3rd Place Story: “Cooking With Endangered Animals” By Lisa Rose

Posted on: January 17, 2011
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Cooking With Endangered Animals
By Lisa Rose

I knew it was going to be a bad day when I found one half of a roach in my scrambled eggs. Where’s the other half? I really hoped…well… Some people eat bugs. They say it’s fancy and tastes just like chicken. Well, those people are crazy! Too bad we didn’t have our own kitchen, I would whip up my own eggs. I am a great cook. I can make scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, and sunny-side up eggs. I can make omelets regular or with egg whites only. I could even make meringue. But we were at the homeless shelter. And we ain’t got no kitchen in our room. Wish I had my own kitchen with my own pots and pans. I’d learn how to cook all the stuff they show on the Food Network. I liked cooking. (Well, really I liked eating.) Someday, Imma gonna even have my very own cooking show.
Couldn’t eat no more of those eggs and I was still real hungry. So I decided to go on up to the store and get me some Twinkies. I can suck the frosting out of the center without ever having to take a bite. (Bet you wondering where I got the money. Well, homeless don’t mean no money. It means you ain’t got enough money.) It was raining. Not hard. A friendly sorta spring rain. Most people inside though. Also, it was early enough that most of the thugs weren’t around. (They liked to sleep late.) So no one will mess with me and call me Million Pound Moe. I hated being called Million Pound Moe. But I don’t say nothing back. Sometimes, I wish I did. Mostly, I just pretended I couldn’t hear. But some how I heard those words louder than any other words. They echoed deep inside me forever and ever.
I was busy lookin’ down for puddles. Mama didn’t like it when I get my shoes wet. She said they smell nasty and stink up the room. All five of us have to share one room at the homeless shelter. I got three sisters and one brother. My big sister, Leah, don’t live with us no more. She at college. Gonna be a dentist. Mama was real proud of her. Guess, I was too. Don’t know too many people who go to college. Most people I know don’t even make it through high school. Well anyways the shelter room was tiny and smelled like old butt to begin with so we didn’t need to smell my ol’ foot too, ‘specially since the window stuck shut from piled on bird shit.
I looked up and saw him getting into the SVU. Knew exactly who it was. There was only one person in Highland Park who looked like him. Everyone stared at him. Wasn’t beautiful or ugly. He was something you see and you think your eyes are trickin’ ya. Had the wide nose and big lips of a black man but was pale and had golden hair and blue eyes. Black Albino. People called him Whitey. He looked like an angel but was tricky like the devil.
“Got to go in the back. You okay?” Mr. Naje said in his funny Indian accent as soon as I stepped into the store. He know me like forever. When I gots no money he let me sweep up or unpack boxes for a candy bar. He think everyone steal from him. But he like me.
“Sit here.” He pointed to the chair behind the counter.
I did. It made me feel real important. Maybe this day wasn’t going to be so b—
“GET DOWN!” Ten po-lice (okay maybe just two) stormed in with guns drawn. I bellyflopped to the floor. My heart exploded and really felt like I was going to throw up the eggs and the half of roach.
“It was Whitey, right?” a po-lice said to me as I clung to the dirty floor.
I didn’t say nothin’.
I heard Mr. Naje in the back of the store shout, “Go get him!”
Then I heard the po-lice scurry out the door.
Mr. Naje kneeled beside me and put his finger to his lips.

