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“Man of Plenty” by Amanda Leduc

David spends his waking moments thinking about food now. Potatoes, crisp from the oven. Eggs, poached and drizzled with homemade hollandaise, sprigs of basil, sliced tomatoes blackened and soft at the side of the plate. Beef so tender it falls away in the mouth. A jalapeno pepper, sliced open to the world, the seeds small and dangerous in his palm. Sourdough bread dipped in balsamic vinegar, pumpernickel sponging up oil. Nuts. Pumpkin seeds crisp on the top of a muffin. A roast turning brown, splitting on the other side of the oven door.

He lies awake in his hospital bed and thinks of all this, and the IV drips slow into his arm. He speaks to Sandeep and Gita, no one else. He leaves the food alone. Eventually, even the nurses look bored. You get used to anything in time.

After he’s been in the hospital for a month, the doctors tell him that he has to go.

“The tests are inconclusive,” they say. They’ve never seen anything like it. His blood count is normal. His cholesterol is fine. His heartbeat is stronger than Sandeep’s. And all of this as his flesh shrinks, as the bones in his face show their blunt angles to the world. The IV keeps him from death, but the overwhelming taste of hospital – that faint medicinal caterpillar at the back of his tongue – is a poor substitute for the tang of a grapefruit, the pith of an orange stuck between his teeth. No one knows anything.

The agreement: he will come to the hospital every day for an IV injection, clear nutrients right into his bloodstream. The hospital is taking back that private room. Someone is having surgery two days from now, someone famous, and all of the other rooms are taken.

“Blame the government,” says one doctor. He stands in the doorway and fingers his stethoscope. He doesn’t look at David at all. “We’re already short-staffed.”

“I’ll blame whoever I want to blame,” Gita says. This is her hospital, her territory. She has been sleeping at the hospital, perched at the doorway to his room like a small Bengal tiger. She is a good mother-in-law, better than he deserves. “He gets a private room for the injections. This is not a circus.”

The resident flushes. “We’ll see what we can do.” He is trying very hard to be professional, but in his white coat and pressed khaki slacks, he looks younger than David. “We’re going to keep trying,” he says. “We won’t forget you. Make sure you tell us everything – if anything changes, feels different. And we’ll see you tomorrow.” A slip here – that’s awe in his voice, and excitement. Sorrow. He’s sad to see David go. The way that audience members are sad to see the elephants walk away, the tents dismantled. The magician, packing his hat back away in that box.

David is struck, suddenly, by a wash of pity. He takes a step closer to the doctor and reaches for one of the oranges still sitting on the bedside table; he closes his fingers around the fruit for an instant and then tosses it – them – towards the bed. Oranges explode into being right in mid-air and cascade onto the mattress like coins from a jubilant slot machine. One orange, and then twenty, give or take a few.

“Anna Foxworthy,” David says, “in the cancer ward on 4. She likes oranges. Fresh ones, not the canned ones you feed everybody at lunch.” You don’t spend thirty days in a hospital without learning these kinds of things.

After a hushed moment, the resident nods. “I’ll make sure she gets them,” he says. And then there’s an instant – it feels like forever, but it can’t be more than ten seconds – when it looks like the doctor might kneel. Cross himself. That’s what people do, isn’t it.

But they wait, and nothing happens. The doctor nods to them and leaves.

“Phew,” and Sandeep mock-wipes his brow. It’s what everyone is thinking. “Thought for a minute there that things were going to get intense.”

But David is already mortified. He can feel the world expanding, focusing its bright paparazzi eye on his thin white face, his orange freckles, his mysterious, inscrutable hands. He carries the peculiar weight of knees bent in prayer, a heft that changes all the time. His shoulders are already sore. He shrinks even as they walk through the door, down the hall, outside. Days from now, maybe, he’ll be nothing. A shell. And still the people will come to him, still they’ll want to know.

Save me, they’ll say. I know you can do it.

***

He was making guacamole when the first miracle happened. Peeling an avocado and suddenly there were two of the fruit in his hand, just like that. He blinked. Two avocados in his palm now, where before there had only been one. One whole and the other one half-peeled, a blue-and-yellow sticker on its side that said BRAZIL.

