A while back, John Klima approached me about doing a short story for his Logorrhea anthology. I could write anything I wanted, as long as it was based on a word that had won the National Spelling Bee. Almost immediately, I knew which word I’d take.
Macerate has haunted me ever since I did prep tests for the GRE. When I first ran across it, I had no idea what it meant, and when I found out, I thought, “This is without a doubt the dumbest word I’ve ever come across. How can anyone expect you to know these stupid words?” Since then, I’ve run into a couple foodie types who macerate often (in public even!), but at the time, macerating shiitake mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes was as far from my experience as eating dog. Now that both types of experience are so much closer to my heart, the word popped up again, courtesy of Mr. Klima, long may he reign.
Macerate. What can anyone do with a word that’s all about softening, by soaking? It’s not exactly an action word. And a story about food seemed too obvious a course — apparently everyone is macerating, these days. So I needed something different. A new hook. Something else to soak and soften. Which was how Jonathan Lily ended up in warm sudsy bath water up to his neck… and with his dead wife as a bathing companion.
The first versions of this story were so perverse that I actually blinked and backed off — some details really are better left to the imagination — but the final result still seems to do the job. After my wife finished reading it she said, “Don’t touch me,” and shied away from me for the rest of the evening. Can’t imagine why.
For another take on maceration, Jeff Vandermeer, who is clearly some sort of over-achiever (he probably was the kid with his hand up in class all the time) has done his own bizarre take on the word macerate, along with every other word that was used by the anthology’s contributors. After reading his story, I was doubly glad I hadn’t gone for the food angle — there’s no way I could have topped this:
To: The President of Emerald Delta River Cruises
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to complain in no uncertain terms.
My wife and I are not rich people, nor extravagant. I, for example, work part-time at a grocery store since my retirement. But this past summer, we decided to treat ourselves to a river cruise. We chose your service because it had come highly recommended by one of our cousins and because the rates were reasonable. Five days on a river cruise! Nothing could have delighted us more, and my poor Macha, who works twelve-hour days in a factory deserved it. Besides, the name of the boat seemed rather romantic: The Light of the Moon.
We departed in late August with the river calm and swallows skimming over the water. Our cabin seemed nice if cramped, and the people on board were pleasant. It was a surprise to find that a number of pigs had been brought on board by another traveler, but they were kept below deck and made surprisingly little sound. We looked forward to a relaxing experience.
All was well until the second night, when, as you know, river pirates tried to board The Light of the Moon, under, well I must say it, the light of the moon. We were horrified, of course, but stayed in our cabin as the crew commanded. We heard all kinds of terrible noises and what sounded like shots fired, as well as a great uproar among the pigs. But this settled down and we were reassured by some new crew members in the morning that the pirates had been repelled and would no longer be a problem. Being a war veteran, I had remained calm and my poor Macha had been calm, too, although I made her take a sleeping tablet after.
Pirates simply made an adventure for us, this late in our lives. Nor did we mind the next day when two fellow travelers playing cards shot at one another before being subdued by members of the crew. Besides, Macha missed all of it, having overslept.
Shortly thereafter, however, the menu began to change and this is where I believe the nature of our complaint will become clear. It will also explain why we began to lose weight on this so-called “idyllic cruise downriver, ending at the site of ancient Smaragdine.” Perhaps typing up a description from the menu will be enough to convince you of our claim:
Thrice-Shoved Frogs, Whole – Two whole emerald frogs, flayed alive and then lightly braised and macerated, after which the whole skin of one is pulled back over the other and vice versa. The frogs are then impaled, still fresh, on a two-headed skewer and cooked over an open flame. Both frogs are then put inside a hollowed-out river iguana, which is then stuffed into a large river fish and placed inside a box full of coals that is heated and tossed out behind the boat for further maceration. The resulting taste of the then panfried Thrice-Shoved Frogs is indescribable.
For three days, your crew and the two women serving as cooks prepared a series of dishes that included macerating anything and everything, usually “shoving” or “stuffing” it inside of some other animal. I have never seen such senseless violence done to anything or anyone as to these creatures with their bulging eyes and gutted rears. When we complained, we were told by both women that we should be happy to receive such delicacies.
Many other strange things went on aboard that ship, sir or madam. Some of them I do not feel comfortable relating to you, even now, two months after our ordeal. The crew did not seem to sleep and once, when I peeked out from the door of our cabin after midnight, I saw two of them painted green from head to foot, stark naked, engaged in a dance involving scarab beetles. During the day, they would say odd things designed, I believe, to make us react in some specific way.
After a time, we did not know if perhaps the crew had gone mad or if they just practiced insolence as a wall against boredom.
When we arrived at our destination, the crew disappeared, leaving us there by the dock. We had to take a train back to our little apartment the very next day-a trip of some thirty hours, and very hard on my poor Macha.
We do not need or want apologies. We would like a refund of our money and vouchers for free meals from our favorite restaurant. It is only symbolic, of course, to have these vouchers separate from a general refund. But there is the principle involved, isn’t there? We cannot get those “Thrice-Shoved Frogs” on the Light of the Moon out of our heads.
Thank you for your kind attention,
Saladin Davidos, Esq.
See what I mean? Now I’m going to spend the rest of the day thinking of other things that should be thrice-shoved and macerated. Hope you do to. And for your further reading pleasure, here are some other links related to the Logorrhea project.
John Klima’s master post with links to the rest of Vandermeer’s insanity:
The Logorrhea main site: http://www.logorrheabook.com