In which Norris Juniper Hale talks with a full mouth.
It wasn’t because he abhorred the inhumane state of modern factory farming in the Western world that Norris Juniper Hale chose to omit animal products from his daily diet; nor was it due to the well-documented concentration of unnecessary antibiotics introduced into flesh-based food processing, although those were certainly compelling reasons. And it absolutely was not because he held his own physical well-being in high regard; anyone who’d witnessed his deplorable fitness regimen (or lack thereof) knew the state of his physique was an obstacle he simply let stand in his way—and sometimes, he even curled up against that obstacle and took a forty-five minute nap or two, just to show it where it stood.
No; it was for none of those reasons.
Norris maintained his diet of plant matter by and large because he knew the noises made by farm animals, had heard them on repeated trips to his family’s ranch in the Midwest, and it bothered him to no end that his food would have been such a needlessly noisy lot. All the oinking and mooing and clucking and flapping and whatever sound it is that fish might make just seemed incredibly inconsiderate to him, and therefore he refused to eat what they sacrificed themselves to provide. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, held their tongues their whole lives through, and Norris was grateful for that. As a result of this gratitude, as soon as he was an adult and in full capability of making such decisions for himself without the derision of his family members, Norris willfully ate only fruits and vegetables exclusively at every meal, and enjoyed the silence.
Until the silence came to an unexpected end, that is.
On most days, Norris found that his morning salad lay on his breakfast plate in perfectly logical silence. It was salad, after all, a collection of fruits and berries, which aren’t prone to scintillating conversation. It isn’t as if they have enough exposure to the world to have a wealth of topics to choose from, and they certainly don't have a dependable internet connection. And Norris, not being much of a morning person himself, was all too happy for the quiet, chatterless mornings. He was a lover of silences, of pregnant pauses delivered nothing but more silence, of deep, empty hollows of existence without noise. It was thoroughly understandable then that Norris preferred to read his paper in silence (and yes, he resented the constant crinkling of the pages when he turned them, but what could be done about that?), and he drank his juice in silence (and of course, he deplored the sloshing noise it made as it moved about in the glass he drank it from, but it wasn’t as if there would be an end to that anytime soon), and he ate his salad in silence (and naturally, he hated the sound the fruit made as it was being crushed between his teeth, but you can’t have everything your way, now can you?)
And so, it was to his extreme disappointment one nearly-silent Tuesday morning when his salad attempted to make conversation.
The banana broke the ice.
It was simply resting there in the bowl, bathed in coconut milk and pecan crumbles one minute, then rising on his spoon the next. It cleared its throat and said quite unmistakably, “A shame what's happened to the stock market, isn’t it?”
Norris heard the question very clearly, coming from the cradle of his spoon, in a voice that sounded exactly as he would have imagined a banana’s voice to sound: creamy and smooth, with a charming Caribbean lilt. Norris wasn’t caught nearly as much by surprise that it was a banana doing the talking as he was by the fact that he hadn’t yet read the headlines and wasn’t fully abreast of the current stock market hullaballoo—if indeed there even was one, because who was Norris to trust the word of a banana, and one he’d only met that morning, no less?
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Norris said.
He raised the spoon nearer to his mouth, as if to signal that this was to be the extent of the conversation, when a slice of peach called out from the bowl below. “He means the dive it’s taken today, you dimwit. It’s all over the news.”
Norris took umbrage at the peach’s attitude.
“You should check your portfolio before long,” the banana proffered. “You wouldn't want to be caught unawares.”
“Seriously,” the peach agreed. “Not too late to move some things around, make a few sound choices...”
Norris cringed at the thought of his privacy being so blatantly invaded by his breakfast foods. “And what would you know of my portfolio?”
The peach clucked his tongue. “Well, diversification doesn’t seem to be in your vocabulary…I know that much.” The berries tittered and bobbed against the peach in what Norris took to be a very weak attempt at a high-five.
“You could do better then, could you?”
The peach shrugged. “Couldn’t do much worse.”
A chunk of apple slid across the bowl and joined in the suss. “Everything depends on what happens to the Yen…it always does.” The peach rolled its eyes, and the rest of the fruit sighed and shrugged, because apparently apples were prone to discussing things about which they had no real knowledge, and they spoke with great ennui, as if to make themselves sound more authoritative.
Norris didn’t want to discuss the influence of the Yen, and he didn’t want to opine on the state of his portfolio, and he didn’t want to converse about a market that had seen more ups and downs than a pogo stick in an elevator. All he wanted to do was eat his fruit salad and drink his juice and read his paper in peace, as he’d become accustomed to doing for so many years.
But when he unfolded the Gazette and read the headline “Stocks Bottom Out,” his curiosity got the better of him.