He set them both down on the counter and looked at them, hard. Then he thought back to the grocery trip. Maybe Sandeep had put an extra avocado in the bag when David wasn’t looking. Avocados, after all, were expensive, and David was rigid with his money. Cheap, one might say. (Sandeep had said it more than once.) Or maybe David just couldn’t remember, and he had in fact relented and bought two avocados, knowing as he had that guacamole waited in the future.

Then he touched the other avocado, the one with the sticker, and it happened again. Three avocados on the counter now. The third avocado was missing a blue sticker, just like the second. BRAZIL. Land of magical, multiplying avocadoes. Avocadi.

Just to be sure, he touched the third one, and before he could blink another avocado appeared on the counter. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stood there, staring.

When Sandeep came into the kitchen a few minutes later, David still hadn’t moved his hands.

“Hey,” Sandeep said. He stopped with his hand on the fridge and cocked his head. “You okay? You look weird.”

“I just multiplied the avocadoes.” He spoke slowly, and low, as though not quite sure of the words.

“What?”

“I only brought one back from the grocery store. I swear.”

Sandeep looked perplexed. “What are you talking about?”

David pulled his left hand out of his pocket and touched the fourth avocado, and there was the fifth, staring up at them.

“Sweet God.” Sandeep let go of the fridge and came to stand beside David. “Can you do that again?”

“Six avocados is a little bit much, I think.”

Sandeep grabbed one of the brown bananas from the bowl on the counter and held it out. “Try this.”

He closed his fingers around the mushy fruit. This time he was not at all surprised to feel the weight of another, equally mushy banana in his hand. He transferred them quickly to the counter to avoid dropping the fruit on the floor. Now both he and Sandeep stared at the motley collection on the counter.

“So,” David said again. He felt ill. “What does it mean?”

“This is brilliant!” Sandeep’s parents were from London, and Englishisms like this still popped in his voice now and then. He shook David’s shoulder, then reached up into the cupboard and pulled out a pack of granola bars. “Do this.”

David picked up the box, and nothing happened. Sandeep frowned. Then his face lit up. “Maybe it’s the cardboard.” He tore open the box and dumped the contents out, then handed David a single granola bar.

Still nothing.

“The packaging?” Sandeep, he could see, was thinking hard now. He ripped the wrapper off another granola bar and held it out. David took it, like an obedient child.

Nothing.

He hefted the granola bar from hand to hand. It sparkled in his palms – almonds, dried cranberries that caught the light. “Nothing’s happening.”

“Just to be sure,” Sandeep said, “we should try something else.” He wrenched open the refrigerator door and pulled out a head of broccoli, then dropped it into David’s hands. The granola bar, forgotten, thunked to the floor.

Two heads of broccoli, just like that. He cradled them between his palms like misshapen skulls.

“Fruit,” Sandeep said. “Fruit and vegetables. That makes sense. The granola bar is man-made, just like the packaging. So of course you can’t replicate that.”

“Of course,” he said, faintly. Suddenly he felt dizzy, and he leaned back against the counter. Was that hum coming from his hands? “Maybe I should go lie down.”

“What did you eat for breakfast?” Sandeep asked, as though it mattered.

“I was going to have an avocado.”

Sandeep’s hand against his forehead was cool and dry. “You don’t feel warm. But maybe I should call my mum, just in case.”

“Why? Does she specialize in miraculous multiplication diseases?”

Sandeep shrugged. He hadn’t moved his hand, and his brown eyes were at once calm and worried. “Maybe we’re hallucinating.”

Both of us?” He reached over and tapped one of the avocadoes. Six of them, now, after all. They stood in silence for a moment and watched the row of fruit. Then there came a sound not unlike popcorn exploding. They looked down at the floor – the granola bar was jumping from tile to tile, splitting into another bar, another. Three more bars appeared, and then everything stopped. Stillness settled in the room like water – a roar of it, sudden and unmistakable.

“Actually,” Sandeep said, “maybe we should call a priest.”

But neither of them knew a priest, and so they called Rabbi Gershwin instead.

***

That first morning, when they’d woken to the news crews on the lawn, he closed the bedroom door on Sandeep and said his first and only prayer. “Take it away,” he whispered. “I’ll be good. I promise. I’ll do whatever you want.” Praying. Striking a deal.

There was an apple on the nightstand – he snatched it up and felt that energy pass from his hand into the fruit. Apples, falling from his arm. Apples, bruising hard against the wooden floor. He swore and threw the original apple in the corner.