I wanted to ask Mr. Naje a whole bunch of questions but the po-lice helped me up and I was taken to the po-lice station. They put me into this tiny room with a table and folding chair. (It really did look like one of those questioning rooms they show on TV.) I was drinking my third Pepsi when the door opened and in walked She-Man. Seriously, I had no idea if it was a man or woman. Nothin’ girly about her. Close cut hair, no jewelry, make-up, or nailpolish. She-Man started talkin’ real fast; “Youare indanger.”
“Indanger of what?” I asked.
She-Man seemed annoyed I questioned her. “It’s not safe for you to be on the streets.”
I nodded. It really wasn’t safe for anybody in Highland Park. Bad stuff happened just about every day.
“You are the only one who can put Whitey away. There has been other witnesses…” She-Man stopped herself from saying what she wanted to say.
“What about Mr. Naje?”
She-Man sighed. “He said he was in the back and didn’t see anything. We will protect you. We spoke to your mama and she signed the papers.”
She-Man showed me her signature “Shayla “Star” Hodges. My mama always signed her name with a star. She said that was her stage name. Shayla Starr. She worked as a dancer in the club. She even wrote a note. Kep Moe Saf. (My mama wasn’t such a good speller.)
She-Man said, “You will be moved to a different location and given a new ID. I will protect you and you will receive more information when we reach our destination. Do you have any questions?”
“Can I pee?” was all I said. (After all, I had three Pepsis) Had no idea that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to Mama or my brother and sisters. Couldn’t even go back to the shelter get my recipes. I had some stored in my head but all the best chefs on the food network have books, so I started one too. Wished I could make one last meal for my family before I go.
Mama loved gooey chocolate. She loved my Inside Smores.
Ingredients:
Graham crackers
Mini-marshmallows
Chocolate chips.

1. Put ½ of a graham cracker on a baking sheet (or plate if you only have a microwave)
2. Put chocolate chips on top of the graham crackers
3. Put mini-marshmallows on top of the chocolate chips.
4. Add more chocolate chips
5. Put the other half of the graham cracker on top. (So you make a sandwich)
6. Then bake for about 5 minutes or microwave for about a minute.

Never went camping. Closest I got to a fire pit was the neighbor’s house burning down. So I had to improvise (fancy word for make-it-up.) Mama loved these so much. I don’t even get upset when she pulls it all apart. First she pulls off the tops and licks off the gooey marshmallow chocolate and then she eats the graham crackers.
Tam Tam loved anything with cheese. She loves my Cheesy Fries.
Ingredients:
Potato
Cheese
Oil

1. Peel and slice a potato (or more if you hungry) You can slice them like thick fries or thin like at McDonalds or in circles the way Tam Tam likes them.
2. Put oil in the pan and put the potatoes in.
3. Fry until golden.
4. Take it out of the pan and place it on a plate. Then put whatever cheese you got on top of the fries. American is easy. Put shredded cheddar or even mozzarella works good too. Since they are so hot the cheese melts right away.

It was really greasy and cheesy and yummy. Tam Tam could eat a lot and not get fat like me. Couldn’t stand how she do that. Tam Tam also claimed to like things like caviar and other fancy stuff. But she all talk. Never tried any of it. She just like to pretend she a superstar. She says she’s gonna be a celebrity. Don’t know how—ain’t got no talent. But if she became a celebrity, I still think she would ask me to make Cheesy Fries. And I would.
Barbara loved pickles. She ate them with everything. Mama thought it was just a phase, but it lasted for years. Walter loved any thing with spice. Saw him eat hot peppers like they were peanuts. I loved making popcorn for them. I microwave a bag and then divide it into two ziplocks. In Barbara’s I put relish and in Walter’s I put salsa. Then I give them each their bags and tell them to shake it up. (Make sure the bags are real tight-because it’s really messy if they ain’t tight—been there—done that!) Instant Presto: Pickle Popcorn and Spicy Popcorn.
Leah loved sweet things but especially blueberry pancakes. But we don’t get fresh blueberries, and Leah claimed that canned blueberries make the batter turn blue. She said nobody liked to eat blue food, so I never made her favorite food. She mostly at school and don’t eat much with us. But one day Imma gonna make her those pancakes— a huge stack with bursting hot blueberries and powdered sugar melting into the butter just how she said she liked them.