“So,” Norris said very directly to the peach, in tyrannical defiance of his standard morning procedure, “tell me more about diversification.”
The peach was wise, and the peach was canny. And that is not a pun.
“Advice like this doesn’t come cheap, my friend,” the peach said slyly. “But for you, I can make an exception.”
felt much better after he’d hammered out a more robust collection of
investments, thanks to the peach (which was also delicious—and yes, Norris
absolutely ate him after their discussion, because he would have gone slack and
slimy and wrinkled shortly anyway, and it would have been a shame to waste such
a perfect piece of fruit) and by early afternoon, he’d begun preparing his
lunch while whistling a tune his mother used to play for him on the piano when
he was a boy. It wasn’t like him to whistle at lunchtime any more than it was
like him to engage in conversation during breakfast. But his mood had been so
greatly lifted by the fruit salad that he couldn’t help himself.
He made his open-faced sandwich of twelve-grain bread spread with organic tangerine mustard, and layered upon it a bed of arugula, shreds of heirloom carrots, and slices of golden tomato, and sprinkled it all with sunflower seeds and currants.
“You whistle beautifully,” the arugula commented. “Is that Shostakovich?”
Norris couldn’t hear the question over all of his self-made music.
“I say,” the arugula repeated, louder this time, “is that Shostakovich you’re whistling?”
“He can’t hear you, you fool,” the tomato said tartly. “He’s too busy whistling that Rachmaninoff song.”
That, Norris heard. “No,” he said. “It’s not Rachmaninoff…I’d know if it was.”
“It most certainly is Rachmaninoff,” said the tomato. “I’d bet my life on it.”
“Have you ever whistled anything by Wagner?” the carrots inquired. “You might like his works. They’re so edgy and dramatic.”
“What do you know from edgy?” the tomato said. “You’re carrots, for crying out loud. You think throwing dill in mayonnaise is a walk on the wild side.”
Norris was confused now, though it had nothing to do with the fact that his lunch was chattering away while he prepared it. He racked his brain for the title of the song he was whistling, for a memory of his mother at the piano in the kitchen of their old apartment on Berman street, sitting with her sheet music open as she played her immigrant heart out, searching the image for a glimpse of the title or the name of the composer written at the top. Uncharacteristically for someone who generally had so little to think about, he drew a total blank. “Either of you could be right, you know…it could be Shostakovich, or it could be Rachmaninoff.”
“Ha!” chided the arugula. “And it certainly isn’t Wagner.”
The carrots frowned enough for Norris to notice.
“No…but this is,” Norris said, and he broke into a full-fledged, nearly pitch-perfect whistled version of Flight of the Valkyrie.
The carrots cheered “Hurrah!” when he reached the edgy, dramatic part, while the tomato and the arugula went decidedly limp, though Norris failed to notice as he ate the whole wonderful spread.
Norris watched the seven o’clock news as the pasta pot on his stove boiled a happy little percolating rhythm of bubbles and then other bubbles and then more bubble-bubble-bubbles, and the olives generously forfeited their pits at the pressure of his delighted fingertips, and the zucchini browned itself to a crisp golden crunch under a blanket of margarine and bread crumbs in the broiler. The ticker that ran across the top of the screen called out a series of rising numbers like a lottery score, each with little green arrows pointing up-up-up to indicate the elevation of their value, of course. And Norris, with his spectacles perched low upon his eagerly-interested nose, grew practically drunk on the intoxicating knowledge that what the peach told him earlier had been true, and his reorganization of investments was now levitating—no, SOARING—on the upswing. Norris tried to calculate in his head exactly how much profit his portfolio had now earned him, but being the creator of word puzzles for a national publication, he was terrible with numbers unless they somehow corresponded with letters, and other than the cryptic initials of trading codes for the companies in which he’d invested, Norris could make neither heads nor tails of what most of it meant.
“Get a calculator,” said the olives. “That’s how most people would do it.”
Norris refused, preferring instead to estimate based on the percentage increase that raced across the screen next to everything else. His math skills were sharp enough to tell him that yes, a one thousand percent increase was definitely a good thing, and then instead of doing an actual calculation, he just added several zeroes to the ends of the numbers he and the peach had projected.
Norris Juniper Hale came to the conclusion that he had, in the course of a single day, become inconceivably wealthy, thanks to the advice of a peach.
He felt a definite pang of guilt at having eaten his fuzzy advisor, but it passed quickly.
The zucchini emerged from the oven in Norris’s heavily-insulated hand as he cried out, “I’m rich! I’m rich! So very, very rich!”
“What will you do with all of your money?” the zucchini asked. “You’d do well to buy a sailboat and set off for a life of adventure on the high seas, if my opinion means anything to you.”