“David!” Rabbi Gershwin, yelling at him from below the window. And Sandeep, outside the bedroom door. His knock was hesitant, polite.

“David?” Sandeep said. “Are you all right?”

“It’s the fucking rabbi,” he said. From where he stood, there on the second floor, he could see Rabbi Gershwin’s brown suit, the glint of sun against the shiny parts of his balding head. “He fucking called the news!”

Now the door opened. Sandeep, slim and dark in flannel pyjama pants. He didn’t say anything about the door, about that instinct of David’s to push him away. “I thought he said he was going to help.”

“So did I.” The day before, the rabbi’s ashen face. This is… extraordinary. Men wait all their lives to see something like this.

“Have you eaten?” Sandeep said. He came to stand by David, and they both looked out the window. The rabbi had been joined by a small blonde reporter. Even from the bedroom, they could see that the blue of her suit matched her eyes.

He pointed to the apples on the floor. “What do you think?”

“You haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

“Before yesterday,” he said. “Tuesday afternoon. Grilled cheese sandwich. That’s all.” Against his teeth, fruit exploded. Vegetables grew like vines from a tree. Even microwave dinners, which no one would call food, rose in his mouth like the tide. Last night he’d spat cheesy cauliflower mush all over the table.

“David! David, we just want to talk to you.” The reporter reminded him of a young cocker spaniel. Eager, ready to hump the first story that came along. “Please come down.”

“David.” Rabbi Gershwin, his voice rich with holy roller gravitas, did not look so ridiculous now. “You can’t do this alone, son.” The rabbi stepped closer, until he was directly beneath the open window. He spoke with the ease of a man who knew that his voice could fill an entire building. Gone was the frightened man who’d cowered behind his desk only yesterday, his eyes unsure, his smooth face cracked. I’ve never seen God this way before. “You need a team. People to speak for you as you go about your work. You can’t do it alone, son.”

“It’s a miracle,” said the reporter. She spoke directly into her microphone. The cameramen were probably by the porch, out of his sight. “But even Christ knew his way around a good PR campaign. We can help you, David – help you show it to the world!”

“How do you know?” David shouted, looking down at her. “You haven’t seen anything. He could be lying.”

The reporter made a small motion with her hand, and the cameraman came out from the porch. “Telephoto lens,” she said, her voice carrying. “The apple, just now. We have everything.”

He looked at Sandeep. “Tell me what to do,” he said.

“I don’t know.” But after a moment Sandeep reached up and shut the window, and then he drew the curtains so that they stood in the dark, the exclamations of their audience just faint squeals through the glass.

Moments later there was another voice, muffled, and sharp staccato raps against the front door. “David! Sandeep! Are you in there? What’s going on?” Gita, high and frantic. She’d probably seen the news crew on her walk to the hospital.

“She’ll know what to do,” Sandeep said. “She always knows.” He left the room and pounded down the stairs.

David’s stomach rumbled, loud there in the dark. His hands silent. His mouth tingling. He thought of the apples exploding from his hand. The avocados, still waiting on the kitchen counter. Faith was a hard child. A quiet tantrum. Lurking silent, now, in every nook and cranny of the house.

When the bedroom door opened again, Gita was first to step inside. Her running shoes squeaked against the floor. Static energy made hair stand out in fine black lines around her head. No awe in her face – just worry. “You look pale,” she said.

“I haven’t eaten,” he said. He let her feel his face, listen to his heart. Her hair smelled of Dove shampoo. “Since the day before yesterday. I can’t. That–” one arm out to the apples “–happens.”

She looked up at him and frowned. “You need nutrients.”

“Mum, he can’t eat.” Sandeep waved his hands. “Everything he touches turns into a circus.”

Her frown deepened. “I think we should get you checked in. If we hook you up to an IV, you should be okay.” She reached for the phone at her hip. “I’ll call a taxi – it’ll save you having to walk to the hospital.” Then she looked up at Sandeep. “They’re standing in the sunflowers now. Those idiots. It took me weeks to plant those sunflowers.” The house belonged to Gita. But she lived on her own now, and had done so ever since Sandeep’s father had died on the highway three years before. “Come on. Let’s go.”

The taxi was waiting by the time they got to the front door. They ran for it like fugitives. Gita shut them in, and then turned to face the phalanx of shouting reporters, the flustered and sweaty face of Rabbi Gershwin. “This man is ill,” she barked. When no one moved, she yanked the stethoscope off her neck and brandished it in Rabbi Gershwin’s face. “Did you hear me? I said he was ill! Back off!” Then she got into the car.