Everything was happening so fast. I should have said something but I didn’t. The po-lice were so sure. So positive. But they weren’t there. They didn’t see what I saw: Nothin’. Nothing happened. Besides I saw Whitey drive off. But the po-lice weren’t like me. That what everyone always tol’ me. Even Leah said not to mess with them. So I didn’t.

There were some good things about leaving. Got to go on an airplane. In all my twelve years I never really been out of Highland Park, Michigan. It was a tiny city surrounded by Detroit. Which isn’t much to brag about cause Detroit like the hole in the center of an angel food cake: a huge crater of nothin’. Now imagine the deepest nothin’ in nothin’ and you got Highland Park. Couldn’t really see much cause we went at night. But just knowing I was going up, up, up, away was enough for me not to even mind the teeny-tiny seats. Went to the bathroom, could barely squeeze myself in there. Just wanted to stand in the hallway and take aim. Was really grateful I didn’t have to take a crap.
She-Man was with me. It was her job to act like my mama and protect me. Kinda funny to see her in a dress, heels, and long wig. She-Man didn’t talk or eat much on the plane. She drank water. Water only. I got another Pepsi and dreamed of a big Happy’s Pizza. Pizza was one of world’s most perfect foods. Honestly, who doesn’t love pizza?
Wanted to ask questions. Wanted to ask where are we going? And all the other questions that followed: Where are we staying? For how long? When will we eat? Will I have to go to school? When we will eat? What about clothes and stuff? When will we eat? Can I call Mama? When will we eat? But I didn’t.
The pilot said welcome to Florida. I was not excited. Fat people don’t do well in heat. Besides Florida was an outside state. People always outside and stuff. I was definately more of an inside person. Though I always did kinda want to see a palm tree and the ocean. I wondered if it was blue and sparkling like they show on T.V. The sun was just startin’ to peek out when She-Man and me got into the car. I pushed the seat way back so I could stretch out my legs. Don’t know why they had to cram us all in the airplane like that. She-Man looked straight-ahead at the road (which I noticed was pothole free) and said, “ We will live a in gated-community in Boca Raton.”
“Jail?”

When sun came up I saw it wasn’t jail. Just a place with a lot of old people on scooters. Guess they put the gates up so the old people didn’t escape. When you get old you forget a lot. But they were easier to find when they got a smaller space to get lost in. I called She-Man Mama and she calls me Michael. I would rather be called Michaelangelo or something cooler than plain old Michael. But I didn’t say nothing. My real name was Moe. Well, actually, it was Marcus, but everyone called me Moe. Well really just Million Pound Moe. But like I said before I didn’t like that.
Also found out She-Man ain’t from H.P. She a Fed. (That’s short for Federal Po-lice.) I guess Whitey’s wanted for a lot bigger stuff than H.P. He must be cause our city ain’t got enough money to pay for a bus ticket let alone a plane ride and this condo.
It was real nice. Clean. Fresh. Everything was white. Not dingy dull white. But white-white. Never saw so much white. Felt like I was seeing the color for the first time in my life. My skin looked so dark on the sofa. Heard my stomach growl. All the Pepsi was good, but I needed to get me some real food. Bet I could try real seafood down here. Not just canned tuna fish or the stuff they try to pass off at the Miley Miley Shrimp Shack. I think they batter and fry just about anything (maybe even roaches) and call it shrimp.
“We have cornflakes for breakfast,” She-Man said as she was busy checking all the doors and windows.
I think she read my mind. But I think about food a lot so maybe it wasn’t all that amazing.
“Cornflakes,” she said as she rushed across the room.
Couldn’t believe we had this beautiful kitchen stocked like magic with pots, pans, and food, and she wanted me to eat cornflakes. The kitchen wasn’t the only thing that was stocked. The closet had my size clothes-super extra large, the bathroom had soap, towels, toilet paper, and no mold in the cracks or roaches in the corners. Didn’t even want to get it dirty. Felt like I was livin’ on MTV cribs. Kinda felt guilty I was getting all this royal treatment….cause…well….
“Can I make breakfast?”
“What?”
“I can cook.”
“Orange-alicious French Toast”
Ingredients:
1/2 cup Orange Juice
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1tbsp. Cinnamon
Butter
Four slices of bread

1. Beat the egg.
2. Add the milk, orange juice, and cinnamon
3. Soak each slice of bread
4. Melt butter in a pan.
5. Fry until golden.

