5.09 / September 2010

Vegetable, Mineral

I   said: “Vegetable.”

“Turnip?” you said.

“Nope. Ask a question.”

“Are you a root vegetable?”

“No,” I said. “Ask again.”

“Are you in salads?” you said.

“That depends,” I said.

“Depends on what?”

“On what you like to put in your salad.”

I lay on the sofa, you lay on the floor, your head by my feet.

“Are you chalk?” I said.

“Chalk isn’t a mineral,” you said, blowing on your fingers.

“It’s calcium,” I said.


“So. That’s a mineral.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Of course it is.”

I got up, one of my feet slapping you on the ear as I walked over to the window.

“Do you think if we had jobs, it would be better?” you asked from the floor. I hummed something which was supposed to be “Our love will keep us warm, baby”, but half way through, I couldn’t remember if that was actually a song or something I’d invented.

“What?” you said.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” I said.

When you came back with the post, you held the letters out to me as if the red ink would burn through you like acid.

“Let’s run away,” I said. “Barbados, Brighton, Bermuda, Brooklyn.”

“Only B’s?” you said, and slumped onto the couch.

“Today is brought to you by the letter B,” I said.

“Animal,” you said.

“Domesticated?” I said as I shoved the bills down the back of the armchair.

“Depends,” you said.

“Depends on what?”

“If you could be bothered domesticating it.”

“Has anyone?” I said.


“Ever domesticated it?”

“How the fuck should I know?” you said and you made movements with your hands, fluttering them in and out, that could have meant anything on any day in any country in the world.

We went out that night, you in my old jeans, me in your old tracksuit trousers, your arm through mine, five pounds in a pocket. We shared a half pint of something hopeful and sat in the corner.

“Does it eat other animals?” I said.


“OK, well, that’s something.”

“Ten more questions.”

I took a sip, then slid the glass towards you.

“I might do it,” I said, looking out of the window at the rain hovering above the pavement.

“Don’t,” you said.

“I can’t share half-pints and trousers with you for ever.”

“OK, here’s a freebie — sometimes it has a tail, sometimes it doesn’t.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad. He wouldn’t be such a nightmare boss. I mean, what worse can he do to me now that he didn’t do when I was a kid?”

“The one with a tail, it can have twelve babies at a time. I mean, they’re not called babies, but if I told you what they were called, that’d give it all away.”

“If you sell your soul, can you buy it back later, even if it costs more?” I said, and let that hang in the air while the half-pint got warmer.

The first day, I came home and you weren’t on the sofa and you weren’t in the bedroom. The bathroom door was locked.

“Come out,” I said. “I’m not a monster. Just a working stiff.”

“Animal,” you said from inside.

“Only if you come out.”

“Animal.” I heard you sniffle. Or it could have been a train.

“Fuck. Come on. How long have you been in there?”


I went to put the kettle on. When it boiled, I took our mugs and stood outside the bathroom door.

“Animal,” I said.



“Long haired?”

“No,” I said, and sat down with my back against the door. I felt you on the other side, the ridges of our spines sinking into the plywood. “Yours?”



“Could be.”

I blew on the two teas. I sucked in my breath, and thought that maybe I could hear you sucking in yours. I sat there with your mug and my mug. I imagined zebras, antelopes, wildebeest, mother lions and lion cubs. I pictured you, teaching the lion cubs party tricks, wearing my trousers.

“Domesticated?” I said, and held both mugs up to my face, watching the way the dust motes danced through the steam and twirled around in the last of the afternoon light.

A former science journalist, Tania Hershman's first book, The White Road and Other Stories, was commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, and included in New Scientist's Best Books of 2008. Tania's second collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions, will be published in May 2012 by Tangent Books. She is currently writer-in-residence in Bristol University's Science Faculty, working on a collection of biology-inspired short fiction. http://www.taniahershman.com