Andrew Plattner ~ Sweet Potato

A young Christian cou­ple sell­ing pie slices. As you approached their table, the woman swept away a lit­tle card­board tent, one that you were pret­ty sure said $3, tucked it behind her back, stood up straight next to the young man along­side her. Welcome, bless you today, broth­er, bless you. We have pecan and sweet pota­to. You held a box of already-pur­chased pro­duce, and when you asked how much, the woman said, yes, sev­en a slice.

They had already sent their bless­ings in your direc­tion, you the non-believ­er, one who is rather cer­tain that in the end noth­ing will res­cue us all from ever­last­ing silence. You want­ed to ask if they could spot this because some­times you think it’s obvi­ous, that touch of gloom some can nev­er hide and have even learned to rely on no mat­ter how glo­ri­ous at times it all seems.  In the next moment you want­ed to appeal to their beliefs, say if heav­en exists, couldn’t that slice be on the house, this one time? Following that came a wave of empa­thy; you felt there was an earnest­ness, a lus­ter to the cou­ple, and you’d bet what they tru­ly held was hope not faith and, well, hope can nev­er change the facts. They hoped preach­ers knew and that love would always drown despair and that while they were here, here was some­where they belonged and when they were at last returned to the earth their bones would rest and the lord could then deter­mine the shape of their good­ness and in this shape they would exist forever.

Because of what will even­tu­al­ly befall us all and because those pies did look good, and were made with ten­der­ness, you asked for a slice of sweet pota­to. The young Christian man accept­ed your $7, and so deep were you into all that was hap­pen­ing with this trans­ac­tion, you noticed too late that the woman driz­zling some­thing onto the slice from the snout of a plas­tic bot­tle. A ser­pen­tine pat­tern. Caramel sauce, she said. Yums. Held out the Styrofoam plate. Your protest, had you spo­ken it: I didn’t ask for extra sweet­ness. However, at this point, things had gone too far, and you had to accept. Despite what you sense and all you know, you don’t like to be dif­fi­cult. Sometimes it feels that all there is to life is to not appear bit­ter about it. And there was some­thing about them you didn’t want to dis­turb.  (All right. Youth.)  They had blessed you, which, momen­tar­i­ly, seemed so kind.

So now, you’ll pause here to go back to some­thing that hap­pened a few min­utes pri­or to the pie table. Even before this, you need to relate your cir­cum­stances, that you’d left the Silver Strike Casino in Tunica with next to noth­ing and the deci­sion to head for Memphis had been an impetu­ous one. You, again, longed for the com­pa­ny of your ex, Olivia. On the way to sur­prise her, you’d spot­ted a sign:


                                               Farmers Market 

                                                Currency Only

 Along with the abused cred­it cards in your wal­let, you had a $20 bill in your shirt pock­et. A point of pride: nev­er let a casi­no take the last of your cash. You made your way over the chunky grav­el road to that pre­fab build­ing. Prior to the pies, you vis­it­ed a table manned by a senior gent, Black, who stood behind his pro­duce with his head bowed. The offer­ings were in thick card­board box­es, sweet pota­toes, ears of corn, col­lard greens and when you asked about the prices, he’d spo­ken so qui­et­ly you could bare­ly hear. Forty cents a pound, sweet pota­toes, that’s right, suh.

Olivia likes to make fam­i­ly recipes and even though she has post-grad­u­ate degrees and has pub­lished two books on Italian Futurism, she yearns to feel the spir­it of her moth­er, a life­long Southerner who’d suf­fered through phys­i­cal and men­tal abuse, trai­tor­ous behav­ior from hus­bands, sweet­hearts, rel­a­tives, and friends, yet loved to make won­der­ful food for her child and when the two of them were in the kitchen alone, they felt secure and happy.

Another man, from a table offer­ing jars of hon­ey and molasses, wan­dered over. He stood at the cor­ner of the sweet pota­to man’s table, said some­thing in his direc­tion. The sweet pota­to man gri­maced, that or buried a smile, brought out an emp­ty box and began fill­ing it with the things you asked for. His labor-mod­i­fied hands moved stiffly. The final tab, $12. You held over the $20 and he extract­ed a roll from his pock­et. The tips of his fin­gers were quite nim­ble when it came to mak­ing change.

