My brother and I used to race potatoes in the backyard, but we stopped the summer I turned nine.
It was a steamy July day, the kind where your skin sticks to yourself, and we were bored. Naturally, we declared that the potato race was on. We each had 12 minutes to select and prepare our potato. You could use any kitchen implement of your choosing. I grabbed the peeler from the overflowing drawer and fiendishly flicked skin off a hefty tater. My younger brother clutched his own plump potato and stared it down, calculating, then grabbed a serrated knife and started mirroring my movements. The weight of the potato mattered, sure, but I was banking on a de-skinned potato moving faster, especially with the added grease of its natural shine.
The owl-shaped timer on the stove buzzed aggressively and my brother and I locked eyes. “You’re going DOWN!!” he screeched and rushed out the back door.
Our yard was on a slope, which made potato racing easier and more exciting. First potato to splash into the pond at the bottom of the hill won.
“On your mark, get set, GO!” my brother thundered, as we both wound up and released our potatoes like bowling balls.
Panting, we sprinted down the hill, side by side.
“Go, go GO!!!” I screamed, as if my potato could hear me. It thumped along steadily, rolling over itself again and again.
My brother’s lumpy potato plopped to a stop and he kicked it with his sneaker.
“Hey, that’s cheating!” I cried. He shrugged and grinned. Mine was still winning and I flew down the hill to catch up with it, gaining momentum as we went.
There was a man in the pond. We didn’t know him. He was naked.
I tried to stop but couldn’t. I hit a patch of mud and slipped into the water after my dirty potato. Sinking into the muck, I wondered who the man was and what he was doing in our pond.
I resurfaced, eyes bulging. “You won, fair and square,” my brother said, pouting. He sat on the bank of the pond and threw his potato at the ground, picked it up, threw it down again, like it was a basketball he could bounce.
“Sweet Caroline… BA! BA! BA!” the man sang as he scrubbed his armpit with a green bar of soap. “Hello, kids!” he added cheerily.
We didn’t race potatoes anymore after that.
Emily Hessney Lynch is a short story and memoir writer. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s, Sad Girls Club Literary, Five Minute Lit, Spellbinder Magazine, and Gastropoda Lit and is forthcoming in Pastel Pastoral and Sledgehammer Lit. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @EHL_writes.