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Shelli's Bio [Her personal website]
Shelli Cornelison lives just outside Austin, Texas, where she co-teaches a short story workshop. She is a recovering essayist whose short fiction has most recently appeared at Monkeybicycle. She has work forthcoming in Selene Quarterly. A disproportionate amount of her words languish in submission inboxes, which is fine. Really
“Love in the Time of GMOs,” by Shelli Cornelison
Conventional wisdom would dictate that potato chips were unlikely to lead a woman to her soulmate. But Sarah didn’t subscribe to conventional wisdom, nor did she eat conventional chips. Much like beer snobs only drank craft brews, she only ate artisanal chips. They were a thing. It was 2018, America was going to hell in handbasket, and people were finding solace in all sorts of small batch comforts.
Large chain restaurants were failing, but fair-trade chocolatiers were thriving. The movie theaters were all ripping out their old, cramped seats and installing large recliners while furniture factories were closing their doors. Handmade goods were selling at a steep price, but everyone was paying in cash because their credit scores had tanked due to unpaid medical bills, all denied by overpriced insurance policies.
Sarah’s roommate, Kate, was somewhat more conventional. She still bought water in plastic bottles and used toothpaste with fluoride in it. “Oh, my God, Sarah. You can’t be serious.”
“Lemongrass and fennel, Kate!” Sarah shook the bag in her roommate’s face. “I mean, come on. Take my virginity and marry me now, please.”
“Shut up. We both reached for this bag at the exact same time. How are you going to tell me that’s not fate?”
Kate scooped flour into a mixing bowl. It was wheat flour, full of gluten and Glyphosate. Sarah turned away quickly to avoid inhaling any particulates. It reminded her she still needed to take her daily liver detox supplement, and so she did. She washed the capsules down with homemade cashew milk. She could feel her cells regenerating the moment she swallowed, though to be fair, the ginger and cacao fat bomb she’d ingested a few hours earlier probably deserved some credit for the sensation.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out with the guy,” Kate said. “Just maybe hold off on ordering the wedding cake, okay?”
“Trust me, he’s the one. You’ll see.”
Sarah’s date arrived fifteen minutes early, an act that annoyed Kate because she had to pause the movie she was watching to open the door for him. But she assumed he probably couldn’t wear a watch due to an electromagnetic field sensitivity and was therefore left dependent on a sundial in his garden, which could make punctuality a challenge. She understood. And no one with half a brain left carried a cellular phone anymore, what with all the new research findings on Wi-Fi and how it could dissolve the cerebellum of naked mole rats in less than fifty years when duct taped directly to their heads. Kate shuddered at the thought.
“Hi, you must be Sage. I’m Sarah’s roommate, Kate.”
“It’s Cumin, actually.”
“Right. Sarah should be ready any minute. Have a seat.”
Cumin had a man bun, but it sat low and tightly coiled on the back of his head, not up high and loose like a top-knot. The guy wasn’t one of those yoga bros from 2016 or anything. “Corn nuts?” Kate offered.
“Corn? You eat corn?”
“It’s not corn. It’s a nut. It’s a corn nut. Fuck if I actually know what it is, but it said heirloom on the bag.”
“Oh, okay. Sweet.” Cumin took a handful. “I love this movie,” he said. “Especially the part where they hit the croquet ball into the girl’s head.”
“That’s the opening scene. That’s your favorite part of the whole movie?” Kate’s eyes followed the corn nut Cumin rolled along the backs of his fingers. His dexterity was impressive.
“No. My favorite part is when they get the main girl to drink poison, but we just met and I was afraid if I told you that, you’d think I was a psycho and you’d tell your roommate not to go out with me.”
Kate laughed. That was her favorite scene in the movie, too. “She thinks you’re soulmates because you like the same kind of weird chips.”
“You and I both like these heirloom corn nuts. What does that make us?”
“A girl who will eat anything, and a guy who will eat anything if a girl tells him it said heirloom on the bag.”
“It didn’t say heirloom, did it?”
Cumin popped the corn nut from his knuckles into the air, and caught it in his mouth. “Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”
Sarah made her entrance, wearing an organic cotton tunic over a fringed, vegan leather skirt. Vegan leather was the cool way to say polyurethane in 2018.
“Don’t wait up.” Sarah took Cumin’s hand and led him to the door. His palm was gritty with salt. She let go and smoothed the side of her skirt, hoping he wouldn’t realize why she was doing it. When Cumin looked back to wave goodbye to Kate, Sarah quickly licked her fingers. Definitely not lemongrass and fennel.
Cumin took her to a new food truck. The special was a single, smoked crab claw resting on six charred sorrel leaves arranged like a star, each point balancing a saffron-infused raindrop. Sarah hesitated, tried to exercise restraint, but the thought of how many likes that would get on Instagram was too much for her.
Sarah still carried a phone, but only because her mother had late-stage cancer and she didn’t want to miss the impending news. She did have a lead-lined pocket in her crocheted cross-body bag to keep it in when she wasn’t checking messages. Or uploading photos. If she had to carry the phone; she may as well have used it. And in her defense, her mother had sent her to public school and let her eat white bread. She had never been loved properly, and an improperly loved child tended to live a dichotomous adult life. She snapped the pic, uploaded it, and then sealed her phone away in an effort to be fully present in the rest of her moments with Cumin.
“Want to grab some dessert?” he asked. “I know this great new place for nitrogen chilled goji berries. They serve them with mini silver hammers. You crush the fruit and then lick the frozen shards off this paper made from edible flowers. It’s a pretty sensual experience. But, I mean, if that’s too much for a first date, it’s cool. We could get some non-dairy gelato instead.”
Sarah couldn’t help but imagine how beautiful that dessert would look in pictures. Oh, man, the filter options. “To be honest, I’m still a little hungry. Could we maybe grab some chips or something?” She hoped she wasn’t being as transparent as she felt. Theories needed to be tested, though.
“Sure. I could eat a little more.”
The store didn’t have a great selection when it came to chips, but they were all locally sourced, and all packaged in compostable bags. Sarah surveyed the mundane flavor choices: Curried Pork Belly, Candied Anchovy, Bourbon Barrel Aged Cheddar and Shallot, and then she saw it. The only choice that could possibly make sense. He would choose it, too. Sarah was sure of it. She reached.
Cumin’s shoulder turned away from her. “Hey, you ever tried these?” He held a bag of barbecue flavored corn nuts toward her.
“Those are poison,” she said.
“Yeah,” Cumin said, his gaze falling to the polished concrete floor. “Look, there’s something you should know about me. I used to have a problem.” He stared down at the bag and Sarah read the craving in his eyes. “I’ve been pesticide-free for four years, but I honestly think I could handle it now, if I ate just a little.”
“You’re stronger than the urge to eat those, Cumin. I know you are. Look.” She showed him the biodegradable bag of kimchee turnip chips. “Doesn’t this seem like a better choice? A choice we could both enjoy. Together?”
“I’m sorry, Sarah. I wish I could be the man you need me to be.”
Cumin bought the corn nuts. He tried to buy the chips for Sarah but she said she couldn’t eat them alone. They would taste like sadness.
He walked her to her front door. “Thank you for not eating them in front of me,” Sarah said. “I still hope you won’t eat them at all. If you want me to trash them for you, I will.”
Cumin slipped the shiny, yellow bag into his pocket. “No. I can’t let you do that.”
Sarah went inside with tears threatening the brims of her eyes. He leaned against the wall, too heavy with self-loathing to walk away yet. The door opened again. Kate held out a cup. “Water?”
“It’s filtered, right?”
“These are trying times, Cumin. It’s whatever you need it to be.”