French Fries

rosalind goldsmith  



            I was sitting at the table in the restaurant, bulbous and inept. He was sitting across from me – trying to tell me the pain, how he’d fallen into a pit, so petrified he couldn’t do anything to pull himself out. Or – he said – it was a blanket of lead, this grief, this pain. He was in this place – this place of torture – asking me for help – I knew it – and what did I say? I said:

            “Gee. That’s awful. I’m so sorry you feel like that.”  

            Gee. I said gee. I hadn’t said that in years – not since a skipping rope got tangled round my ankle when I was eight – and now that gee slipped past my tongue and out of my mouth before I could catch it. An unconscionable blunder. And then – worse. Embarrassed about the gee – I let other words come tripping out – all lies told by the horrible uncaring hypocrite that I was. Words like: Time heals, you’ll get over it, don’t give up hope. Stay strong. Etc. etc. you know the routine – the same one I know – the one that is as empty and beige as hell is empty and beige.

            He looked down at his plate. A few French fries were lying there, criss-cross, like a bad catch of anemic eels, or worms in rigor mortis. One burnt one with an edge split off and curled up. It made me think of a charred body – then the guilt came in because my mind was spiraling round frantic instead of being right here with my friend.

            He picked up a French fry and laid it beside another corpse of a French fry and then picked up another one until eight of them were lying parallel in a pale, inedible row.

            I sipped my coffee and put my cup down and said, “So what are you going to do now to – get closure or – I mean – move forward?”

            Ugh. “Get closure”, “Move forward.” I spoke those unutterable words. What could “closure” mean in the place where he was? “Moving forward” had about as much meaning for him as flying to Planet X. Those words were just – cluster bombs of letters, an ambush of phonemes, arising sub lingua from a place of no meaning, no feeling – and I knew that – so where did those words come from? –  not my words. Not my thought. Not what I felt. Not what I wanted to say. But those words were lying in wait inside me like a swarm of hornets, ready to fly out and sting. And I was a nest for all of that cluster-bombing, hornet-stinging hypocrisy. I wanted to die.

            Now there were eighteen French fries lying in a row, stretching out from the centre of the plate to the edge.

            “What do you intend to do with those?” I said – and I heard it and knew it – it was the most genuine thing I’d said to him all afternoon – “Just what are you intending to do with those fries?”

            He looked at me – we’d been sitting in that restaurant for hours – hours – and now he looked up at me for the first time – and smiled. “I thought I’d hang them,” he said.

            “That’s a good idea. Where from?” I said.

            “From that tree out there.”

            “And how will you do that?”


            Great. A click sounded in my head – a combination lock landing correct.

            “You’re going to have to be careful not to decapitate them up there. The use of thread is a delicate matter – it’s not easy to tie a noose with thread.”

            “You’re right,” he said. “I’ll have to practice.”                                                                     

            “Yeah. For a long time before you even attempt it.”

            He was staring at the French fries lined up on his plate.

            “I can’t go on,” he said. “I don’t know – I just – can’t – not any more.” And he covered his eyes and sobbed into his hands. His tears fell through his fingers and down into the French fries.

 I took his hand in mine and held it there quiet for a long time. I spurned every damn word that rose into my throat. I held his hand, and he cried.


Author Bio

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival and has also translated and adapted short stories by the  Uruguayan writer, Felisberto Hernández, for CBC Radio. Her short stories have appeared in journals in the 
USA, the UK, and Canada, including Orca, Litro, Fairlight Books, Chiron Review, Stand, the Lincoln Review, Fiction International and the Masters Review. 


Rosalind-300ppi head shot