The orange juice made it extra tangy. Usually I ate it with plain ol’ maple syrup. But I found some orange marmalade in the pantry, spread it on, and I don’t think I could ever go back to putting just syrup on anymore.
“Not bad,” She-Man said as reached for another piece. Had feeling that would be closet thing I would ever get to “good job” from her.

We had a deck. It was kinda like a porch but it was out back and people don’t hang out like back home. They laid out and tanned. Kinda funny seeing all these old people trying to get dark like me. Don’t know how they stood it. It was oven hot and wet. I was dripping just standing still. But I didn’t want to go inside. The sky was so blue and the grass was so green. All the colors here were so bright—like I just walked into a box of crayola crayons. Wondered if this was all real or was I gonna wake up like Dorothy and tell a tale of a real trippy dream.
“Hello!” An old lady said from the deck next door. I looked up for a minute and then turned away. Nobody knew me here, so I don’t think no one would give me a shout out. Besides, She-Man made it very clear I wasn’t to talk to no one.
“Hello! You! Young Boy!” I looked over in her direction.
“Yes! You! Hello”
“Whatz up!” I said back just to be nice and all. Then I turned away and studied the big palm tree next to the deck. It was weird. Like the time I went to The State Fair and saw a cow. Can’t remember a day in my life I didn’t know about a cow and Old MacDonald’s Farm E-I-E-I-O. But until you are right up smack in front of a cow do you realize, “Holy Cow! That’s big animal!” Well, the palm tree was like that. You know it has coconuts and everything but when you actually see it real and alive, it’s like something different.
“Want some challah?”
The old lady was standing in front of me. She had on a pink velour tracksuit and more bling than a gangsta. Her hair was a big blond helmet of hair, but there was something still sweet grandmama-like about her. Maybe it was the big giant bread braided like a cornrow that she held out to me.
“Huh?”
“Challah?” she said to me with a smile.
“Holla?”
“Close enough. Have some.”
“Huh?” In my hood people just don’t go up to you and give you free bread. “What’s the catch?”
“Catch? I’m your neighbor. You looked like a boy who likes to eat and I am woman who likes to cook.”
Wow! No wonder so many people like to retire here. This place here was paradise; “You made this?”
Her eyes shined the same way mine did when folks lapped up what I made for them, “Yes, every week.”
I knew She-Man would be mad. Could be a decoy to poison me, but the lady ripped off a piece and handed to me. I took it and stuffed it into my mouth. It was moist and sweet. Usually, I like bread with lots of butter. (As a rule: Everything was usually better with lots of butter.) But this bread was perfect just as it was. “Wow! This is really good.”
“I’m Bubbie Golda.”
“Bubba Golda?” I axed.
“BubbEEE Golda,” she said.
“I like Bubba Golda better. I call you that.”
She smiled. Guess she liked her nickname. “What’s your name?”
“Moe,” I answered. OOOPS! Slipped-up. She-Man was gonna kill me!
“Moshe?” she axed.
Saved! “You can call me that.”
She-Man stepped onto the deck. She didn’t have to say anything. Bubba Golda knew it was time to go. “Nice to meet you,” she said as she took tiny quick steps back her deck.
“Don’t talk to strangers,” She-Man said and went back inside.

