Contest #155 shortlist ⭐️

The Curious Predicament of the Man in the Mashed Potatoes

Submitted into Contest #155 in response to: Start your story with a character facing a situation that isn't awful, but isn't great.... view prompt

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Suspense Fiction

Robert Mayweather has a predicament. It’s not a terrible predicament, as some predicaments can be, but nonetheless an odd set of circumstances. 

Robert Mayweather has a job. He’s the editor of the town paper. Everyone in town knows him, and he knows everyone in town. Robert Mayweather owns a house. A two-story yellow colonial with an immaculately trimmed green grass yard and towering oak trees framing the house in a canopy of pleasant shade. Robert Mayweather has a wife, Deborah Mayweather, who makes the most lovely meals for Robert and their two young sons. 

As Robert sits down for dinner, he reflects on the perfect mundane monotony of his life. It’s simple, comfortable, and perfect. Or at least, it was until he started showing up. That bastard. 

Deborah sets down a plate of turkey breast, smothered in gravy, with a side of green beans and mashed potatoes in front of her husband. It’s his favorite. But instead of digging in with glee as he would usually, he scowls down at his plate. Deborah takes notice of this. 

“What’s wrong, dear? Did I not cook it properly?”

“No, no. You cooked it just fine,” Robert assures her, “It’s just been a rough day at work.”

Deborah rubs her husband's shoulders affectionately, satisfied with the answer. She tells him not to overwork himself as she wrangles the two boys into their seats at the table. The youngest, Gerard, who’s only five, whines about losing his favorite stuffed toy. Robert pays him no mind. He’s too busy staring at the man in his mashed potatoes. 

He can’t believe it. It’s happened again. That smug face stares up at him, taunting as if telling Robert directly that he belongs in the loony bin. Every day for this past week, at every meal Robert has eaten, this unnervingly detailed face of a man has appeared in his food. This is Robert’s predicament. 

Now Robert has seen his fair share of people claiming to see Jesus or the Virgin Mary in their edible items. Usually, it’s just some faith-obsessed person looking for a “sign,” and the image on the famous piece of toast or moldy leftover casserole doesn’t really look like the message from God they claim to be blessed with. Robert’s case is completely different. Robert doesn’t know the man in his food, and he’s clearly not specifically looking for him. The face is immaculately detailed every time, and it’s been about fifteen times now. It’s a masterpiece made in mashed potatoes and gravy. The man has a square-shaped face, a receding hairline, bushy eyebrows, dark eyes twinkling with mischief, and that godawful smirk. He looks to be about Robert’s age. Robert is certain he’s never seen this man before this week of culinary hell. Robert isn’t a particularly devout man, but if people got messages from God in their food, he surmises this must be some sort of sign from the devil. Or maybe Robert was just going mad. 

“Why aren’t you eating, dear? Are you ill?”

Robert’s family had been already ingesting the cursed meal for a while now while he was stuck in a trance-like state. As Robert snaps out of his thinking, he decides something needs to finally be done.

“Do you see a face in my mashed potatoes?”

Robert slides his plate over to his wife. She examines it carefully. 

“No, not really.”

Deborah’s voice sounds clipped, concerned for her husband’s sanity.

Gerard starts laughing as if he thought his dad going insane was the most hilarious thing on earth. 

Junior, Robert’s other son, who was almost twelve years old, leans over and studies the plate. 

“I see it, dad!”

Robert sighs in relief. At least he wasn’t the only one. However, if that means both he and his son are losing it, he couldn’t afford to have them both go to a psych ward. 

“You two have such wild imaginations,” Deborah tuts. “Is that really why you haven’t been eating?”

“No, honey, I just thought it was amusing.”

Robert decides it isn’t worth pushing any further. He would just have to deal with this mysterious face showing up on his plate during mealtimes. At least he has one power over this wretched man taunting him with his gravy eyes and mushy potato grin.

Robert picks up his spoon and buries it in the creamy mash. He takes a generous helping right from the man’s face. He shoves the glob in his mouth with determined intent. That’ll show him. Revenge tastes delicious. 

Junior stares at his dad, jaw slack with disbelief as if eating this mashed potato man’s face was a crime.

Robert, on the other hand, smiles with newfound confidence. Crazy or not, he would not let this face have any more power over him. The solution to his predicament was simple: eat it. 

It’s been two years since Robert Maywhether’s predicament arose, and he is doing better than ever. He’s gotten a significant raise at his job; his relationship with Deborah is going strong, and his sons are performing well in school and sports. He is happy, living life to the fullest and appreciating the little things. 

Of course, the face still appears in his food. This hasn’t changed, although his outlook on the situation has. Ever since Robert accepted that the face in his meals wasn’t going anywhere, he embraced it and found that food with the face actually tasted better than food without it. Now he looks forward to seeing that smarmy grin on his plate, knowing he would make the cuisine taste absolutely divine. 

Robert thinks about how his food will taste now as he awaits his order to be brought to him at the local diner. Will the face appear in his burger or his milkshake? Can it somehow manifest in his fries? He grows hungrier by the second, thinking about the tasty visage.

