Have you read Metamorphosis by Kafka? I didn’t expect the book to affect me as much as it did. I found myself contemplating the concept of being a woman and rewriting the story with a female protagonist who finds herself transformed into a cauliflower. The story became a part of my novel with recipes : Spoonful Chronicles. Furthermore, the cauliflower story inspired the book cover design. I called the story Makeover. So here it is.
When Elizabeth Sesame awoke early one morning from a dreamy sleep, she found herself changed into a radiant white cauliflower with sparkling florets. She lay on her bed, her head down in the lush green leaves, weighed down by an amorphous bumpy white body mass covered in plastic. Where are my feet? Which florets are my hands? Is this my torso? When the questions had run their course, Elizabeth’s first cogent thought in her new state was: Thank god! I am the food Mark Twain called ‘A cabbage with a college education.’ I am my favorite vegetable. This is super duper okey dokey fantastic!
Elizabeth looked around her bedroom. The sun was sending down golden rays that peeked through the curtain. The laundry sat unfolded in a basket from the night before. An Art Nouveau style poster hung on the wall. She was particularly fond of that poster and had set it in a golden-finished frame. It depicted a woman with a flower wreath on her head. Her look was stern but content. She was decidedly not happy, not smiling. Not attempting in any fashion to please anybody nor be pleased. She was being a woman. Elizabeth was proud of her taste in art. The way she discovered beauty in places others missed did her sense of refinement justice.
Elizabeth glanced at the alarm clock. Oh No! 7 am already! I need to get up to make breakfast. She wiggled her limbs, attempting to rip off the plastic covering, but that didn’t work. Then she tried vigorously to toss herself off the bed, hoping that if she could stand up straight, she could go about her daily routine without interruption. But swerving forwards, backwards and sideways on her head was making her feel nauseous. Soon little Timmy would be rousing from his sleep and Frank would be expecting his morning bacon. There were school lunches to be made. James needed to be reminded to take his helmet because his class was going ice-skating in the afternoon.
People say that mothering is the most difficult job in the world. Nah! Mothers like to say that to glorify themselves. Being a woman was fantastic. If you only knew how rewarding it is. A mother’s job is simple. You anticipate needs and fill the holes before tantrums arise. It’s that simple. A fun game of Whac-A-Mole. A mother stamps out obstacles so the whole enterprise runs smoothly. James was the first to walk into the master bedroom. The door was usually open. Even when it was closed, James and Tim walked in without knocking. It was only when Elizabeth and Frank intended to have sex that the door got locked with a key. It was the thing that signaled to Elizabeth that Frank was feeling amorous. He would get out of bed and close the door, lock it and then double check that it was locked by turning the handle back and forth. Elizabeth would hear the jingly jangle of the door lock and call it foreplay. This morning, thankfully, the door was wide open. James ran in enthusiastically.
“Fine, I will just tell you,” he said. “I know you are listening anyway. Today after school I have a play date with Jason and then I want to go get pizza with a couple of friends and then I want to go to the mall to check out the newest Super Smash Bros. You have all morning to call all the other mothers to arrange who will drive us. Okay? You’re not saying anything so that means you agree. Okay, thanks mom. You’re the best!”
James ran out with a happy skip in his step. Fifteen minutes later, little Timmy walked into the master bedroom.
“Mom! I don’t feel so well. I think I need to stay home. You don’t believe me? Look! I have a runny nose.”
That’s when Frank walked in, instructing Tim to stop stalling and hurry up and get ready for school.
“Hey darling Liz! Are you not feeling well today? Perhaps you just need a day resting in bed. Is it that time of the month? I know how being a woman can be taxing. No worries, I will take care of everything. You just focus on getting better. See you later this evening.”
All along, Elizabeth had been screaming “I am a cauliflower, I am a cauliflower!” But only little mumbles were coming out. Elizabeth would have to master the art of speech anew. Being positioned head down with the rest of her body pressing on top was not helping. Her heart was racing now, like a train. She was agitated. Elizabeth told herself: No point in getting excited. Everything in the universe happens for a reason. Being a woman is being at peace. I shall calm down and focus on breathing, certain that even this is for the higher good although I don’t understand how yet. Elizabeth found the exercise of spending the whole day in bed surprisingly refreshing. She assigned body part functions to her new mass and began a self-assigned rehabilitation training on the spot, moving each limb to maximum capacity to increase mastery of motor skills.
Sooner or later somebody will notice that my ass is sitting on top of me, Liz consoled herself.
