“Blood Red”

Last Thursday at dinner, Sirocco ate far too many beets, baked in basil and olive oil, then pissed blood red all night.

He thought of it as progress. Never much of a healthy man, Sirocco constantly sweat, his insides rich with salt and nitrates. Always running a fever, his body always seemed in overtime.

At one point, Sirocco had considered giving his body over entirely to caffeine and oat bran, but quickly missed his customary clotted, heavy feeling, his parched mouth seeking water like a desert snake.

Against his better judgment, Sirocco saw a doctor for his sweats. Sniffing disgustedly, peering over his horn-rimmed half-glasses, the doctor thrust his hands into his starched white lab coat and told Sirocco he wouldn’t have many years left if he kept on as he was. Upset, looking for ways to maintain a blood-red diet, Sirocco considered: what was it to suffer a beet entrée now and then?

So Monday, he started with a single boiled beet, void of any seasoning. Pleasantly surprised, Sirocco did not find it terrible. Tuesday was a juice mixed with beets and lemon — acrid and frothy, but Sirocco held on. That night: canned beets and goat cheese. Wednesday, Sirocco skipped beets entirely, which is why he compensated on Thursday and pissed blood red.

Stunned at first, he began to revel in his change in biology. As Sirocco ate more and more beets, filling enormous paper grocery sacks with the bushy, bearded roots, he discovered, to his nightmarish delight, that his fingernails had turned red. Waking one morning, he found he smelled of dirt and potassium — which no amount of showering, powdering, and anointing could entirely erase.

I’m becoming a cranberry bog, he smiled to himself.

With his very skin turning red, Sirocco became something of a neighborhood spectacle, stared at, photographed, trailed by art students looking for the odd vista. Even lovers, perched along the neighborhood’s ubiquitous metal balconies winding above the narrow streets, stopped to watch Sirocco walk by.

Of course his weight and blood pressure plummeted, to the point that even his cardiologist, aghast at what Sirocco had become, strongly advised another change in diet.

But Sirocco wouldn’t stop — couldn’t. He felt the earth churning inside him, growing new life, assuming amoebic shapes of its own. He smelled of tilled soil and his piss was more blood-red than ever.

Had proportions been observed, Sirocco should have succumbed to potassium toxicity — hyperkalemia, the doctor told him on his last visit, stressing every syllable — but Sirocco kept on living. His face a rich burgundy, Sirocco lost virtually all his friends, good friends, who couldn’t bear to look at his bull-blooded complexion, who spoke among themselves that there was nothing they could do.

Sirocco was at last helping himself, they said. Wasn’t he?

He lost his house, too. The microbes, geosmin, earthy little souls that lived within the beets, that gave new life to Sirocco, now grew out of him. Bled, sweated, and pissed out, they scrambled onto the walls of his little ranch house and gave birth toblooms of black mold. When autumn came, his house joined together with the ragweed of gathered leaves and created a haze that filled the spaces between other houses in his neighborhood.

Although Sirocco’s house was condemned well after the damage was done, the move was largely symbolic. The neighbors had just wanted to let him know that his efforts to better himself and their collateral damage were largely unappreciated.

But Sirocco lived on, cranberry-colored and contented, making himself at home on the damp dirt square where his house had been.

While he hardly had the look of a homeless, friendless fellow, the city just couldn’t let Sirocco, this blood red-colored man, be out in plain sight.

Public sanitation! The city had to get him out of there. But when they came to lift Sirocco from the earth, the sanitation workers found him immovable. He slumped over— smiling, but definitely slumped — and on closer inspection they found his skin had cracked. Rubber-gloved fingers found that the seams had sprouted taproots, spring green chard, and turnip tops.

“Municipal waste,” grunted one dirty, unshaven man in a soiled gray uniform, tugging at pieces of Sirocco, melting before their eyes.

“No,” answered his helper, a bespectacled young man with slicked-back hair. “A community garden.”

Opening Sirocco’s crumbling chest, he found the first flowering of irises and lilacs, and, nestled among them, the raven, nascent, triumphant, poised to reign over his startling, vegetable world.

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