ONCE UPON A SHELF
by Mary Smith
Inspired by the pencil and ink still life of a potato, apple and onion, framed separately, by Mary Ann Currier
The foods have similar shapes but different connotations in the human psyche, so this piece invited comparisons and challenged assumptions.
An apple, an onion and a potato sat on a shelf. They had little else to do but resort to conversation.
The apple was sweet if somewhat vain. “Did you know we apples are the most popular fruit commonly available? We get shipped all over the world in cushioned wrappers to keep us from bruising. It’s hard not to feel special when you get that kind of treatment.”
“Oh, get over yourself,” quipped the onion. “You rot just like the rest of us if you sit on the shelf long enough. We onions were worshipped in ancient Egypt.”
“Well, good luck getting anyone to worship you now.” The potato was droll.
“There are paintings of us onions inside the pyramids. The Pharaohs believed onions represented immortality, with our circular layer upon layer structure, and that we could bring people back to life.”
“Oh, really?” the potato blurted. “How well did that work? Tell me. There were a lot of people buried in pyramids. I’d hate to think some of them were still alive and trapped down there.”
“Shut up!” The onion felt provoked. “What did potatoes do for anybody? All those eyes and they don’t do you much good underground.”
“Excuse me, but the Spanish sailors valued potatoes highly enough to bring us to Europe from Peru and Bolivia. Potatoes yielded three times as many calories per acre as grain.”
“That just means you make people fat.” The onion was acerbic.
“Now, I don’t understand the need to argue,” chimed the apple sweetly. “Perhaps it has something to do with growing on trees that gives me a better perspective. But I like to think I’m above all that.”
“You’re just a bigot,” the potato accused. “You look down on us ‘lowly’ ground vegetables. You think we’re beneath you somehow. You see us as dirty.”
“Well, you do grow in the ground where there is an awfully lot of dirt,” reasoned the apple.
“But gravity takes over and eventually you fall to the ground with the rest of us.” The onion was satisfied.
“And it was while watching one of us apples fall that Newton came up with his three laws of motion!”
“That’s a coincidence. It could just have easily been a persimmon,” observed the onion.
“You’re just mean,” accused the apple. “You derive satisfaction from making people cry.”
“Only when they come at me with knives; I ‘m sitting there minding my own business. I’m not the one looking for trouble.”
The potato said, “We deal with adversity differently; we simply sprout more of ourselves; we don’t feel the need to draw attention.”
“It’s a good thing, because you’re not going to get it, looking like you do,” the onion triumphed.
“I’ll have you know, Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers on her hat to a fancy ball.”
“And a fat lot of good that did her,” laughed the onion.
“It’s not our fault she lost her head!” The potato was indignant. “But the French were too proud to plant potatoes. They thought they were high class and stuck to grain. That’s why they were starving when she told them to eat cake. Cake is made of flour which comes from grain. So it was the refusal to plant potatoes that led to the poverty of the people and the French Revolution.”
“My, aren’t we the scholar?”
The apple was tired of being ignored. “We have a pleasing shape and smooth skin. Apples get used in still life paintings and hung in galleries all over the world. Masters like Van Gogh and Cezanne painted us.”
“Well, they both painted onions too, along with Renoir, and Hans Meyer.”
“Don’t forget ‘The Potato Eaters’ by Van Gogh,” reminded the potato.
“Yeah, but dude. That was not a pretty painting. Those were some desperate looking people eating those potatoes.”
“It’s not our fault the Irish only planted one kind of potato. It was just one variety that got the blight.”
“He’s talking about the potato famine,” the onion explained.
“Enough of potatoes!” The apple felt ignored. “We still win the beauty contest.”
Just then a waitress walked by and reached out to scoop up the apple. On her uniform was embroidered the name “Eve.”
“This looks good,” she said.
“Watch out,” called the onion to the apple. “It’s your fatal flaw of tempting people, coming back to bite you!”