Mama shuts the door on us, which I guess is her way of saying good night. The lights automatically turn off, and all I can hear is the thrumming of circulating freon on all sides.
Below me in the dark are the silver bullets that Dada always reaches for. Just a couple cans remain, each emblazoned in red font. 4%ABV, they read.
I’m staring at the international smorgasbord of condiments lining the door. Directly in front of me is a jar, identical to mine. It’s full of a viscous orange liquid.
The silver bullets, the other jar, the rank-and-file order of sauces. We all live together, here in this cold place, though something tells me I might be the only one aware.
I start a new batch today. The first few hours of this process are always a joy, because Mama leaves me out on the kitchen counter in my new jar and I get a bird’s eye view of the incredible alien landscape outside.
Dada ignores me, no matter if I’m outside or if I’m back in the fridge. The kids never look my way either, the promise of manufactured sweetness a far better option for their impulses. Sometimes it’s fruit juice from concentrate, sometimes it’s something fizzy and sweet. Whatever the alternative is, they grab for it, even if it means reaching right in front of my face.
But Mama is always my savior.
I am now effervescent myself.
Right on cue, she comes walking in. She slides me on the top rack, above a rusting head of lettuce. When I glance down, I notice the silver bullets have been reloaded.
It has been years since I was separated from my actual mother. On a good day, I’m able to recall all the way back, to when she first started our lineage.
I remember racing down a long, winding pathway. Under the bright factory lights, I hauled toward a packing line, wholesale boxes yielding and ready. I was a part of a procession, one of thousands of snubby brown bottles dignified by the fresh label of one Dr. Charlotte Brewkowski, MD. Mother. She was an industrious culture that powered a kombucha empire.
It’s been nearly a week in the fridge since I was pitched in the new batch. My probiotic slime has formed, and slowly, bit by bit, Mama takes sips from the previous jar. I never actually see her drink what I’ve fermented. But the container seems to deplete at a regular rate, so I guess that’s what matters. No point in brewing more if the last batch hasn’t been used.
I’ve witnessed the full myriad of gastronomic ephemera in the days since I separated from my mother. I remember the fetid slick of raw chicken sticking to the hard plastic bottom shelf.
There was the carton of generic brand oat milk slowly separating, cast quickly aside in favor of true milk. For weeks, I saw container after container of arugula turn rancid, only to disappear and be replaced with fresh produce destined for a similar fate. In the last few days alone, I’ve shouldered up to a thawing cheesecake, savored the aroma of leftover lamb vindaloo, and nuzzled next to a suspiciously blue bottle of soda.
It’s impossible to make any friends, since I am the only one actually alive here. Everything else arrives dead or dying.
The bright lights above activate, as the door is yanked open. The teenage daughter stares inside: at Dada’s silver bullets, at the stinky hardboiled eggs, and down below in the deli drawer where sliced turkey, salt-injected, awaits.
Not once does she glance my way.
Dada’s beer count depleted over the course of the night. Each time he opened the door, he reached without looking, like some kind of magic trick.
Now I’m done fermenting. There’s barely any sugar left in the jar, and the stubborn cold has impeded my ability to eat what’s left. If Dada really had any interest in maintaining my lineage, he could feed me honey and pitch champagne yeast in to help me make a stronger drink. He could get the same buzz as his beers. But I know he won’t do that.
Mama places me on the counter, next to what’s left of the previous batch I made a week prior. As she’s filling the pot across from me, I soak up this strange world I’m now a part of. A few kitschy magnets struggle to hold a series of wedding invitations, birthday cards, and appointment reminders to the fridge door. Festering fruit flies crowd a bunch of bananas. They’re nestled in a watercolor-painted bowl, along with the desiccated remains of old garlic. Welcome Y’all, a sign reads, beside the toaster oven and dirty coffee maker.
Cheap bags of black tea are nestled in an antique tin. Mama counts out twenty of them, and droops the paper tabs over the edge of the boiling pot. The water quickly goes dark and bronze. While the tea cools, she scoops me up and out of my current jar.
Sniffing at the kombucha from a week prior, she measures out a cup, and primes the batch I just fermented for carbonation.
I watch, hopeful that she’ll take a sip. That maybe she’ll enjoy what I have to offer for this household.
She dumps the rest down the sink. Water chases the billions of probiotics I’ve cultured away.
Mama swivels, glancing at me. When the sweet tea has finally cooled down, she pitches me in.
I don’t know why she insists on keeping me alive, if neither she nor the rest of my adoptive family enjoy what I provide.
I don’t even know how much longer they’ll keep me around.
It doesn’t matter right now, though. I’m very hungry. I can feel myself fizzing, reinvigorated with life. Mama slides me back in on the top rack. She shuts the door, which I guess is her way of saying good night.
Eric Farrell lives in Long Beach, California, where he works as a beer vendor by day, and speculative fiction author by night. His writing credits stem from a career in journalism, where he reported for a host of local and metro newspapers in the greater Los Angeles area. He posts on Twitter @stygianspace and has recent fiction with Aphotic Realm, Haven Spec, and HyphenPunk.