“The hospital,” she said. They drove away, the rumble of destiny loud beneath the wheels.

***

In observation, they discovered that vegetables were easier to multiply than grain. He tickled his fingers across pomegranates and mangoes like a virtuoso pianist. But his palm against the flat expanse of marbled steak brought inferior cuts of meat; slabs of gristle, bits of stringy brownish flesh on the verge of going bad. Man-made foods took time to manifest, as though the miracle was a virus figuring out its host. But he’d touch them all – these granola bars, these sesame crackers, these Jos Louis pulled from the crumpled pockets of starstruck residents – and sooner or later they’d split beneath his eyes and duplicate.

He was always hungry. At night, awake and listening to the hum of his hospital equipment, he thought of the samosas that Gita made for Saturday night dinners; the pineapple ice cream that his wife had made those hot Hamilton summers four long years ago; the biscuit cake that Sandeep had insisted on having at the wedding. The divorce celebration dinner at that Mexican restaurant, Sandeep soft and loose against him, their friends laughing, reckless, unperturbed. His wife had gone back to Orillia that night; he’d seen her off on the train, that look in her eyes, he realized now, a different kind of starving.

“Be happy,” she’d said, her forehead hot against his own. “Be brave.”

He had married Sandeep a few months later, at City Hall. Gita, unromantic about everything except her samosas, had heartily approved. And they’d had the biscuit cake, and lentil chapattis, and onion bhajis that left sweaty residue against his fingertips. His parents did not come, which was okay. He’d understood. His own awareness of the sharp detour his life had taken was thin at the best of times.

The doctors weighed him every day, and every morning the needle pointed lower. By the end of that month he could fit a fist inside the hollow of his ribcage. He’d always been thin, but now he was skeletal, frightening. The hospital gown hung from him like clothes on a paper doll.

When he wasn’t in observation, or multiplying pineapples and chocolate cookies for another medical audience, they made him talk to a shrink. Some of the doctors were still convinced that he was faking. Anorexia, and a compulsive desire for attention. Clever magician-in-training, practicing sleight-of-hand every chance he could get. Sooner or later they’d catch him, they’d unravel it all.

Beth, the shrink, wanted to know how he felt about the fact that his parents hadn’t come to the hospital. “That must be hard for you,” she said.

“They’re afraid,” he told her, which was true. They followed him in the newspapers. They had turned away their own phalanx of reporters once or twice. But they were also – and this he did not tell her, because it was none of her goddamned business – angry. They were good, respectable Jews. They wanted grandchildren. They still, so far as he knew, kept in touch with his ex-wife. There was no room in their lives for a son whose life had become so unpredictable.

“Are you afraid?” she asked him.

What to say? “I don’t know.”

“Most men who experience something like this encounter fear sooner or later,” she said, as though she witnessed miracles all the time. “Even Christ, after all, had Gethsemane.”

His wife had been a Christian. His parents hadn’t minded that. Christians were almost like Jews. A little more fanatical, maybe – a little prone to emotional outbursts – but otherwise okay. “I’m afraid of starving. How about that.”

“Wasting away inside of God,” and she nodded. Beth had a container of candies – ju-jubes, and sugar-sprinkled gumdrops – on her desk, and every time he came to her office the candies were all he could see. “That would frighten anybody.”

“What am I supposed to do?” he asked her, finally. The doctors had logged hundreds of observation hours and still, no one knew anything. “What do you think He wants from me?” One whole month, and it was the first time he’d asked the question.

Beth shrugged. “What does God want from anybody?” she asked. “Fealty? An open heart?”

“That’s not helping.”

“I’m not here to help you,” she said, which was kind of surprising. Wasn’t that, after all, the entire fucking point? But when he blinked at her, completely at a loss for what to say next, all she did was sigh. “You’re here to help yourself, David. Surely you must know that by now.”

***

In the morning they go back to the hospital. Gita hooks the IV up herself.

“You live in the research department now,” she says. She sounds satisfied; this is progress. Even miracles, given enough time, will yield their secrets to a microscope. She leaves to get coffee and trashy magazines from the front foyer. Sandeep perches on the edge of David’s chair and rests a hand against the side of his head.

“It will be okay, you know,” he says. “We’ll figure this out.”