That night I lay up in the bed. The sheets were so clean. Felt like I was in a commercial. Kept taking deep breaths to inhale all the freshness. But all the “cool lavender summer breeze” freshness couldn’t stop me from thinking about all the dirt back home. The po-lice didn’t really axe me too many questions. Then before I knew it I got shipped off to this place…This place real nice. If the po-lice knew nothing happened. I might have to leave….
Thought about Whitey. He in jail and I was living the good life. (She-Man said he didn’t get no bond. They just needed me to put him away for a long time.) Tried not to feel too bad about it. Probably stole from Mr. Naje some other time. Everybody knew Whitey was evil. Bet Whitey so mean that he ate sour lemons—sliced them into wedges and sucked the juice out of them without even wincing. Once I saw him kick a rock right in front of Tyree’s dad’s wheelchair. Luckily he still got game. Not only did Tyree’s dad miss the rock, but he also gave Whitey the finger back.

The condo was so quiet. Not used to all the quiet. Someone always up and making noise in the shelter. Missed Mama. My mama messed up in a lot of ways, but I knew she loved me. She always told me how Imma gonna own my own restaurant and have my own cooking show and that she was gonna brag about me all the time. When I was sad about someone teasing me, she said, “Don’t worry, you will show all of them. You are a superstar.”
Not sure who my dad was. Mama didn’t talk much about it. Leah said all that mattered was I gots someone to love me. I knew Mama did and so did Leah. Maybe Tam Tam did too and Barbara and Walter sure did. So I guess I was okay. Still sometimes, I did think about it. I looked like none of my other brother and sisters…I wondered if he was big like me. I wondered if he hated ketchup as much as I did and if he could suck all the frosting out of a Twinkie without biting into it just like me.
Thought about getting some more Cheeseburger Pasta. Made it for dinner.

Cheeseburger Pasta.
1 lb. ground beef
1 can of cheddar cheese soup
1 can of tomato soup
2 cups of water
2 cups of pasta (the kind that looks like little shells works best)

Cook the beef in a pan. Boil the pasta in pot. Then in another pot warm up the soups—mixed together. When the pasta is done, put it in the soup. Then add the beef and mix it all up.

Instant Presto! It’s done and yummy!

Wished I had some more of Bubba Golda’s cornrow bread to go with it. It would have been perfect.
Wondered if Mama was worrying about me. She would totally flip if she saw this place. So would Tam Tam. Boy, Tam Tam would be so jealous. All this nice stuff. Tam Tam has an old Nike shoe box she carried wherever we stayed (just like I took my recipes.) Always thought she put her shoes in there to stay clean. Tam Tam real crazy about keeping her shoes clean. But one day the cover was kinda off. (Well…okay, I just flat out snooped.) There were magazine pictures of clothes, houses, purses, and shoes. It was like Tam Tam cut out all her dreams and put them in that box. Kinda felt like I was livin’ in Tam Tam’s dream box. But if the po-lice knew…

EDITORS’ CRITIQUES:

Geoff Anderson, Literary Magic Senior Editor: I really enjoyed reading this story, and although I felt it was just the first part of a longer story, still I didn’t feel the ending hung me out to dry overmuch. Although it’s outside my realm of experience I felt that the writer painted a fair picture of living in a homeless shelter, via the details related by Moe – eg 1. Homeless don’t mean no money. It means you ain’t got enough money. 2. the windows stuck shut because they’re piled high with bird shit. 3. Five people sharing one room. 4. And the many points of contrast with the condo.

I found Moe spoke with just enough grammatical errors and slang expressions. I don’t believe such things have to be 100% authentic, otherwise it would be difficult to read. This is a story, not a documentary. Some may disagree, especially when two phrases are side by side, one in Moe’s authentic lingo and one with orthodox grammar – perhaps such glaring inconsistencies could be ironed out as a compromise?

One detail: Million Pound Moe is meant to tell us early on that Moe is fat. Being a Brit, however, I took it as a reference to wealth (cf: The Million Pound Note, a film starring Gregory Peck!) as if people teased Moe for being so poor. Our Magazine has a global readership, from lots of nations who weigh in kilograms, etc, so I think it would be worth including some reference to Moe’s size before revealing his cruel nickname. You might respond with the fact that we Brits still weigh in pounds and ounces (though only in a popular rearguard action – we’re in Europe’s metric zone really) but we’ve never referred, as Americans do, to people’s weight in pounds, but always in stones. I was 10 stone when younger (never 140lbs) but now I weigh ‘about 13 stone’. My 14-times table isn’t that hot, so I have no idea what ‘about 13st’ is in pounds!

