A hue of green like none ever witnessed in nature. Yellow veins on thin skin. I lurch toward the irresistible smell. I salivate in anticipation of the crispness, the shock of flavor. I bare my teeth.
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with salad. As a child I was obsessed with spinach, primarily due to the cartoon character Popeye. I believed that the deep green of the leaf held some primal power that would increase my strength. I ate meals composed entirely of spinach, boiled into a mush or eaten raw by the handful. You can imagine the quantity of spinach required to satisfy a growing child’s belly–I regularly drained the bank with my cravings. When there was no spinach and I was forced to eat bloody flesh like the other children, I would stamp and scream so loud the neighbors often called the police. Once, my shrieks reached such a crescendo that my father’s crystal whisky snifter shattered in his hand. A shard entered his eye, permanently ruining his vision. He often squinted that eye afterwards, much like the Popeye character.
In my teens I began experimenting with other vegetables. Lettuce, carrots, radishes, all varieties of cabbage, onions, and more. I tried new combinations constantly. I believed there must exist a perfect salad and I was determined to find it. By the time I reached my 28th birthday I’d tasted every commonly eaten vegetable on Earth and had visited sixty-two countries in order to do so. I began experimenting with rarely eaten plants such as fireweed, dandelion and curlydock, and even other, less legal plants. But it was not enough. My palate craved some unidentifiable flavor. Something was missing. A ghost resided in the back of my mind, something I’d never known yet felt the absence of.
When I met Jen Wimple my life truly began. She held the key I didn’t know I’d been looking for.
Jen was seven feet tall and thin as bones. She reveled in stares, and constantly wore vertical stripes to draw attention to her stature. “I eat only leaves,” were the first words she said to me. I nodded and knew I’d met a kindred spirit. I soon learned that Jen was a geneticist who worked on producing pesticide resistant crops. Her passion, though, was salad. “I’ve produced the greenest, thickest kale you can imagine,” she said. I had to look up at her and that was a strange sensation for me, a six foot tall man. “Come to my house, and try it,” she said. She put a hand on my shoulder and her fingers hung over and down across my shoulder blade, I felt unable to say no.
In her apartment, which was immaculate and bright white everywhere, she showed me her kale. It was greener than anything I’d ever seen. It tasted like pure, vibrant life. She made me a salad and we had sex on the kitchen floor for two hours. I barely remember the sex, but that salad, the crisp perfection of the mixture, the clean, throbbing life of it has never left my mind since.
But still, it was missing something.
We talked about that something constantly, for hours at a time, all through the night and often during sex. At first I thought that it must be related to the texture and the level of crunch. But it was more than that, and Jen proved it. Her kale was no more crunchy than store bought kale. We tried bite after bite, for days, to prove this to ourselves. It was not more crunchy, but it was more something. After six weeks of eating her kale and comparing it against all other types of kale, we settled on a term to describe the something.
Jen’s kale was more alive.
She thought it must have to do with the DNA. When creating her Kale she’d combined it with certain aspects of seaweed and spinach for enhanced color and survivability, but she also included, for reasons she never explained to me, squid DNA. Other variations without the squid DNA did not have the same aliveness that we first experienced as crunchiness or vibrance.
After pinpointing the cause, it was a simple task to enhance it further.
Months passed. She used my inhumanly sensitive palate to guide her biological tinkering. We found that I could detect the tiniest variations in her genetic manipulations and could always determine whether they were closer to the final taste than the previous version.
After that first hint of success our obsession deepened. Jen used lab equipment indiscriminately, at all hours. We slept in her lab for weeks, avoiding her colleagues. We fucked under tables, knocked over microscopes and spoiled test samples with our sweat. We worked constantly with few breaks for food. We worked, and tasted, improved, fucked and tasted and improvised.
One day Jen had a bright idea. All the DNA we’d been adding to the kale and spinach was leading us down a path. We went from squid DNA to various bird DNA and then pig, and ape and dolphin. The mammalian DNA seemed more alive somehow, and the more intelligent the better. Jen’s bright idea was to try human DNA.
That was it. The crunch, the crisp, the pure vibrant life of the greens we made with human DNA was beyond anything we’d hoped for. We gorged on it, got sick, vomited, ate more. The biting into it was irresistible. We bit and tore and ripped with our teeth into the leaves and crunched on stems and roots like animals crunching bones for marrow. We ate constantly. We barely fucked anymore and I barely noticed. The greens were everything, that perfect taste.
Except, it wasn’t quite perfect. And I only noticed this after I noticed that Jen was not satisfied. This was not, in her mind, the final taste.
It took me months to realize Jen was pregnant. She said it was ours. We always used condoms but there were plenty of ways she could have managed. She always got what she wanted out of me. She ate more and more, inhuman quantities of leaves, and continuously rubbed her swollen gut. It unsettled me to see such a tall, thin person become swollen in the middle. She was like a thin branch with a cocoon hanging from it, or a long pea with a single oversized pod. She gave me constant, knowing looks and said over and over “wait till you see it.” I did not at first notice that she always said ‘it.’
Jen refused to see a doctor under any circumstances. She grew to an unreasonable size, and I begged her to go but she would not. She told me it was ours and no one else’s. She stressed ‘ours’ and said it over and over. When her water broke and a green-tinged liquid oozed across the floor, something inside me twisted with the primal opposite of revulsion: a kind of desperate, sickening attraction. The strangely familiar smell that slicked the inside of her legs made me gag with a choking hunger.
She overpowered me, forced me into the hall and locked herself in the lab. I pounded desperately, waited, pounded some more, vacillated between calling an ambulance or not. The smell prevented me from calling. I wanted no other man to smell that smell. No one but me. Mine. I salivated, swallowed convulsively. Painful hours later, she opened the door. “Come see it,” she said, and led me by the hand like a small child. I trailed behind her as if on wheels. A bundle of cloth sat in one of the lab sinks, stained the color of bruises. A keening sound wafted from it, like a leaking balloon. I floated toward it and suddenly I was there, looking down into the sodden, crumpled towels in the sink at my child.
Leaves of the most brilliant green I’d ever seen curled and glistened and seemed to throb with life. Little yellow veins pulsed as if with blood. They smelled so green. My mouth flooded, spittle poured down my chin. I panted and my nostrils flared, and all this before I saw the face and tiny grasping hands within the leaves. The muffled keening raised in pitch and I saw the mouth. It was full of leaves that grew on the insides of the cheeks. The eyes, useless, burst with leaves growing from the eyelids, from the tear ducts. The nostrils, the ears, bloomed with bouquets of green, beautiful green. My heart thundered and my skin tingled. “It’s ours,” said Jen, and she bent to kiss its head, or that’s what I thought. Instead she bit into a leaf growing from its forehead and tore savagely, jerking her clenched teeth side to side. The leaf ripped and yellow spattered across our child’s face and it shrieked and flailed. Jen’s eyes were dilated pure black, her cheeks smeared yellow. She bit again. The smell was overwhelming. I could not resist. I bit into a leaf growing from the back of its little hand and the crunch was like crunching of tiny bones, and the burst of crisp flavor and the burst of wetness on my tongue screamed more! More! I tore, ripped, crunched, my head knocked into Jens head and we pressed against each other, our heads buried in the sodden towels in the sink as we bit and ripped, and the shrieking grew louder, like a siren, a warbling, dying bird.
Then the keening stopped. And the next bite was missing that something.