Ode to Pumpkin Pie by Ata Zargarof

These days, twilight comes early. My body is confused, its rhythms in disarray. By 4:00 pm, my eyelids are drooping; I yield easily to the comforter’s enticements. Hours later, I wake to a viciously empty stomach, an angry tub of acid in my guts.

      The sky outside my window is a starless black. Only glaring white lamps illuminate the street below. Dark, sordid leaves are strewn across sidewalks and lawns; they squelch underfoot as I scamper to the grocery store. I return bearing two boxes of pumpkin pie.

      What follows is a disturbing metamorphosis: I sit down on the couch and transform into a feral animal, shedding manners and humanity as I shovel pumpkin pie into my mouth. I can’t even be bothered to heat it up, I just tear open the box and dig in. Let me describe heaven for you: the soft, rich warmth of the pumpkin; the subtle waltz of spices—cinnamon, ginger, clove—the crisp, sweet crust. If I lived in some magical village 3000 years ago where all they ate was pumpkin pie, I would be happy.[1] It would probably taste better, too: my store-bought pie from the future—one of 50+ identical pies mass-produced for Thanksgiving weekend—is packed with glucose and preservatives. Yours was a better time, I’d insist to my magical brethren, even as I died of dysentery. Screw cell phones and penicillin, I want a pumpkin pie so good I expire on the can.

      This time of year, like clockwork, my craving returns. Autumn is a blue season, a time of tardy dawns and early dusks. The abbreviated days are drained of gold and light. For those of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder—or, fittingly, “S.A.D.”—the lack of light is enervating. We S.A.D people are slaves to the sky. We mirror its moods. One grey day is hard; several are devastating. Is it any wonder that I practically subsist off pumpkin pie during this time? It’s even shaped like a sun, the crust reminiscent of that star’s fiery mane. Am I not, in a sense, ingesting Helios in microcosm? Indeed, for thousands of years, fire was humanity’s sole source of illumination at twilight and beyond, when the sun sank below the horizon, drawing the world into its nightly gloom. Lapis sky, golden flame—archetypes, anyone? Hence Maggie Nelson, in Bluets, describes the colour blue as “an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire”[2]. In my despair I look to the autumn trees, whose bursts of colour are like the final acts of charity by a person who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

      Human society is structured around light: the myth of Prometheus implies that without fire we would be powerless before the gods. Zeus punished the Titan because he liberated us from our reliance on the divine. Prometheus didn’t just steal fire: he stole our need. In my version, Prometheus steals a box of pumpkin pie and brings it to the psych ward, curing hundreds of depressives, thereby liberating them from their reliance on Big Pharma SSRIs. Prozac stock plummets vertiginously, so the CEO chains Prometheus to a hospital bed.

      There is an Iranian festival, Shabe Yaldá—literally “darkest night”—which takes place during the winter solstice. Traditionally, families gather to exhume fruits—pomegranates, watermelons, plums—buried presciently during the summer months. We stay awake all night—telling stories, reciting poetry (particularly Hafez)—until dawn creeps over the hills, signaling the end of the longest night. It’s a time of celebration, as if to say: We’ve made it. We’ve survived.

      Months later, I’m sitting amidst innumerable fig trees, the clement July sun soaking into my skin. “More orange-yellow foods?” Roger, a naturopath, nods. “The hues should be naturally-occurring,” he says, green eyes twinkling. “Reese’s Pieces won’t do.” I’m one step ahead of him: Sundays, I lug home boxes of bright yellow mangoes from the farmer’s market, devouring them at the sink while their juice dribbles down my chin into the basin. I eat carrots like candy—massive, innumerable whole carrots—and fry four eggs for breakfast every morning. I prefer them over-easy, leaving their yolk an oozing gold, like ichor, the blood of the gods.

      “My cells turn yellow,” says Billie Marten of a sunny day.[3] Saturated with vitamin D, I’m seasonally affected but not disordered. The Black Dog is asleep—at least for now. “Your demons may have been ejected from the building,” writes Dan Harris in 10% Happier, “but they’re out in the parking lot, doing push-ups.”[4] Mine are waiting for summer’s end. Come autumn, they’ll storm the gates, stronger than ever. When that happens, I’ll be ready.

         Pie in hand.

Ata Zargarof is a writer of Iranian descent living in Vancouver, Canada. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crickets, Literally Stories, Braided Way Magazine and Microfiction Monday Magazine. You can follow his literary escapades at endlesswriter.com.

[1] Emphasis on magical: pumpkin pie was, alas, invented in 17th century France. A moment of silence for all those who perished before they could taste this gustatory marvel. 

[2] Maggie Nelson, Bluets (Wave Books, 2009), 62.

[3] Kate McGill, host, “Billie Marten – Being a Musician, Seasonal Affective Disorder & Social Media,” We Dive Deeper (podcast), August 19, 2019, accessed July 30, 2020, https://www.stitcher.com/show/we-dive-deeper/episode/billie-marten-being-a-musician-seasonal-affective-disorder-social-media-63308809.  

[4] Dan Harris, 10% Happier: Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story (Harper Collins, 2014).

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