Rena McClure Taylor “Onions Can Make You Cry”

There was something important that she was supposed to remember. Something maybe James had told her to do. He’d just been illustrating ways to remember things. Mnemonics, it was called. Or something like that. He’d told her before, so he’d said, that there were people who could meet a whole roomful of strangers and hours later call each person by name. They’d use some tool—a mnemonic—like making up a ditty about each person’s most distinctive characteristic. The one for the guy who had a mole on his chin with a half-inch hair coming out of it might be “Holy mole-y. Look at Joe Blow-y.” Or they’d picture Joe Blow with guacamole all over his face. (And maybe think his name was “Joe Avocado.”) Oh, well. Something like that.


She thought she remembered trying the method once when she’d joined a new church. She’d matched up the name of the leader of her class, “Mrs. Burchfield,” with trees and fields and came up with names like “Meadows” and “Fruit Tree.” Her calling the teacher “Mrs. Bitchfield” was probably what caused her to get the reputation of being special. Like some kids in school who get sent to “special ed.” She wondered if these kids all knew they were “rejects,” just like she did when Mrs. Bitchfield suggested she might go to another class.


At one time James called her special. Really special. She had the valentines somewhere to prove it. She’d put them away and one day she’d pull them out and show everyone. “Special” wasn’t what James called her that morning at the grocery store when the manager threatened to call the police. It happened in the fresh produce aisle. She wanted white onions and he wanted yellow or it was the other way—maybe it was yellow squash or zucchini.


In the kitchen when they got home, James was just showing her how to remember five random words. “Make a mental picture,” he said. “Put each word in context with something you know, maybe in some room of your house.” Then he was going to illustrate with the words: knife. onions. potato salad, mince, and dice.


But these weren’t random words, she knew that. They meant that James didn’t like big hunks of onion in the potato salad. He said that dice and mince didn’t mean the same thing and she thought that they did but he was right like he was always right and mince was finer than dice. He hardly ever minced words when it came to something that she was doing wrong. She didn’t iron his clothes right. He didn’t like creases in his sleeves, so that meant she had to use a sleeve board to iron his shirts. It doubled the ironing time. She knew because she had used his stop watch to verify it. And then her explanation for getting in his dresser drawer—the top one where he kept his private things—wasn’t good enough. He even accused her of taking some of his money. He had this way of squirreling away coins like pecans—well, there were three pecans in the drawer and he said she must have put them there to make him look ridiculous—and he said the four quarters he had there expressly to buy a Sunday newspaper were gone—and he didn’t even remember that Sunday papers were eight quarters now—so how could he even be sure if there were any quarters in the drawer—actually there had only been three—just enough money for one dryer load of clothes at the laundry mat—and he wouldn’t even carry the bag of clothes into the place—he wasn’t going to be seen toting in laundry. Doing laundry was women’s work. In fact, James was just like that lazy father of his.


But what now? Standing in the kitchen. She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. That James. Where was he? Just when she needed his help. Think. Knife, red, onions, floor, James. That was it. She had to get James up off the floor. Such a slippery mess. Onions everywhere. Red ones. She thought they’d bought white. And what else? Oh, yes, the knife. Why was she holding the knife? And why was her face wet? Of course it was the onions. Now she remembered. James said that she damn well better mince, not dice, the onions.