Excerpt from The Root System of Trees by Judith Dancoff


This story appears in our January 2014 digital issue and was the prize winner for fiction in our 2013 writing contest. Read the rest of Judith’s story and the entire issue by downloading it here.

What she wants are vegetables, lots of them, she could cry for them: red bells, their bodies smooth and intimate, like violins or young girls.  They will taste fine in relishes, with cucumbers and onions, or on omelets, their soft, sweet shoulders good enough to kiss.  Then there will be the bushy greens and yellows—broccolis, cauliflowers—just a whiff of them with your nose in the florets, and you get the scent of the earth and the green together, flecks of soil clinging to their small buds.  Of course she will have all the rest as well: zucchini, spinach, carrots, tomatoes—and a vine of sweet peas for luck.  Her aunt Rose always grew sweet peas on a fence behind their house—lavender, pink, orange.  When they blossomed Rose would pick them and keep them stuffed in jelly glasses all spring.  Mariette was only four or five then, left at her aunt’s for the day, her mother in law school, her father living in another city. Rose let her paint the sweet pea fence with water—a thick wide brush slopped in a coffee can, splattering as much on her as on the old wood and flowers.

Most of all, though, the thing she wants the very most is chard—that dark wide leaf shot through with fuchsia-colored veins.  When she buys it at the grocery store she only boils it lightly, just enough to wilt the leaves, and from her garden it will taste so much better. There is always a mild tartness to the cooking water, grains of earth.  One bunch is enough for a meal, along with a slab of cheese, some wine.  She lights a candle when she eats and feels religious, her pepper tree brushing its fronds lightly on the roof.  Her cat jumps on the table, sniffs at the long shiny leaves, but is uninterested in so much green.

“Why do you want a vegetable garden?” her mother asks tartly.

Judith DancoffJUDITH DANCOFF lives in Los Angeles where she teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles City College. Her work has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly, Other Voices, Creative Nonfiction, and the Southern Humanities Review. She was awarded the 2012 Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award from that journal. Her novella “Women Breathing”, about a young painter in late 19th century Paris, appeared in The Southern Humanities Review, Winter 2014. More about Judith: http://www.judithdancoff.com/

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