It’s a busy day at the diner today. Robert knows he’s come right at the lunch rush, but he didn’t have much of a choice as it is his break time at work. Around him, he recognizes many of the guests in the booths. His elderly neighbors from across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Calgary sit in silence, picking at their eggs benedict and house salad respectively. The young intern at the paper, Kyle Weinshenker, argues loudly with his friend at the table intermittently taking rage filled bites of his avocado toast or passive aggressive slurps of his brightly colored smoothie. The waitress, Diane Marzaroli, is a long time friend of his wife’s, and she’d often come over to their house to catch up and gossip about the secret intel she’s gotten from being a waitress at the most popular spot for locals in town. Robert sighs contentedly. He loves this town. He loves knowing all the people in it. Robert had chosen a seat at the counter near the entrance so if anyone he knew walked through the door, he would be the first to greet them. 

To his delight, Diane finally brings over his order. She’s clearly rushing and overworked and only manages a quick smile before having to go to the next customer. Robert inspects his meal eagerly. The sesame seeds on the bun did not constitute the face as he’d expected. He checks his strawberry milkshake, but it seems faceless as well. His fries? Completely devoid of any human expressions. Something must be wrong. 

Panicked, Robert starts picking apart his burger. Maybe it would appear in the ketchup, or the lettuce, the tomato, the cheese, the patty. He completely dissects the burger to no avail. Diane watches him curiously out of the corner of her eye.

“Is something wrong with your burger, Rob?” she asks from a few tables over. 

Robert is sweating profusely.

“No, no, everything is fine,” Robert calls back.

Everything is not fine. Why would the face suddenly disappear like this after appearing in all of his meals for the last two years? The predicament that once plagued him became normalcy, and now that it’s not there, it creates a wholly new predicament for Robert. He doesn’t want to eat anymore despite being so hungry minutes earlier. 

Just then, the bell above the door rings, signaling that another customer has entered the establishment. Robert manages to look up from his unappealing deconstructed cheeseburger. He can’t believe what he’s seeing. 

It’s him. The square jaw, the beady eyes, receding hairline, and of course, that smug grin. There’s no mistaking, it’s him, a man he’s never seen in the flesh, but rather in many other edible substances.

No, not “other” as implying human flesh is an edible substance. However, Robert’s mouth starts to salivate like he is one of Pavlov’s dogs, except Robert’s “bell” is this man’s face. 

Unable to stop this predatory flood of desire and driven by an innate urge, Robert leaps up from his seat and lunges at the man. People all around the diner stare in shock. His friends, his acquaintances and coworkers look upon him in disbelief that the typically mild mannered Robert would ever attack a man like this. Diane screams, but Robert doesn’t notice them. His sights are set on one thing and one thing only. 

Seeing the man’s face now as he’s helplessly tackled to the ground is the most enticing sight Robert has ever seen. 

With his hunger back at full force, Robert Maywhether takes a bite of his meal. 

July 21, 2022 04:42

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11 comments

Jack Bell
23:43 Nov 03, 2022

Very nice. The voice was the hook. Started with the terrifying niceness of a 1950's soap commercial. Then I thought, hmm, a sweet parable about how normalcy is in they eye of the beholder (potato or otherwise)...then the savage kicker -- loved it -- reminded me of my childhood where I never could get the hang of Mr Potato Head.

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Marie White
01:31 Aug 13, 2022

I really enjoyed reading the story - You did a really good job of making me want to keep reading the whole way through. The ending was great as well.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:22 Aug 04, 2022

I love that you spun a story around a single moment in time. Beginning with something so everyday and traveling out into the extraordinary. Well done.

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Amanda Lieser
23:19 Aug 02, 2022

Oh my gosh! What a story! I really love how you started things off with a feeling of the mundane. I also love how it gave that “perfectly normal” feeling. I wasn’t expecting the twist at the end which made it all the more delicious. I also really liked the way that you described all of your characters and even added that Robert loves his town. Nice job and congratulations on getting shortlisted!

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Tommy Goround
22:23 Jul 31, 2022

Theme/meaning: idk The waitress tells gossip. The main character owns a newspaper. They are technically enemies...

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Tommy Goround
22:10 Jul 31, 2022

Lovely. Please pardon me that there was another story about mashed potatoes in the last 2 weeks and so I thought I already read this. A lovely use of plot and theme. I like how you unwrap the man's life...slowly 1) at one point I thought a silhouettes from the dining table might be creating the situation. 2) you use the word loony bin without ruining the story. That is difficult for most writers to do in first person narrative. How would the story be different if the face was Ronald mcdonald? (Who else might the protagonist want to eat?)....

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:34 Jul 30, 2022

One submission? -- wow, it is a packed package. Easy to understand and follow. Hilarious too. Dialogue superb. Welcome to the show.

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Faith Ogedegbe
08:44 Jul 30, 2022

I really enjoyed this story. Congrats!

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Glenn Holt
17:29 Jul 29, 2022

Wow. Broken extra hard extra dark mirror episode. Kept me going to the very last bite. Lost my appetite at the end.

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Anna Writer
21:27 Jul 27, 2022

I saw this play out as a short film…minimal script, big on wordless characters. I loved imagining the uniqueness and kitschy humor play out. Nice job!

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18:51 Jul 26, 2022

O that last line... Great black comedy! I'm sure there are overarching themes here (like income inequality and societal decay), but I'll just buy the popcorn and enjoy it on the surface level. Great use of present tense!

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