I love the recipes!! This touch endeared me to the story immediately, for it’s such a quirky thing to do, and very much of the times, for everyone is mad about cooking – chefs are celebrities now and there are loads of cooking shows on TV, as Moe mentions. He loves cooking and his ambitions are to have his own TV cooking show. It’s great how he shares with us the favourite dish of his family members. Along with other snippets of description and information, these favourite foods serve to give his family a distinct flavour, so to speak! And what a super detail about canned blueberries staining the batter so he’s never been able to make blueberry pancakes. And I noted the food reference in describing Detroit – very clever.

In an ‘I’ story, the success of the story hinges largely on the narrator: is (s)he believable? Likeable? Sympathetic? Interesting? Moe ticks all the boxes for me.

The mainspring of the plot is extremely tenuous, to put it mildly. How can the po-lice’s thinking that Moe has witnessed a gangsta stealing from a local store put that gangsta away for years? Moe would need to provide evidence of Whitey’s drug lordship, his many murders, his illegal gambling cartels, his money laundering, etc, etc, in order to do that. Just having eye-witness evidence of a minor crime doesn’t convict a criminal of all the other crimes the police suspect him of. Or am I missing something here? But I was willing to forgive the plot’s weakness because I simply enjoyed Moe’s monologue so much. I wonder why the writer didn’t have the po-lice think that Moe had witnessed Whitey killing someone? It would be a simple way of making the plot more plausible.

Rocky Reichman, Literary Magic Editor-in-Chief: Cooking with Endangered Animals really stood out in this year’s batch of stories. Not just for its interesting insights into a culture unknown to most people, but for the flavorful style it is written in.
The story centers around a rotund but joyous protagonist with a passion and skill for cooking. The author smartly chose to pepper the story with creative recipes, such as Cheesy Fries and Inside Smores. The author manages to take what seem to be standard dishes and break them down step by step, so that even novice cooks understand how to cook them. In that manner, the story serves not only to entertain its audience, but in part as an information source as well. A cookbook within a short story.

The most important aspect that this story brings is its contemporary, down-to-earth feeling that it creates. Readers are drawn in to a life of poverty and hope, a place of mild action and little drama. But everything changes when a robbery in the local store occurs and the protagonist is the key witness in the case. The protagonist is transported by police out of his ghetto area, and to a safe place. But it is more than that. The protagonist doesn’t just change places geographically, he changes his life. His new environment is rich with food, wonders and beauties he never would have had the chance to experience beforehand. But what the story focuses on is not the poverty. Readers receive that on their own. What the story focuses on is the food, and the protagonist’s relationship to it. In this way, it offers a new outlook not only on the differences some people have in terms of quality of life, and how fast that changes, but a look way of thinking about just how important food can be to people.

Food. Something so many of us take for granted, yet so important. We may have access to it everyday, but think it commonplace. In reality, for some, like those of impoverished homes, food is essential to not just living, but staying alive. The ability to take something so undervalued and produce creative dishes like this protagonist has done is a trait not expressed enough in modern society. What this story has managed to do is highlight that importance, and raise food-and creative ways of expressing it-to the level of reverence is deserves in life.

The secondary aspect that makes this story unique is its writing style. The way it is told. The author relates the story in first person, in the language of the protagonist. The style follows slang over standard grammar yet gets its message across better than if it had been written in normal English.

While the plots seems to jump and stop at odds time, and it is unclear whether the story goal is achieved by the tale’s end, the focus and writing style of this story worked well enough to put it at Third Place in Literary Magic Fiction Contest for this year.

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