At precisely 6pm, Elizabeth heard Frank walk through the front door. She heard the familiar rustling sounds that he produced as he placed the mail on little side table in the living room. Afterwards, he sat down to take off his shoes. Elizabeth’s heart seized with apprehension. Being a woman comes with responsibilities. Oh no! No doubt Frank will seethe with anger when he discovers that no dinner is waiting for him. Elizabeth heard his elegant footsteps moving across the living room into the kitchen. She heard him opening pot covers and closing them. She heard the creak of the oven door sliding open and then closing. Then she heard him call Tim and James. Elizabeth relaxed. There was no anger in the house. Only acceptance. An easy flow. “Hey boys, let’s make dinner together. James, you find an onion. Tim, you choose some spices. Let me see what we have in the fridge.” Soon there was happy clicking and clacking sounds coming from downstairs. Happy chatter, laughter punctuated by playful arguing. Shortly afterwards a smell wafted all the way through to the bedroom. Burning, pungent smells. Elizabeth felt horrified. She could tell the dish, whatever it was, had been ruined by too rapid application of heat.
At precisely 7pm, James walked in with a plate. He laid it on bed next to her. “Mom! Here’s your dinner. We made it with our own hands. Your three men.” Rice topped with a bean and vegetable stew. The onions were clearly burned. What disturbed Elizabeth the most was the sight of cooked vegetables. Boiled carrots, wilted zucchini, it looked like a murder scene re-enacted on a plate. The same thing that might have made her salivate was now making her wish she could scream in horror. At 8pm, Frank walked into the bedroom. He noticed her dinner hadn’t been touched. “I don’t blame you, darling, I know my cooking isn’t anything special. The boys spent the whole dinner laughing at me. I am trying my best and that is all that matters. I see that you are still not feeling well. Perhaps you need more rest.”
Frank patted her side affectionately and covered her with a blanket.
On the second day Frank made pasta salad. On the third day tuna sandwiches. On the fourth he came home carrying pizza. Tim and James rejoiced; pizza was their favorite food. Elizabeth could hear little Timmy jumping up and down, clapping his hands when his father came in. The smell of cooked dough filled the house. Each night a plate with food was placed next to Elizabeth on her bed and was carried out untouched. On the fourth night, Frank sat next to Elizabeth after clearing away her dinner.
“What’s the matter, Elizabeth? You haven’t moved from your spot for four days and three nights. As far as I can tell you haven’t eaten a single bite. You haven’t said a single word to either me or the children. I don’t know what I am supposed to do. Should I take you to see a doctor? Are you giving me the silent treatment? Are you upset at me? And what’s with the plastic covering? Is it some new beauty treatment? Some stupid new fashion you heard about at the spa? Please don’t say that you are on yet another fad diet? This had better not be a sexual fetish. I told you not to read those novels.”
Frank became agitated. He spoke louder and louder.
“What is it, Elizabeth?
What’s going on?
Just talk to me!
Tell me what you want me to do!
I’ve had it with this!”
Frank was possessed with an anger he had never felt before. He tossed aside the blanket that was covering Elizabeth, ripped the plastic covering off of her and flipped her downside up.
“Phew! Thank you, darling,” said Elizabeth, feeling floods of relief.
“What’s going on?” asked Frank.
“I am a cauliflower.”
“Is it a new haircut?”
“No darling, it’s a miracle, like the stuff that takes place in the Bible. Stuff that nobody understands and only makes sense one thousand years later when people read about it in a holy book.”
“Are you saying that you are the Christ? The second coming?”
“No, no, no, this is a new world order in miracles. A new evolution. A revolution evolution. I am a plain humble cauliflower. Being a woman was to demanding. Future generations will make sense of this, for now I am determined to simply live out my life same as before using my new state in the service of the greater good.”
“Is that why you are so pale and wrinkly?”
“I am not pale and wrinkly, I am iridescent and abundant.”
“Your hair is green. Kind of stiff. Maybe you should shower?”
“I know. I am the funky punky now. Makes me feel very hip.”
“We need to think how to explain this to the children in a way they will understand.”
The first order of business was to hold a family meeting and have a talk about the new situation. To Elizabeth’s and Frank’s amazement, James and Timmy didn’t even raise an eyebrow when they were told that their mother was now a cauliflower. It was nothing like the horror Timmy had experienced when he had discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Or the heartbreak James went through when Robin died in a Batman comic. Both boys shrugged their shoulders and said “Okay!” They didn’t even raise any questions.
Soon Elizabeth was able to function the same as before, gaining full human mobility in all her limbs. She performed as mother and wife—except for cooking. Being a cauliflower was no different than being a woman. She did laundry, cleaned the house, drove the car. With the right amount of makeup and suitable fashion she could almost passed as a human. She even taught herself how to wear high heels again. But seeing chopped vegetables was revolting to her. Food of any kind became a forbidden zone. She nourished herself by sitting in a water bowl, exposing herself to the sun. While Frank, James and Timmy did the cooking, Liz went for a walk to avoid witnessing the carnage.
As far as the intimate part of her marriage, that bedroom door got locked every single night. Fred was happier than ever.