Northern Mississippi, elder­ly Black man. You couldn’t speak specif­i­cal­ly of his hard­ships, only imag­ined they were end­less, inhu­man, dispir­it­ing, vicious, crush­ing. Once you were in a cre­ative writ­ing class and had writ­ten a sto­ry with a Black char­ac­ter and along with the many fail­ings of the sto­ry, the pro­fes­sor said that maybe the Black char­ac­ters should be left to the Black writ­ers and at the time you felt pret­ty smug hear­ing that because you thought well a good writer can imag­ine any­thing and the professor’s idea was a reflec­tion of his own lim­i­ta­tions. At the sweet pota­to table, you recalled that moment in the class, and under­stood the pro­fes­sor might not have been talk­ing about lim­i­ta­tions at all, but the world you were about to wade into, and how approx­i­ma­tion of any­thing from an artist was a tru­ly unnec­es­sary accomplishment.

Save some­thing for me—is that what the hon­ey and molasses man said to the sweet pota­to man? It seemed to be a pleas­antry between them. Regardless, you felt that the sweet pota­to man had fig­ured out enough, was adept at sur­viv­ing, and wasn’t obsessed with schem­ing or scam­ming for more like true American patri­ots and thus­ly hadachieved a place in life you could only wish for yourself.

To him, you said, I would’ve paid twice as much. A sec­ond too late, you guessed he would’ve had the right to take that the wrong way. Sheepishly, you stepped in the direc­tion of the pie table—and per­haps hav­ing heard you, the young Christian woman whisked away the lit­tle card­board tent that, yes, def­i­nite­ly had said $3. The next part of this has already been described, though you sub­mit that giv­en the events at the sweet pota­to table, the pie sit­u­a­tion might now be viewed in a dif­fer­ent light. The Christians weren’t try­ing to wring dry a hea­then; what they had noticed was your gratitude—and your change—and most impor­tant­ly you might be some­one unaware of the cost of things.

You bal­anced the paper plate with the slice of pie on atop a batch of greens, lift­ed the box. The sin­gle dol­lar you had remain­ing wouldn’t get any­thing at the hon­ey and molasses table and it was right then you got the joke that man had made. Now, he glanced in the direc­tion of the pie table with a look of explic­a­ble exas­per­a­tion. Outside, you sat on the hood of your Honda, start­ed in on the pie with a lit­tle plas­tic fork the Christians had includ­ed and con­sid­ered the flow of traf­fic. After one bite, you scraped away the caramel sauce, and con­sid­ered what had brought you here, specif­i­cal­ly the events of the morn­ing, start­ing with the dri­ve from Pine Bluff to Tunica. Of course, you had your own belief sys­tem, one that had you occa­sion­al­ly think­ing that today could be the day. And there was only one way to find that out.

Again? Olivia’s expres­sion would say, or she might even speak it after open­ing the door. The image of this made life feel impos­si­ble, which hadn’t been the case when you’d been just start­ing out with her.  Back in Hattiesburg in that cot­tage on 38th Street where all you did was make love and chase pal­met­to bugs across the kitchen floor. You thought about how faith­ful­ly she worked on her books, know­ing they would nev­er sell, and in this way her work was what she had. You had that box of produce.

You fin­ished the pie, fold­ed the Styrofoam plate in half, and slid down from the hood. Aimed north. You made it to Memphis, to her apart­ment com­plex. Without knock­ing, you left the box at her doorstep. Jogging to your car, you spot­ted her parked 200,000-mile aqua-col­ored Honda Fit. Feeling only a lit­tle sor­row­ful and almost free, you blew a kiss in that direction.

At the first gas sta­tion, you stood at the pump, drew a breath, swiped your Visa.


Damn straight.


Andy Plattner has work forth­com­ing in Free State Review and The Palisades Review. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Diana.