by Lucy Zhang
There are too many ways to cook potatoes, the man thought as he glanced at the menu and then placed it face down on the wooden table even though he could have and likely should have examined his food options more closely since he had no companion sitting across from him to partake in pondering big-picture life questions like would you tell your thirty-year-old self to buy the Porsche if you knew you’d be paraplegic five years later but then that would trigger a butterfly effect of what-ifs because surely the act of buying or not buying a car would lead one away from their destined trajectory–if one believed in destiny, that is. He looked out the window. Rain.
“How would you like your potatoes done?” The waitress asked.
Baked or boiled or mashed or fried. For an extra fee, he could get potatoes au gratin, roasted potatoes with herbs, croquettes, or a hash. He tapped his hand against the table, his brass wedding ring knocking against the fruitwood like a magnified metronome. He enjoyed the standard baked Russet potato, piping hot in foil, the skin dry and crisp, the flesh light and fluffy, topped with a small pat of butter so the fat soaked in and salted the surface so that the first scoop he’d spoon out would have just enough sodium to create a multi-dimensional flavor. But the baked potato was also the healthiest option and without his children or his grandchildren there to scrutinize his dietary decisions, it’d almost be a shame if he chose the baked potato instead of fries or something fancier–he had no reservations about splurging the extra few dollars since dead people can’t access their bank accounts and he could afford the indulgence while ignoring the universe of logic where actions have consequences in the form of medical bills.
He would like them baked. But he would like them fried. With a croquette on the side of an already side dish. Maybe just no potatoes at all–that’d save some trouble. What would his thirty-year-old Porsche-less self choose? What would his ten-year-old self who slid barefoot in the fresh mud during a downpour, savoring the cool softness against his skin, the occasional earthworm crossing over his toes, the scent of freshly baked potato bread when he’d return home trailing mud and water on the hardwood floor, the clean embrace of his mother who forbade him from entering the carpeted rooms until even the dirt caked under his toenails had been washed away, choose?
The man began to cry. “Baked please,” he managed.
The waitress, who had just been about to get her manager as she had never been trained to deal with spontaneously crying customers, noted his order and fled the table, the gust of her pivot and speed walk away still brushing against the man’s face moments after she disappeared.
The man allowed the tears on his cheeks to evaporate on their own, watching the rain steady to a trickle and then nothing at all. After he was done eating and thinking and enjoying the shelter of the indoors, he’d ask someone to take him outside where he could watch the sun emerge from behind the clouds. Yes, after he was all done.
LUCY ZHANG is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Her work has appeared in various publications, including After Alexei, Digging Through The Fat, and Bending Genres. She can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter (@Dango_Ramen).