David leans against Sandeep’s palm for a moment and then pulls away. “If you were me,” he says, “what would you do?”

“I’d have given up a long time ago,” Sandeep says. “Thrown myself off the hospital roof. Something like that.”

“Really?”

“Really.” He shrugs. “But you’re not small, David. There’s something incandescent here for you. I can feel it.”

“And if I go out to the pilgrims?” He watches Sandeep’s face – that silver scar on his chin, that shadowed dimple in the centre of his lip. “If I go out to the world?”

His cell phone rings before Sandeep can give an answer. It’s a number he doesn’t recognize. He’s avoided almost all calls this last month, but this time David picks it up.

“Hello?”

“David? David Solomon?”

“Yes. That’s me.”

“David! We’ve heard so much about you.” It’s a woman. Young. Chipper. American. “So many blessed, wonderful things.”

“Thank you,” he says, wary. “I think. How did you get this number?”

“Isn’t God wonderful?” she says. “I knew He would unite us sooner or later.”

“I’m sorry. Who are you?”

“We waited for a sign,” she says. “And today, the mayor officially declared a drought! Isn’t that wonderful? If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.”

“Excuse me?”

“We’d like to offer you a contract.” There’s a faint tapping on the other end of the phone. Keyboards. “We think you’d be perfect as a spokesperson for God’s Green Earth foods! We are one hundred percent certified organic. We use no pesticides, no artificial ingredients. We like to think that our customers are eating the same vegetables that Cain offered to God six thousand years ago.” Now her voice changes, becomes crisp. “As we understand it, you can multiply fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat, correct?”

“The meat doesn’t work,” he says, slightly irritated. “Unless you like it rotten.”

“That’s fine, that’s fine.” The woman keeps tapping. “What we’d like to do is fly you down to our offices for a day or two. Show you around, show you what we do. Give you some California sunshine! Then you can have a sit-down with our marketing department and discuss the contract in detail. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.”

“But what if I don’t want to come?” Sandeep is frowning now, watching him. What’s going on?

“But don’t you want to use your gift?” she says, slightly incredulous. “Don’t you think miracles such as these need to be shown to the world?”

“I’ll have to think about it.”

“Why don’t you come down and pray with us about it?”

“I don’t pray,” he says. “I mean, that is – I don’t pray in a church. Your church. I’m Jewish.”

“Oh. That’s fine!” says Ms. God’s Green Earth cheerfully. “Jesus himself was a Jew, if you’ll recall.” Tap tap tap. “I’d like to book a flight for you on Saturday, if that’s all right. Do you have any other obligations? Would you like me to book a seat for your wife? We’ll cover all expenses, naturally.”

“I don’t have a wife,” he says.

“A girlfriend? A fiancée?” She chuckles. “Or maybe there’s a woman down here for you! We have so many lovely young women at our church, David. They’d love to meet you.” Now her voice dips, whispers. “We know about the people camped out on your door.” Pause. “We know that you’re struggling to understand your gift. We can help you. And you can help so many other people at the same time. Isn’t that what you want?”

David holds the phone and says nothing. He watches Sandeep, who will be here with him until the end of time. Sandeep, who would have given up weeks ago.

“God chooses people for a reason. He knew you wouldn’t fail. Don’t fail Him now.” There’s something smug in her voice now. He’s not imagining it. “All God wants of you, David, is a ready and willing heart.”

He’s silent for a long, open moment. Almost an eternity. “I want my husband to come.”

Pause. “What?”

“My husband,” he says, again. Beside him, Sandeep looks terrified. “He gets a seat on the plane. And in the – negotiations. Whatever.”

“Your… husband.”

“Yes.” David watches Sandeep’s Adam’s apple bob up and down. “Hello?”

“I’m still here,” she says, her voice flat. It’s his turn to feel smug now, except that he isn’t. There are pilgrims outside of this building, too. And inside of him, a rolling power, a hunger so great it will encompass them all.

Deliver me, he thinks. Deliver me, oh Lord, into a world that shines.

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About the Author

Amanda Leduc‘s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, ELLE Canada, Tampa Review Online, Big Truths, PRISM International, Prairie Fire, and other publications across Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. Her novel, THE MIRACLES OF ORDINARY MEN, was published in May of 2013 by Toronto’s ECW Press. She blogs at www.amandaleduc.com and currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she is at work on her next novel.

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