This story takes place inside the freezer compartment of my fridge. Picture a sub-Alaskan wilderness of snow and ice, Birdseye garden peas roaming free across an Arctic tundra. Bleak territory, hypothetical reader, bleak territory indeed. Neither man nor beast has dared breach the interior of this barren land in going on two, maybe three years, though what beast might have business doing so is unclear. No matter. Somewhere deep in this stark seclusion is a pea called Rodney.
Besides being called Rodney, Rodney is no different to any other frozen garden pea. He is round and green and somewhat cold – fairly standard, really – and certainly big enough to make the Birdseye grade. Not like some of his littler brothers who slipped through the filters at the packaging plant. Exactly according to plan he was sealed away inside one of those trademark green packets with its red Birdseye crest and sent on his way. Not only was it the proudest day of his young life, but the saddest: he had made the grade, but the pod days were over. Never again would he gaze upon the verdant countenances of his beloved family – he tried to imagine some of them mingling with new friends in other packets, but the smaller ones… it was best not to think. Now that is all behind him. Now he sits in the freezer compartment of my fridge. And waits. And waits. And waits.
You see, Rodney is one of the peas that got left behind. The packet and most of its occupants are now long gone, consumed and disposed of as Nature, or at least Birdseye, intended. Rodney, though, and maybe ten, twenty more of his kind came loose during the final struggle to wrestle the bag from the freezer’s icy jaws. Soon its frosted maw clamped shut permanently. And the years of waiting began. Cold, dark, empty years. Some of the peas couldn’t cope. They just rolled back and forth, back and forth compulsively, until finally coming to rest in the south-eastern corner. They remain there in some kind of catatonic state. Others of the peas dwell amongst the sweetcorn atop the Great Ice Peak. Such mingling is of course not unprecedented. Peas and sweetcorn are natural allies, united by a common religion – the Cult of the Jolly Green Giant. In such harsh conditions the religion has flourished, as religions tend to do where there are those in desparate need of comfort. Rodney is not amongst these peas, though, nor the catatonic peas. Rodney is a pea apart.
Under an abandoned icecube-tray he resides, alone, caught in the desolate no-man’s land between the quiet madness of despair and the jolly green madness of belief. Memories are his only company, his sole comfort. Except when one of the peas rolls down from the Great Peak to doorstep him. On such occasions he is polite, but always insists that he has not strayed from the flock. He would rather be alone with his memories.
A life lived in the past, though, is not as impoverished as one might suppose; for Rodney, at least. Rodney has many happy memories within which to wander. Sometimes he is revisiting his childhood, those salad days spent in the pod with all his brothers and sisters. As the warming rays of the summer sun turn the pod walls translucent he wakes to a day spent blissfully basking in its nourishing radiance, chatting and bickering with his kin. The petty squabbles he recalls as fondly as the happy chat and banter – he was living the good life.
Other times he might be on a conveyor belt mingling with all the new friends he met at the packing plant. He imagines their round faces, each with their own distinctive lines and dimples, recalls their names, remembers and – when he cannot remember – makes up conversations with them.
On occasions he even chooses to recall seeing his smaller siblings falling through the sifting holes. It is painful to do, of course, but still, such sorrow is the stuff of life. Sometimes he imagines them landing in a better place where sun shines and refreshing rain falls; at other times he cannot help but dwell upon that indelible image, the image of them all descending into a bottomless darkness. He scans it over and over for traces of light. Sometimes there is a pinprick, sometimes nothing. Sometimes the darkness of his memory bleeds into that of the freezer compartment, Rodney and his siblings reunited in its combined inky depths. Invisible to one another, they could be many miles apart, they could be right next to each other. Such a possibility brings Rodney great solace.
But one memory in particular Rodney cherishes above all others. It concerns no more than half a minute of his life, a brief few shining moments, like no others he has ever experienced. Both recalling this precious memory in ever more minute detail and the anticipation of the moments when he will allow himself so to do have kept Rodney going all through these empty wilderness years. It is not a memory he recalls often, however; only so often as to maintain its shine and clarity. To bring it to mind as often as he would really like would somehow rob it of meaning, render its crystalline beauty too much a part of this place of snow and ice. There would be nothing to cling to, nothing beyond this life of his.
Rodney is being rushed along a conveyor belt, towards his new home, when it grinds to a sudden halt. He is propelled into the air and as he lands so too does the most beautifully smooth, perfectly green pea he has ever seen, coming to rest literally face-to-face, right beside him. Perhaps she will roll away in disgust. But, no, she gazes tenderly right back at him. He feels loved, accepted. They stare deep into each other’s soul. Love at first sight. Each of them knows it. And each of them knows it can only be fleeting. There is no time for words. The machine will doubtless jolt them forward again any second. They will be parted. Time only for a kiss. Their lips touch. The machine starts. She is gone. In the sea of green he glimpses a perfect curve. It maybe her. It may not. He doesn’t even know her name. Seconds later Rodney is inside that ill-fated bag. And inside him: a priceless memory of such clarity and purity as could rival any diamond.
Upon such perfect moments it is possible to build anything. It is possible to imagine a future as blissful as that fleeting kiss, a whole alternative life. The kind of imaginary world to which a pea can escape when its world is too lonely and desolate for words. Rodney lives there with the pea he now calls Maya. The moment they met, the moment that is real, he indeed recalls only sparingly, but its beauty is enough to sustain him forever.