresh wheatpaste, or when he cooks and reads. In the summers, when our tomato plants are left to the heat’s tirades, Saldaña Roca takes them and turns them upside down, protecting them from the sun’s rays like some benevolent king of all gardens, although he has no interest in such a title.
Here, I’ve lost my way, and forgotten where I left off. In lieu of a climax, I will offer a question: Saldaña Roca always does, yet he never gets angry, never feels rage—who has heard of such a thing? Are mankind’s deepest wounds not often the littlest cuts, incipient moments of rage directed at the most banal of obstacles and inconveniences? No, Saldaña Roca cruises through the madness of aggravation, unobstructed by a world that feeds on rage.
A brief tangent before we reach the crux of the issue at hand. We conjured many fantasies together, Saldaña Roca and I, on the nights we sat outside to smoke, when the third floor of his house nearly collapsed from the weight of his ashed cigarettes. Both of us found solace in maps, in the gridlocked monotony of America's blighted streets. Molding memory with expectation, we visited first
the major cities, the crossroads, the shadows of industry: Detroit, St. Louis, Memphis, Pittsburgh. Eventually, we grew more remote in our discoveries: Youngstowns became Cairos, Flints became Highland Parks, Garys became Bethlehems, until the cities grew smaller and smaller, until the destruction, the blight, grew more desolate, more cruel in its fabrications.
But Saldaña Roca visited these places too, and in them he envisioned gardens. Yes, Saldaña Roca, celebrated horticulturist with an aquiline nose and two sensitive front teeth cruises through the muteness of America’s dead cities and sees only gardens— rooftop gardens, upside down gardens, balcony gardens, stoop gardens, until gradually, the furor of smashed brick is replaced by prickly pear and mango trees, greens and umber browns as far as the eye can see.
I await now, after weeks of doing nothing, Saldaña Roca’s kaleidoscopic eyes looking me over, asking me what it means to do. He will rummage through my freezer, a cat from the street perched on his back, searching for mason jars full of mushrooms, and when I tell him, gingerly, that they are gone, that they were all eaten by a troupe of Viennese radio producers, who came by to swim and left high as kites with stomach cramps, I will expect him to be calm, soothing in his frustration, because what is his is mine - he has always told me that—and what is in my house is as much mine as it is his, and who can blame a drunkard for going into the freezer, on a day when the sunspots on his shoulders dance with the onset of spring, looking for a few mushrooms?
Part of me is trained, seasoned, to expect anger. For how many years can one traverse worlds - Bethlehem to Bethlehem, Cairo to Cairo, namesake to namesake—without feeling rage? Is it self-indulgent to believe my loss of the mushrooms, after a compendium of similarly calamitous yet meaningless events, will be the straw that breaks this camel’s back? He will be angry, I tell myself, I’m sure of it.
A trip to the mountains ought to help. I bring with me an upside down tomato plant, a cat accustomed to standing on backs, and an already-opened bag of frozen dumplings. My freezer is left behind, empty. The walls of my apartment, which was was once his apartment, bear the traces of an anarchic past—cracks in the walls, flowers in those cracks, orchids from colder times, picked locks, discarded screws, because what was his, is now mine, and I have every right to do what I want with what-was-his-is now-mine, even if it means giving mushrooms to a group of Viennese radio producers who have just told me that with the right amount of psilocybin they can levitate.
I convince myself of this, I do. For one night, I even feel reassured. I feast on the half-frozen dumplings in celebration. But the week drags on, my friend’s airplane lands, and despite my assurances, my dumpling-filled, freezerless hibernation does little to assuage the burgeoning fear of Saldaña Roca’s virgin rage.
Martin Weissgerber currently resides in Athens, Greece, where he teaches 5th Grade at an international school. He studied history at Boston University and supplemented his studies with forays into Russian literature. In his free time, Martin hunts through English language bookstores for novels by his favorite authors, stumbles across new, unexplored parts of the city, and tries to swim year round, even in February, when only the hardy grandmothers still tread water along the coast. At the moment, Martin is working on a novel as well as a collection of ten short stories.
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