“Another Coming of Age Story”

When the carrot—a science project on a window sill—opens an eye, when it grows legs and leaves its glass to walk the room, when it seems to develop sentience, John is touched by a gnawing sense of horror. His older brother instantly loves the carrot and his parents, though surprised at this new addition to their household, welcome the pet warmly, feeding it a mixture of old kitchen scraps and soap water in a second-hand dog dish, even installing a cat door so that the carrot can come and go in the fenced-in back yard.

John’s brother, Sebastian, names the carrot Liban, a word he picks out of a French movie, takes the carrot for walks on a leash. He housetrains it to void its bowels and bladder—urine a beige liquid, feces yellow pellets, both with the scent of stagnant water—into a cardboard box he lines with shredded pages from old Sears, Roebuck catalogues. The neighbors also seem to have no problems with Liban, coming out of their houses to pet him or watch him roll over, to fetch a pick-up stick. The boys’ father comments, after Liban has been walking for about a month, that the family should have gotten a carrot a long time ago, that Liban is much better than that dog, what was his name, the one that couldn’t be trained not to pee on the carpet.

At night, though, John can hear the carrot pacing the floor in the bedroom he shares with his brother, can see its silhouette climbing the wall. As the first snow falls, he decides he can’t take it any longer and walks Liban down the street to the Baptist church and drops the carrot into the clothing donation box there. That night, he closes his eyes and drops off to sleep with an ease he hasn’t managed in months, except that an orange thing lurks in his dreams, pursuing him until he wakes in a cold sweat just as the sun is starting to peek over the horizon. Outside, he can hear the shouts of the entire community coming together to scour the neighborhood in search of Liban. John can hear it in the determination of that mass of humanity: It’s only a matter of time before the carrot is found and back in his household. He’s eight, but he’s been alive long enough to know that when adults set their minds to something they always get what they want.

About John Duncan Talbird

John Duncan Talbird’s fiction and essays have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Juked, The Literary Review, Amoskeag, REAL and elsewhere. His short story collection, A Modicum of Mankind, will be out from Brooklyn press Norte Maar by the end of the year. An English professor at Queensborough Community College, he has held writing residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He is on the editorial board of Green Hills Literary Lantern and lives with his wife in Brooklyn.