Still Life with Potatoes

By Victoria Heartwood

Helen bends at the waist to yank bindweed from the garden before harvesting vegetables for dinner. “This not that,” she repeats over and over to settle her mind as she picks the beets, bitter melon, artichokes, and thyme. The potatoes lay deep underground like grief, and she must dig around to find them.

Helen is barefoot, and gloveless, both of which she’ll later regret while trying to scrub the dirt from her calloused hands and feet. Even as she plucks the eyes from the potatoes, she sees how the dirt is etched into the labyrinth of her fingerprints, touching everything.

At the table, Helen listens to the clicking of Ed’s jaw as he chews. The rest of the house is as mute as a stone; there is just the listening, chewing, and, in the steaming broth, a whiff of thyme. Nine months ago, Iris would have come bounding through the door, kicking off her riding boots caked with mud and hay.

“I read today that we have as much space within our bodies as there is in the whole universe,” says Helen, staring toward the empty hallway.

“Then, I must have room for some more of those potatoes after all,” Ed says and winks at her, unseen.

Helen slides the bowl across the wooden table toward him. “Apparently, between our cells and between everything that’s inside those cells there’s more space than stuff.”

Ed slices his knife through the flame of the candle that flickers between them. “That’s like saying this flame is as big as the sun.”

“I know. I don’t quite get it either, but it seemed to make sense when I read it,” says Helen. “Something in me recognized it as truth… the endlessness of it all.” She stares at the garden vegetables resting on the soapstone counter. Unwashed, draped in gauzy dill, they have the vulnerability of a newborn foal before its windswept legs strengthen. She straightens with the sudden urge to lick them all to life. Instead, she says, “I could paint that.”

“Still life with potatoes,” Ed muses.

“Still life,” repeats Helen, pushing back from the table and stretching out her sore legs. “I should have bent at the knees while gardening,” she groans, “or just kneeled down in the dirt.”

Victoria Heartwood is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose short stories and poetry have been published by Washington Square Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Spectrum, Belletrist, Funicular Magazine, The Worcester Review, 580 Split, Moonchild Magazine, and more. She holds a master’s degree in fiction and a doctorate in higher education with a focus on embodied learning. Stay in touch with Victoria at, on Twitter @DoveVictoria, and through Instagram @victoria.heartwood.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Direct Digital Pen and Ink)

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