“Two Little Stories about Black Beans”: A Flavor Town USA Fiction by Eli S. Evans

1.

I WAS IN MY TWENTIES and living in the sort of apartment one lives in in one’s twenties, ramshackle and tumbledown on the wrong side of town. But it was very spacious, and I subsidized my income, which was both part-time and meager, by subleasing out various of the rooms I didn’t use as a bedroom as bedrooms for other people to use, in so far as I was able. While I lived there, I had a total of, I believe, eighteen different roommates, usually two or three at a time. It could have been more—for a long time, I thought it was seventeen, and then, out of nowhere, I remembered I’d been forgetting about a Danish girl who introduced me to the stroopwafel before it was the kind of thing you could get in any old local grocery store. The landlord, a Persian who traveled by aging Cadillac, used to tell me—especially when I was thinking of moving out, which was always—that I had the best view in Los Angeles in that apartment, unless it was that I had the best view of Los Angeles. Either way, this simply wasn’t true: my bedroom windows looked out on an autobody shop that almost certainly trafficked in stolen parts, and the windows at the front of the apartment on a stretch of endless boulevard along which flowed an endless river (rather, two rivers, flowing in opposite directions) of city buses and tractor-trailer trucks. Because of the buses and tractor-trailers, particulate matter was at all times accumulated in every corner and cranny like little heaps of black beach sand. Then, mouse poop started to accumulate in the corners and crannies, as well, sometimes mixed up with the particulate matter and sometimes not, but always looking less like beach sand and more like a heap of cardamom (or cardamum) seeds. For whatever reason, the landlord, who usually was not responsive—once, for example, one of the aforementioned front windows blew in (or “out,” depending on your perspective) during a rainstorm, the glass apparently shattered by the force of the strong-but-not-that-strong wind, and it took two days for someone to come replace it—was in this case extremely responsive. I called him in the morning and that very afternoon someone claiming to be an exterminator came knocking. I sat in the room adjacent to the kitchen, presently unoccupied, while he placed in various strategic locations throughout the kitchen bars of green poison that he explained would indirectly cause the mice to die of dehydration by causing them, after they’d eaten it, to no longer desire to drink water. This struck me as especially cruel, but probably no less cruel than the various other ways one might attempt to exterminate something, and so while I sat in the room adjacent to the kitchen, I contemplated the sad fate of these mice. After a certain period of time, the exterminator approached me holding out his open palm, in the center of which sat what appeared to me to be a dried-out black bean. When he asked me if I knew what it was, I told him it appeared to be a dried-out black bean, but he shook his head and informed me that it was rat poop. I felt pretty confident that it was a black bean, being that this was during a period of my life when I’d determined that the easiest and most cost-effective way to satisfy my alimentary needs was to eat a cup of rice mixed with the contents of a standard 14-16 ounce can of black beans and a large quantity of grated cheese every single day for lunch, and then fill in the blanks with whatever happened to be on hand (stroopwafels, perhaps) at breakfast and dinner; still, since I wasn’t the one who was going to be paying for his services, I gave him permission to leave some poison for the rats, as well.

2.

I was in my forties and undergoing the sort of medical procedure one undergoes in one’s forties, probing and awkward to discuss in mixed company. The instructions I’d received by mail, sealed in an envelope that had been sealed in a larger envelope, forbade me from eating during the twelve hours preceding the procedure and, assuming there was a good reason for this, I complied. Twelve hours later, laid out on bed atop which I would be shortly rendered unconscious while an aggressive sort of nurse with a hostile manner about her pushed me down a hallway in between one hallway and another, I discovered, thanks to the anxious wriggling about in my mouth of my tongue, that something was stuck to one of my teeth—or, rather, that something had been stuck to one of my teeth, for the same flick of the tongue that revealed its presence there to me also knocked it loose. From its flavor and texture, combined with my own detailed knowledge of what I had consumed in the days and hours leading up to the obligatory period of fasting, I was able to deduce that it was the husk of a black bean that had managed to save itself at lunchtime the day before by separating itself from its pulpy cotyledon and wrapping itself around one of my teeth in the fashion of a dental crown. As it was distasteful in the most literal sense to have this day-old bean husk drifting about my mouth like an empty plastic bag in the wind, my instinct was to spit it out, but as I had by then been all but fully interpellated into polite adult society, in which it is considered improper to spit in public, around other people, etc., instead I held my nose (figuratively) and swallowed it down in a hasty gulp. At this point, I have to concede that it did occur to me, in fact, that this might constitute eating, and that maybe I should alert the hostile and aggressive nurse to what had just happened, but then I thought, it’s just the husk of a little black bean that’s been soaking in my saliva for so long it’s probably half-digested already, what’s the worst that could possibly happen? Well, I’m fucking dead now, if that answers the question, and to make matters worse I can’t seek any legal recourse because:

a.) I’m pretty sure I signed that right away when I signed the piece of paper the anesthetist told me I had to sign before the anesthesia could be administered without actually giving me time to read it.

b.) Technically, I did eat something during the twelve hours preceding the procedure, which I had been clearly instructed not to do.

c.) I’m dead anyway.

Eli S. Evans has recent or forthcoming work in, among others: X-R-A-Y, Rejection Letters, E*ratio, 433, Squawk Back, Berfrois, Eclectica, Expat Lit, Drunk Monkeys, and Right Hand Pointing (One Sentence Poems division). A chapbook with Analog Submission Press (A Partial List of Things I Thought Might Kill Me Before I Started Taking a Daily Dose of Benzodiazepines) was published in August 2020, and a small book of small stories, Obscure & Irregular, is available currently from Moon Rabbit Books & Ephemera.

Image: istockphoto.com

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