pb + c

By Jules Vivid

I never understood how he could eat those peanut butter and carrot sandwiches. Always on pumpernickel rye, always with salted crunchy peanut butter. He joined me at the kitchen table after emerging from his art studio, his long salt and pepper hair tied back and shirt showing traces of clay.

Rolling up his damp sleeves while grabbing an apple, he said, “Hey, peach, how ‘bout a pb and c for your old pops?

It was just him and me now. Jim and Georgia. Dad and daughter. We were living in a house that was too big and empty for either of our willowy bodies and sad hazel eyes. And yet, here we were.

“Sure, Dad. One pb and c coming right up.” I got up from the table, my stomach six months large with a baby I didn’t want. Joe and I were just fuck buddies. We had been drinking and didn’t think anything would happen. I was forty and he pulled out in time — that should mean something, right?

I popped the bread into the toaster and washed the carrot, scrubbing its stained skin even though I knew I’d be shedding it soon. I held the carrot steady by its feathery top, its green hair tickling my hand as I began to swiftly pare off its dirty exterior peel by peel. I used a sharp knife to cut through the hard root, each small slice perfect and uniform and a quarter of an inch thick. I thought about stabbing my stomach but didn’t. Should I save the greens? Yes, tonight I’ll make a carrot top pesto.

Things weren’t the same after she died, but we made it seem so. In the beginning, I couldn’t do anything but cook for us each night, using the novelty of food, my mother’s legacy, as a stopgap. Dad continued to sculpt, his work moving from geometric patterns to forms that came to imitate an abstraction of my mother’s face. I wanted her here now, to have her arms around me, telling me everything would be okay. Tell me what to do with this baby, Mom.

Joe didn’t want anything to do with the child. He thought I intentionally got pregnant because I was in love with him. I told him to go fuck himself, that he was the last person I’d ever love.

“What’s the world without peanut butter,” Dad asked, or rather, said, as he bent over his plate and took another large bite of his pb and c. He grinned as he chewed like a kid eating pancakes on Christmas morning.

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It was now only a year since Mom passed but Dad seemed alright. At times, his eyes spoke otherwise, but he kept telling me how she was still with us. He’d say how he didn’t feel like she had really died, how it was more like he just couldn’t see or hear her anymore. He called the baby little peach and thought of her as a “sign from above.” Above? I wasn’t sure if this meant Mom or whether he had conceived of some new spiritual ontology.

I sat across watching him eat as a flag of nut brown, dark rye, and bright orange was brought up and down every minute or two. Crunch, crunch sounded the carrots. I always heard the crunch no matter how thin I sliced them. The worst of my nausea had passed but I was still depressed and exhausted, and now carrying an extra twenty-pounds of unsolicited complications. I kept calling her “she.” She’s crushing my organs. She’s incapacitating me. I hope she doesn’t look like him. Will she feel loved?

I remember when my mother and I were in the garden. It must have been twenty years ago. We kneeled together in the cool dark soil, picking red peppers and kale from the tilled earth she had labored over the previous spring. We gathered the vegetables into the belly of our old oversized shirts, bearing a simulated womb of lush green and vermillion. Smiling, Mom leaned forward and rubbed her veggie paunch against mine.

“One day you’ll understand.”

“Understand what?”

“How amazing it is to grow a little human inside of you.”

“I don’t know, Mom. I don’t think I could do it. I’d feel too colonized, like my body had been plundered.”

“You might. But you could also feel other things. Seeing the baby develop alongside your own changes — it’s a beautiful thing.”

Was it? Maybe it could be.

“One day you’ll understand.”

“Understand what?”

“How good these damn pb and cs are,” said Dad, picking a piece of carrot out of his teeth with his fingernail.

The sun was tender in that moment, its warmth dancing across the kitchen table in cheerful movements. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I envisioned the baby sitting with me and Dad. He’d be doing something silly to make her smile, and she’d be clapping her hands together, laughing with glee. There was a lot of love here. We looked happy. Just Jim, Georgia, and baby. Dad, me, and my baby.

Opening my eyes, I noticed a solitary slice of carrot on the crumbed plate and reached over, dipping the orange moon into a smear of peanut butter before popping it into my mouth. Definitely not what I expected, but also not bad. What should I name her?

Jules is a queer writer and multimedia artist. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, where she shares a tiny apartment with her husband and two cats. You can find her on her websiteInstagram, and Twitter.

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