“Be careful…you could lose it all again tomorrow, you know,” said the olives as Norris drizzled them in oil of their own kind (a sick irony that wasn’t lost on them, though they thought better than to mention it while it was happening).
“Reinvest it,” said the spinach in his salad bowl. “You can draw a little as you need it. A simple life is best, though you shouldn’t be afraid to lavish yourself once in a while.”
The pasta said nothing. It simply luxuriated in its colander, enjoying the cool water rinse Norris gave it under the tap, which was all for the best, since pasta rarely says anything worth listening to anyway.
“I think I’ll do all of that,” Norris said as he carried his supper to the kitchen table. “I’ll buy something wonderful to enjoy, and I’ll let some of it flow back in for more investments, and I’ll live as I’ve lived up to this point: simply and happily and comfortably.” The life of a puzzle-maker is quaint and cozy when lived right.
Norris thought of this as he gobbled up every last lick of his zucchini, and his olives, and his pasta, and his spinach salad, all of which gladly gave itself over to the new millionaire as his supper.
How magnanimous food can be sometimes.
knew that continuation of his simple life included keeping his simple,
three-day-a-week part-time puzzle-creating job—work that he so loved, he could
see only heartache were he to abandon it now. And so, the next morning, he rose
and showered and combed and dressed and brushed and pansted and shirted and
socked and shoed as always. But instead of preparing his fruit salad and his
juice, he decided he would pop into the bakery in the lobby of the building
where he worked on the way in and buy himself an animal-friendly cherry Danish, because how
delicious would that be on a day like this? Plus, he had a little extra money
in his pocket now anyway, so why not? He decided he would loosen the purse
strings enough to buy an entire box of cherry Danish and share them with his
officemates; when the wealthy are generous, the whole economy brightens and the
world seems a great deal fairer, now doesn’t it?
Norris certainly thought so.
He coated and he caned and he hatted, and he closed up his little apartment door and locked it tightly with his sharp little key, and he strolled to the train station while whistling Tchaikovsky and reading the morning paper to see just how much better his financial state might be that morning. His whistling was joined by the sounds of taxis and buses, of traffic and travelers passing this way and that, of the cheerful music a morning makes just when it’s getting to the good part. Norris heard it all, and as he boarded the number twelve train downtown, he realized that he no longer held the same level of contempt for noise that he’d held before conversing with his fruit salad.
And that thought led backward to the thought before it, which led backward to the thought before that, which led backward to the…
Well. I think you get the point.
And thus, it was exactly twenty-six hours and forty-two minutes after the whole whimsical situation began that the man unstrung this great strand of thoughts to discover that his recent unprecedented spate of happiness began with a talking banana in the cradle of his spoon the morning before.
Norris not-so-suddenly realized he’d been talking to fruits and vegetables the entire time. And they’d made him an extremely wealthy man.
“Could that really be?” he asked himself.
A fat ripe orange in the hand of the woman next to him on the train said acerbically, “Sharp hat…I bet the hobo you stole it off of really misses it.”
Norris swooned uneasily. He wasn’t one to let strange and enchanted matters go unanalyzed, so he thought and he stewed and he mused and he brooded over how things might have gone as they had. Spirituality came into question, as well as bedtime story-reading and theories regarding evolution of the human brain and the influence of people on their surroundings, and of their surroundings on them. Animated cartoons may have made an appearance in there as well. Most of this was subject matter Norris had no knowledge of; he only knew puzzles and how to cook simple yet satisfying meals that didn’t require him to eat formerly-noisy animals.
He could get none of it to make any sense. But it had to have an explanation. A logical one would have been best.
Alas, that wasn’t meant to be.
His busy brain worked over time, until finally he postulated that he’d eaten so much plant matter over the years, he’d somehow developed the ability to communicate with it, and it with him. And how odd that the very food he ate would choose to question him on his investments and his whistling selections rather than asking the great questions of philosophy, or wondering about their own sentience, or pleading for their lives instead of letting themselves be eaten as they had.
All any of them had done was make small talk.
Except for the peach, of course. But he was clearly an exception.
In the end, it all came down to one simple and ultimately inexplicable reality. “I’ve spoken to fruits and vegetables,” Norris said under his breath, “and they’ve spoken to me in return.”
Upon arriving at this realization, Norris promptly fell into shock, which caused his heart to seize, at which point he fell over onto the floor of the number twelve train and died instantly.
All of this certainly goes to prove that, while a plant-based diet may be an excellent idea in theory, it isn’t advisable for everyone.Also: if a peach tells you to diversify your portfolio, it’s probably best that you do so as soon as possible.
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