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by Gary Fincke

art by Robinson Accola
art by Robinson Accola
My wife announced she'd stopped eating potatoes. White ones. From now on, she said, she'd be serving nothing but yams.

"Eeeww," our daughter Kaitlyn said. "What are yams?"

"They're like sweet potatoes," I said. "They're orange inside."

"Like isn't the same as are," Kaitlyn said.

"You're thirteen now, an eighth grader," my wife said. "We can't force them down your throat, but at least give them a try."


For three months, my wife served yams twice a week. Instead of eating her yam, Kaitlyn loaded up on bread. By the second month, my wife served yams only to herself and me. "These are really filling," I said before that month ended, and I started cutting my yam in half, pretending I'd eat the leftover part the next day or the day after that. After a few weeks the refrigerator was clogged. Kaitlyn helped me clean the half-yams out. "I'd like to throw these against something," she said, hefting one. "I'd like to see them splatter."

My wife acted as if she didn't notice their absence. She cut out an article about yams and sweet potatoes from a magazine and left it on the dining room table. Sweet potatoes taper at both ends to a point, the article said. Despite their name, sweet potatoes have less sugar than yams. And though they look nearly alike, yams and sweet potatoes aren't even related.


After four months, I told a story at the dinner table about yams. "This happened in Nigeria," I said, cutting my yam in half while my wife slit hers lengthwise and dropped two pats of butter into the cleft. "Three boys told their elementary school headmistress that their friend had been transformed into a yam after accepting candy from a stranger."

My wife gripped her butter knife and stared at me. Kaitlyn picked up an unbuttered slice of whole wheat bread. Without any potatoes, she'd grown thinner. "The headmistress," I went on, "followed the boys to the yam and carried it to the police, who kept it. Hundreds of people came to the station to look at it while the police organized a search for the stranger. Years have passed, and no one has been found."

"Nobody turns into a potato," Kaitlyn said. "That boy got abducted, the same thing that happened to Jenny Masterson when we were in fifth grade."

My wife glanced over at me. "Now you've gone and dug that up again," she said.

"It's not like there's anybody who doesn't know what Jenny is now, Mom," Kaitlyn said. "She's a pile of bones."

My wife squeezed the sides of her yam together, and the melted butter oozed out as she held the sides together. "I can't eat this now," she said to me. "You and that Africa story."

"Good," Kaitlyn said.

"Yes," I said. "Good."

My wife let go of the yam, but she didn't pick up her fork. "Neither one of you know for sure about Jenny M. Nobody does."

"The police kept that yam for a long time just to be sure," I said. "They waited and waited, but it didn't change."

"Yes, it did, Dad," Kaitlyn said. "If they kept it there three years, it did."

My wife grabbed her fork as if it were a weapon. "That's enough talk about yams," she said.

Kaitlyn took another bite of her bread. She was so thin I shuddered.

Read the interview.

Gary Fincke is the Writers Institute Director and Charles Degenstein Professor of English and Creative Writing at Susquehanna University. Winner of the 2003 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the 2003 Ohio State University/The Journal Poetry Prize for recent collections of stories and poems, he has published twenty-two books of poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction, most recently a memoir, "The Canals of Mars," from Michigan State in 2010. His new poetry manuscript "The History of Permanence" recently won the Stephen F. Austin University Press Poetry prize and will be published in 2011. He was twice awarded Pushcart Prizes for his work, recognized by "Best American Stories," and cited nine times in the past eleven years for a "Notable Essay" in "Best American Essays."

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.

Issue Thirty (December 22, 2010): Eulogy for Maria Mamani, Fire-eater by Ed Bull «» Language Barrier by Thomas Cooper «» A Goblet Falls by Barbara Diehl «» Life Lesson by Damian Dressick «» Yams by Gary Fincke «» How We Handle Our Midnights by Charles Hale «» The Corn by Kathleen Hale «» Amelia by Aubrey Hirsch «» Inside by Ashley Inguanta «» About Things That Are Lost and the Places That Things Get Lost Andrea Kneeland «» The Good Woman by Sara Levine «» Buckaroo by Ravi Mangla «» Her New Friend Jesus by Michael Meyers «» Conjugation by Jen Michalski «» Dairy Queen by Jennifer Pashley «» What Do You Do? by Dariel Suarez «» Up, Up and Away by Art Taylor «» Three Jokes by M. Thompson «» Between Budapest and Dying by Dean Marshall Tuck «» Crash-o-rama! by Chris Wiewiora «» Thirty-Word Story Contest Winners «» Interviews: Ed Bull «» Thomas Cooper «» Barbara Diehl «» Damian Dressick «» Gary Fincke «» Charles Hale «» Kathleen Hale «» Aubrey Hirsch «» Ashley Inguanta «» Andrea Kneeland «» Sara Levine «» Ravi Mangla «» Michael Meyers «» Jen Michalski «» Jennifer Pashley «» Dariel Suarez «» Art Taylor «» M. Thompson «» Dean Tuck «» Chris Wiewiora «» Cover Art "Holiday Wishes" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editors
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