by Sam Simon
We called him ‘Uncle’ as if his name were ‘Grandpa.’ I remember two things about him: The first is how he’d hunch over at the table, his accent thick with longing for a time when candies were flavored with bitter herbs. The second thing is how he’d tell the same story every Pesach sedar. My mom would ladle out salty bowls with shvitzing matzo balls, and when someone slurped too fast, they’d begin to hiccup.
‘Did you know,’ Uncle would begin, animated as if we’d placed a quarter into a slot. ‘Did you know that hiccups are evolutionary? That long ago, humans swam with tremendous elegance in the seas, fearing sharks instead of wolves? But when the whales, which were land creatures at the time, it’s true, this is all true, look it up if you doubt Uncle, whales had toes, imagine such a thing, perhaps we had flippers, fins. Anyway, when the whales took to the sea, they displaced us in the food chain, and left a canyon in the dry ecosystem above. What else could we do but adapt? So we climbed ashore and learned to breathe air, to take oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere, to be like the deer in the forests or the birds in the trees. Our ancestors gasped and wheezed, suffering in silence until one day they looked around and noticed their children were breathing. It’s when we absorb oxygen from the air and the liquid of the soup that our bodies remember a time when we needed to do both to survive.’
SAM SIMON is a writer and translator from Oakland, CA. He has lived in Medellín and London, where he completed an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths. He currently resides in Barcelona where he teaches writing at the Institute of American Universities. He is the managing editor and translator of Infrasonica. Previous work has appeared in Folio and he is a finalist for the J.F. Powers Prize for short fiction.
Photo by Alejandro Quintanar from Pexels