Apricity Press Issue #1 - Page 34

Artichoke Hearts

Colin Keating

My grandfather used to lie to my mother and aunt on a regular basis. Not big lies like “The sky is made of cyanide gas” or “God is real” or anything like that, but little things. The kind of things that end up stuck to your spine, only to poke out at the most inconvenient times. The kind of things that make for good party conversations. The kind of things that jumpstart nervous breakdowns.

He once convinced my mother that artichokes were actually birds. My family was eating steak with a side of artichoke hearts when he told her. My mother threw her fork down in disgust, her eight-year-old self shaking in fury. “Then how can we eat their poor little bird hearts?” she said, eyes welling up in youthful indignation.

“It’s a delicacy in France,” my grandpa said, stifling his laughter with a napkin.

He kept this particular lie going for longer than usual. When my family visited Yellowstone Park in the summer of ’62, my mother got to see an actual artichoke. “Wait, this sign says that these are artichokes.”

“No,” grandpa said, tilting his hat, “that’s just where they nest.”

Grandpa soon forgot about it, another paternal prank successfully pulled. But mother wasn’t sleeping. Her nights were waking nightmares; but nightmares seem too pedestrian. It was almost as if the imagined artichoke had nested inside of my mother’s ribcage, only the soft “coo” of its morning call rising from her throat. My Aunt Sally remembers mother stumbling into her room in the middle of the night, disheveled and sleepless, eyes rubbed red from crying.

“Can you hear them, Sally?” mother whispered.

“Hear what? Go back to sleep,” Sally said, but she couldn’t turn away from her. In the hospital, when everything was over, Sally told me that mother’s eyes seemed far away, lost in the distance, the stare of something beyond grief.

One day mother came home to five bird carcasses on her bed. Cradled by the soft cardboard of a shoebox, they lay there, oblivious to my mother’s gentle hands closing around their stiff spines. Grandpa later said at the dinner table that they were the result of a successful afternoon hunting trip and that he just wanted to share them with his “bird girl.” Mother stirred her food and stared at the floor. She hadn’t been eating.