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Published: Fri Oct 15 1976
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Rice for Dinner

He goes into the restaurant with three women. An obsequious waiter rushes up, starts serving a sort of fancy rice, flamboyant, Technicolor rice, garish as a painted woman. He asks how much the rice is. The waiter, terribly offended at such a blunt question, leaves their table. They look at the menu: riz coup-monte, same price as riz cuisse. But riz cuisse is nowhere on the menu.

“Waiter, none of this rice is priced. How do we know how much it’s worth?”

The mortally offended waiter returns.

“Monsieur, it’s worth what you think it’s worth. You have to taste it to find out what you ought to say. Of course,” he smirked, “you must have a criterion for judgment. You must have eaten a lot of rice.”

Another waiter comes along and cheerily throws on the table knife, spoon, fork, wrapped in a serviette.

“Ready for the rice?”

The man gets up to leave. But the women find nothing at fault and stay. They call after him angrily, in one huge voice, and then turn to smile at the waiters.

He wanders off, but all the restaurants are crowded. He sees a car that has been broken into. There is rice on the back seat, and a sign on the back window says the car is provided with the latest burglar-proof devices. He knows better, and laughs.

He finds himself outside another restaurant, and this time goes inside. There is the inevitable rice for dinner. To make for variety, he decides to prepare his own rice. He scoops it from a sack tied in the middle, at the waist. He puts handfuls on the large oven with a metal grill, hot as a fiend roasting little souls. The rice keeps falling, however, not through the grill, but off the edge of the stove onto the floor. He keeps putting it back over the fire to cook and expand, working the foot-bellows, as if he himself were breathing life into it. But the more he pushes, the more it has a life of its own, and falls in ever increasing amounts. He soon tires of this, and leaves to eat elsewhere.

He passes the burgled car again, and realizes that the prohibitory sign is really an invitation. Had he entered he would have been the victim of an experiment, a frame-up.

He looks up the wall of a large building facing across the narrow road. From a window he sees projecting five or six huge cameras focused on the car. He smiles and waves. He’s done nothing, but he knows the game is up.

A silk scarf flutters to the ground, and a handful of rice-grains.

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Brian Swann has published many books in a number of genres: poetry, short fiction, children’s books, translation, and Native American studies, including Words in the Blood: On Translating Native American Literature (University of Nebraska Press, 2011) and his most recent poetry collection, In Late Light (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). He lives in Manhattan and Vega, New York. (updated 10/2013)

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