At first, her husband and two sons were saddened to see Elizabeth missing from the kitchen. They missed Elizabeth’s cooking. But soon, all three learned to cook. The three men realized that cooking wasn’t hard at all. Little Tim dreamed of becoming a chef. James planned on owning a chain of restaurants. Frank discovered that talking to a cauliflower was more fun than talking to a woman. His newly transformed wife never answered back and never contradicted him. It has been scientifically proven that cauliflowers make better companions than women do. Elizabeth herself was more self-satisfied as a cauliflower than she had ever been as a woman. For one thing, now that food was repulsive to her, there was no need for diets. Her new physique was always waxy and firm. Exercise was a thing of the past. No matter what she did, she was always fresh. Goodbye sweating. Goodbye to diet shakes. No need for unpleasant bodily functions that humans suffer from. Menstruation was a thing of the past. Only inner beauty remained. A pure essence radiating into a physical form. When you become perfectly at ease, self-improvement becomes meaningless because becoming perfect is no longer the goal.
This revolution is so subtle it won’t be televised. It won’t be tweeted, Facebooked or youTubed. This is just one of those things that happens that everybody notices, yet nobody talks about it. Not ever. Not even to their dog.
So this brings up an interesting new philosophical question. If a tree falls in the forest and everybody and his dog hears it, yet nobody mentions it and nobody reacts, does the tree actually exist?
One afternoon, James came home from school with three friends. All three were dressed in grey and blue. The one holding a skateboard seemed to be the leader. James and the other two clearly looked up to him, imitating his behavior. James introduced his friends to his mother.
The leader noted: “What’s up with your mother? She looks special.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said James, nonchalant. “She identifies as cabbage.”
The leader nodded his head: “Cool! I wish my mother would identify as cabbage as well.”
The rest started to nod their heads as well and everybody repeated the word “cool” as if it was a mantra. They all ran up to James’ room to play video games. After three hours they ran down the stairs to head to their homes, shouting, “Thank you Mrs. Sesame for letting us play with James!” as they stepped outside the door. Elizabeth watched from the window as they swaggered off and thought to herself: Oh, the wonderful exuberance of a teenage boy.
The years passed. James was studying business. Tim entered culinary school. He entered a cooking competition but had no idea what to prepare for it. By this point, Elizabeth had started to wilt. She knew that her end was near. (It turns out that there is a single shortcoming for living as a vegetable. Cauliflowers have shorter life spans than humans. All that intense being can’t be sustained.) Elizabeth instructed Tim to cook her for his creation. Tim resisted the idea, but his mother was persuasive. Being a woman, long time ago, made her a master of manipulation.
Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t argue with a cauliflower, they say little, but when they do it is pungent.
He chopped Elizabeth up into thin slices, which then he blackened with spices and smoked like a salmon. Elizabeth did experience pain. But after giving birth twice, it hardly registered on her pain-O-meter. The end result was a unique blend of flavors that puzzled the taste buds of all the judges. Here was something nobody had tasted before. A vegetarian dish that had more kick than bacon. This new dish relegated bacon to the back pocket of the trash can of history. Tim called his invention Cauli-liza. And he became a celebrated chef worldwide.
Cauli-liza became an international sensation. Everybody in the whole entire world agreed that it was their favorite dish. In China, South Africa. In Portugal. Chile even Antarctica. Hindus, Muslims, Christian and Jews. Even Atheists agree. This food is a miracle. For the first time in history all living humans agree. Men, women and children. Leftists, environmentalists, the privileged join in. People who are happy and those who are sad. Mentally challenged and those who just mad. Freewheelers and those who live in a box. Luddites, Scientologists and Star Trek fans — all united. Even those who love to disagree, the ones who contradict everything just for the pleasure of it. Even those people can’t resist enjoying this special treat. All join the party. Not a single person is left out. A new dawn descends on Earth. For if we can synchronize our stomachs, then think! What else could we accomplish?
A new age of possibility. All the great thinkers, philosophers, authors, poets, composers, economists, scientists and theologians. They all turn to their mothers for new ideas. Each one seeking his holy grail. His own cauli-liza. Tim Sesame, the miracle chef. A role model for thousands of years to come. Forget heroes. Forget sacrifice. Forget Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Ghandi. Forget Batman and Superman. Forget struggle, armed or peaceful. Forget social justice. There is no such thing as freedom. A beautiful illusion. Find a dark little corner in your heart. Get creative instead.
Elizabeth died a happy and satisfied death, shedding only a single tear during her butchering. She had been of a greater service to her family and humanity as a cauliflower than by being a woman. Praise be to God, who created me with a vagina so that I could give birth to my beautiful two sons and then turned me into a magnificent cauliflower so that I could offer optimal companionship and sustenance to them. If only all women were as lucky as I have been! A shard of cauli-liza thought to itself as it was about to turn into poop.
Now Frank was happily remarried. In place of bacon he ate cauli-liza daily. After breakfast, he would take a private moment or two. He would tsk tsk and sigh. Young women these days. They are okay. But my first wife, Elizabeth Sesame? Now that was a real woman!
Me at the Vancouver Story Slam, an event that takes place once a month at the cottage bistro. Here is an experiment is combining dance with storytelling. Don’t know if I found the winning combination, but I will keep searching. I shortened the story in being a woman to fit into 5 minutes. A totally Kafkaesque nightmare.
What do you think of my story on being a woman? I would love to hear your feedback.