16 July 2010
I CAN BUY PICKLES
By Curtis C. Chen
"You know it's just for show," Paul said. "To demonstrate that we respect their culture."
Sophie made a face. "You keep saying that, but I'm the one elbow-deep in fermented intestines."
"We've been through this. The Varna'ut are deeply patriarchal—"
"I know, I know," Sophie groaned. "The wife has to smell of housework if it's a proper family, and that includes their putrid food."
"Especially food." Paul sighed. "Besides, I'm the one who actually has to eat that stuff. And then regurgitate it later."
"I'm sure that second part's not too difficult." Sophie lifted a bone shard out of the rubbery yellow mass and dropped it in the garbage. "And I know all about your pre-function drinking binges at the embassy." She watched Paul for a reaction.
Paul shrugged, completely unashamed. "A spoonful of moonshine helps anything go down."
Sophie felt her anger building again. It was bad enough her husband had dragged her to the other side of the galaxy on a diplomatic mission, but being a female, she was rarely invited to mingle with their hosts.
While Paul enjoyed guided tours of thousand-year-old cities and massive starship factories, Sophie was stuck with the female Varna'ut, whose interests were limited to cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. She didn't even have anything interesting to write home about. Exciting day: market had great sale on alien offal, perfect for pickling in hydrochloric acid!
The only good thing was being able to use her training as a chemist. She turned her head and hid a smile.
"I'm going to be late," Paul said, putting on his jacket.
"I would give you a hug, but..." Sophie held up her slime-covered hands.
Paul gave her a peck on the cheek and headed for the door. "Love you. See you tonight."
"Oh, come on." Sophie pouted. "Give me a proper kiss."
She leaned back and craned her neck toward him. Paul smiled, walked back, and touched his lips to hers. Sophie pushed her head forward, making full contact with his skin.
After a moment, Paul pulled back. "Are you wearing lipstick?"
"Three," Sophie said, smiling.
Paul's eyes widened, and his hands clutched at his throat. A variety of gagging and choking noises emerged from his open mouth.
"One," Sophie said, and watched her husband collapse to the floor. His legs kicked, and she stepped out of the way. His eyes flicked back and forth wildly, then quivered and stopped.
Sophie dug her hands into the sink, lifted a huge pile of pickled viscera, and dumped them onto her dead husband. She repeated this until the sink was empty, and Paul was barely visible underneath the gooey yellow mess.
The chemical bath she'd prepared in the bathroom would scrub the smell of food from her skin. Most Varna'ut were notoriously bad at distinguishing human genders, and even worse at telling individuals apart. Sophie would have to cut her hair, but she'd be halfway to the next star system before any human authorities caught up to her. Plenty of time to do some proper sightseeing.
Photo: preserved foods at Fort Vancouver, December, 2008