Bag of Onions by Jennifer McGowan
Once there was a girl born without eyes. She didn’t know any better, so she was happy. She had a voice like a nightingale and loved to tell stories. But her mother hated her because she was imperfect. One day as her mother stormed the girl asked, Why do you shout so, mother? and the older woman snapped Because you are so ugly! The girl asked what ugly was and her mother got crosser and crosser till she shouted Ugly is a bag of onions! and she threw onions at her daughter. But the onions did not hurt the girl. Instead, two fell into her empty eye sockets and suddenly the girl could see. Of course, they were still onions so her mother screamed and ran and the girl, sadly, bound up her possessions behind her and set out to try her fortune. At night Onions wandered villages and towns singing for her supper. She was always welcomed until she came into view. Then people ran away and she would weep. Unbeknownst to her, however, each time she cried—almost every night— her tears dissolved a ring of the onions. Rain didn’t dissolve them, nor snow. Just the hot salt of tears. Came the time it was winter. Onions burrowed into a haystack and made herself a room of sorts, where she could sit and sing, invisibly, and asked the villagers to leave food and water, which they did. An acrobat wandering by fell in love with Onions’ voice and paid the farmer good money to live in the barn and do chores so they could listen and talk to Onions. But she refused to leave the haystack. She had been beaten and run from enough. The acrobat persisted, saying the animals must have hay, and, finally, Onions couldn’t bear the thought anything, even animals, suffered because of her and she emerged hay every which way in her hair. The acrobat had never seen such beauty, As she raised her head, they saw her eyes, and they began crying. That must hurt awfully, they said, and as they wept and held her, the tears they shed rolled down her face. The last of the onions dissolved leaving real eyes as gold as onion skin. And they lived happily for many years. And that is why, child, you cry when you cut onions. Hurry up now. Put them in the pot.
Jennifer A. McGowan won the Prole pamphlet competition in 2020, and as a result, Prolebooks published her winning pamphlet, Still Lives with Apocalypse. She has been published in several countries, in journals such as The Rialto, Pank, The Connecticut Review, Acumen and Agenda. She is a disabled poet who has also had Long Covid for 15 months at time of writing. She prefers the fifteenth century to the twenty-first, and would move there were it not for her fondness of indoor plumbing.