When the roommate called, telling me he’d found an unusual thing, I was in Pittsburgh, buying pumpkins with my boyfriend. He described, to me, the bitter melon: a vegetable, green and wrinkly, like a rotted-through cucumber—its marrow filled with bright red seeds.
The roommate speaks six languages and enjoys spending Saturday afternoons with a cup of Earl Grey tea, reading a list of national animals to me. Angola’s is the magnificent frigate bird: a black bird with a bright red throat-pouch. Cuba’s, the Tocororo: a blue bird with a black cap. Zimbabwe’s, the sable antelope.
Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn, the roommate laughs, tearing off a piece of bread from the loaf between us at our kitchen table.
One day I came home to find the roommate had placed a giant basil plant in the windowsill. Ocimum basilicum, the royal herb, he said, from his brown, corduroy armchair. When I cook, I want to eat like a King.
When the roommate called, telling me he’d found an unusual thing, I was in Pittsburgh, buying pumpkins with my boyfriend. I fingered the grooves of the pumpkins, tracing their dimples, damp from the late September rain. The roommate said he would have to cook the bitter melon that night, because the longer he waited, the more bitter it would grow. He asked if I would be home for dinner, I said, No, probably not.
As I hung up the phone, my boyfriend handed me five cobs of Flint corn, their calico, hard kernels purple, red and yellow.
When the roommate called, telling me he’d found an unusual thing, I was in Pittsburgh, buying pumpkins with my boyfriend. I was hung over when I had woken up that morning. I answered the phone with, What do you want?
The roommate wanted to cook the rough-fleshed, bitter melon with potatoes and bell peppers. He said he regretted pitting the seed cavity because the seeds would have ripened sweetly, but he had thrown them out as soon as he cut the melon open.
When the roommate called, telling me he’d found an unusual thing, I was in Pittsburgh, buying pumpkins with my boyfriend. I was hung over from whiskey and gin. The night before, I had been to a party, a house packed with people.
In the crowd, two friends of my rapist had seen me before I noticed them. It had been nearly two years since my rapist had earned the court’s verdict guilty. For his friends, time had embittered them.
The taller one’s hands gripped my shoulders, shoved me against the wall. The blonde one stood behind him, shifting uneasily. You need to go, the taller one said. No one in the crowd noticed.
When I made it back to my apartment, I found the whiskey my boyfriend had left in the freezer. The roommate was writing a Latin essay and said he wouldn’t partake of the whiskey, but that he had just bought some gin.
I translated Ovid today, he said, pinching a lemon between his fingers, fogging the gin, the story about Philomela from his Metamorphoses. Philomela was stolen and raped by King Tereus of Thrace, her tongue cut-out when she retaliated against him. Because she couldn’t talk, she made art to express her tragedy. She made it beautiful.
When the roommate called, telling me he’d found an unusual thing, I was tired; my boyfriend shuffled through the rows of pumpkins. The roommate told me the melon had a thick rind, its strong, bitter taste protecting its sweeter seeds.
Melissa Ferrone received her Bachelor’s in English at West Virginia University this May and will begin West Virginia University’s MFA program in the fall where she will continue writing brief, creative nonfiction as her main focus. This is her first publication.