Jesse Essays
                Nonfiction by Laura Vrcek

1. Jesse Builds Me a Moat

      I’m writing about the ocean in my living room.  There isn’t an ocean in
my living room.  There could be one, easily.  It’s San Francisco.  There are
tsunamis out there waiting to wet whatever they want.  I’m thinking about
what keeps them away, and why we might stay put regardless.  We could
be not fast enough, or the problem could be that we’re just enough slow.  I
don’t know.  I like looking at my plants while I write—I’m typing.  I like
looking at the light that flickers in, in small sparks, around six o’clock.

      I’m writing about the ocean
while sitting in my living room.  I’m
writing about why the waves move like they do, and I realize for not the first
time, it’s the moon.  
      You ask me why there’s a jar filled with water on the floor beneath my
living room window.  
      “Is it for watering your plants?” you ask.  Your eyes are old, your face,
      “Yes, why do you ask?”
      “It’s a Filipino tradition to place a jar of water by your front door for
protection.  It keeps bad energy out.”
      “I’m doing it right now,” I say.    
      “You can’t.”
      “Why not?”
      “You’re not Filipino.  It won’t work.”  You’re joking, but I believe
you.  “I can do it for you, though.”  You smile.  I smile.  I smile when you
      You exit the room, enter the kitchen, and I hear the clear clang of an
empty Nantucket Nectar bottle being pulled from the recycling bin.  I hear
paper rip as the bottle’s surface gets licked clean of its label in what sounds
like one sheet.  The sink faucet ushers out a cold sound, and I picture the
jar filling up, water stopping at the top of the rim just before its liquid bulge
breaks.  I don’t need to be in the same room to see the flex of your forearm,
its solid shape as you turn the cap tight with one quick twist.  To me, you’re
a ship in the distance.  You’re this lighthouse of luck.

      I don’t look until later, but you had placed the jar on the floor just off
to the side of my front door’s bottom hinge, and it fit perfectly there in that
small space.
      I’m writing about the ocean in my living room.  I’m writing about this
person, who is an ocean—you’re in my living room, and for the first time in
a long while, I picture home being something more than just a porch light
back to myself.  

2. Jesse Talks Dessert

      It’s our anniversary, you’re talking about trying new things, and for
only a moment, I think you’re talking about me.  Actually, you are tied
between something typical like a fruit tart and something not, like gourmet
donut holes with dipping sauces, and what sways you is that the latter
comes with several topping options to try, just in case.  
      “I’m usually not a fan of maple,” you say about the second dip, “but
since it comes with a few other choices,” melted chocolate, cinnamon, and
powdered sugar, “I’m okay with it.”  You’ve made a choice—I can tell by
the shift in your seat, and this is all very serious.  
      “I agree,” I say, and so you close your menu, push it to the side of the
table (this means you are definitely sure now), grab for my hands across the
table, and tell me you’re glad we went north.  It was a good idea.   
      We talk dish-choosing theory—why and when one might choose
something traditional like a chocolate cake on a bad day or pie, pretty
much it’s safe.  You mention how you do this (what you did) just
sometimes, stray away from the uncommon, and you are absolutely still
speaking about dessert.  Me, I’m eight layers away wondering what makes
you try something new when you do.  What made you pick me.   
      Our last course comes on two trays that look like paint palettes and I
hold my full stomach at the sight of it.  The melted chocolate is your first
pick for dipping, and I follow suit.  Later that night, we’ll be full and stoned-
looking (though we won’t be), sprawled out in our underwear on our motel
room bed watching local commercials.  Bad movies you say are okay.  
      Next dip, I go for maple—no, I go for maple plus cinnamon sugar at
once and you tell me this blows your mind.  The air’s light, and your eyes
are closed while you chew.  You do that like me.  I noticed earlier, even
commented about how I like that there are certain things we do the same.  
It makes me feel close to you, like I’m not the only one out there leaving
keys in the door and making spreadsheets for things that may not really
need spreadsheets.  I like the veins in your hands, how when I touch them
they press back like soft springs.  
      This is when you expand upon your feelings about the flavor maple,
mentioning again how you’d never pick it as a stand-alone, say in a real-
size donut-eating contest, but that occasionally (like now), you do go ahead
and pick it.  Again, you are still, very much so, speaking about food and
I’m on an island, waving in the distance.    
      Your fork swells into half of the last bite.  You push the bigger piece
toward me.

3. Jesse Finds a Surprise

      We drive north to Tomales Bay to shuck oysters and celebrate.  
      “This must be the entrance.” I say.  A line of cars like piano keys
curves up and around the bend ahead of us, and we look for a space, find
none, pass the place, turn around, then come back.  When you pull your
truck into an open spot, I hear the unfamiliar crunch of oyster shells
beneath us, makeshift gravel.  
      We find a picnic table with a view, then unpack everything we
brought—the cheese and mustard, the smoked jerky and fruit.  You take
my hand and walk us down to the long iced bins where the oysters are
kept cold and safe from the birds.  We buy a dozen mediums and even
those are the length of softballs, wide-like and fat, cupped hands kissed
      We eat the first round raw with squirts of freshly cut lemon and a few
drops of hot sauce.  The little animals are slimier than I remember, gelled
like the uncooked whites of eggs.  I wash one down with a swig of beer
and I wish that we’d brought better beer, but it’s not a big deal.
      “They need a sauce,” you say.  “Finish that, so I can have the can.”
      I say okay and you stab the can open, slicing it in half to make a tiny
pot.  Next, you fill it halfway with the wine we brought for later, add
minced garlic from a jar, stir it up with a jiggle, and place it on the grill.
      “Seriously, you’re MacGyver,” I say.  “You’re pretty much a
      We eat more, slurping the soft tongue of their boneless bodies into
our mouths.   Suddenly you flinch, and I notice your face tightening up.  
You pry a finger into your pursed lips and begin to flick out small,
unidentifiable things.  
      “I think I chipped my tooth,” you say, still licking your way around
your mouth.  Finally, you’ve pinned something worth keeping; it’s tiny and
      “Oh no!”  I lean in to take a closer look, but instead of letting me,
you take the small object and rub it on the front of your tooth like a mini
      “It’s a pearl.”  You laugh.  
      “No way!  How do you know?”  I stammer up from the splintered
grip of the picnic table’s bench, and hang on your forearm to find proof.  
      “If you rub a pearl on your tooth and it’s rough, that means it’s real.”
      “Because fake ones are smooth?”
      “Look,” you say, holding it up for me to see between the pinch of
your fingers.  “Go ahead.  Feel it on your tooth and you’ll know it’s real if
it feels rough, if it’s imperfect.”
      I test it out, and sure enough we’ve struck the tiniest fortune ever
seen.  We wrap it up into a neat little origami package using the pull-foil
from your American Spirits, and I tuck it away in the corner of a card slot
in my wallet.  I find it a few weeks later, rub it on my tooth just to check
that it’s real, again.            


Laura Vrcek has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University,
where she studied the prose poetry form.  Her areas of expertise include
publishing industry trends and digital content creation for retail brands.  
She has taught and served as a seminar panelist for Dave Eggers’ San
Francisco Writing Center
826 Valencia, and her work has appeared in
The Red Clay Review, The Fourth River, and various lifestyle blogs
including The ModCloth Blog and Stylist Home.  For more information,
please visit  

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Contemporary Literature

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 8, Number 1
(Spring 2013)

Copyright © 2013
by Leah Browning, Editor.

All future rights to
material published
in the
Apple Valley
are retained by
the individual authors
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