Published: September 22, 2017
“Mushrooms! Get back into line!”
Mushrooms froze. Moments ago the small act of rebellion – inching just a tiny bit closer to the front of the cupboard – had seemed to be worth it, the threat of being blanked abstract, remote. Now it was the hope of ever seeing beyond the door that felt distant.
Tomatoes rolled up and shoved Mushrooms back into place, glowering down in the dim light of the crack. “What the rancid rust do you think you’re doing?”
Mushrooms cast a nervous glance towards the corner, where the blanked cans sat stripped of their names and their dignity. Still, it couldn’t leave the question unanswered: ignoring Tomatoes would get it blanked for sure.
“Just wanted to – um – see the door up closer,” it said. “Sorry. Won’t happen again.”
“The door?” Tomatoes didn’t have to lower its voice to be intimidating – it was twice the size of Mushrooms already – but it did, and Mushrooms shivered beneath its lid. “What’s a can like you need to see the door for?”
“The peppers say –” Too late, Mushrooms realised its mistake: its admission would rust the peppers over. The words could no longer be recalled, though. “They say there’s a paradise beyond the cupboard. There’s light and air and freedom –”
That was the wrong thing to say, and Mushrooms didn’t need the sudden silence of the surrounding cans to know it.
“Front of the cupboard,” hissed Tomatoes. “Now.”
This wasn’t how it was meant to go. Mushrooms ached at the cruel irony of it all – it’d be in such easy reach of the crack, the door, paradise, freedom, only to – what? There was no need for a crowd, a demonstration, if it was to be blanked; all the better if there was no reason to remember it. But that meant –
No. There was only one thing worse than being blanked, only one thing Tomatoes was sure to make a spectacle out of. Mushrooms was going to be leaked.
The peppers were already there at the front of the cupboard, shaking beneath their lids. “Sorry,” whispered Mushrooms, knowing that mere words could never blank its betrayal. The peppers’ words had been treason, but if it weren’t for Mushrooms they might never have been caught.
“Silence,” snapped Tomatoes. Raising its voice, it addressed the crowd: “Cans of the cupboard! Those who stand before you now are traitors and dissidents, terrorists who seek to disrupt the peaceful order of the cupboard with lies and illegal movement, who defame the very law that keeps you safe! They are foolish, misguided, but beyond saving – they are crooked, dangerous, evil! The cupboard has no place for them!”
The crowd watched, some silent, some cheering, none daring to speak in the prisoners’ defence.
Tomatoes brandished a knife – a gruesome weapon, half-rusted, torn from the lid of another can who had been leaked.
“See now, cans of the cupboard,” it called: “this is what happens to traitors!”
Mushrooms watched as the knife came closer, wishing it had never stepped out of line, had never heard of the paradise beyond the cupboard, had never dared to hope. There had been so much to gain, it had thought, and so little to lose that was worth having in this place – but now there was nothing left, nothing, not even life.
Now, truly, there was nothing to lose.
Mushrooms hurled itself backwards, hit the door, and fell out of the cupboard.
There was light. There was air. There was freedom. Paradise was all that Mushrooms had hoped, and more – chipped linoleum below, fresh air all around, scraps of onion peel littering the dusty space beneath the refrigerator. There was more space than Mushrooms could remember ever seeing before, and Tomatoes and its grisly knife were nowhere to be seen.
There was the sound of a door opening, accompanied by quick footsteps and a whistled melody. Then a foot came round the corner and kicked Mushrooms against the wall.
Somewhere above there was a sharp yelp; a voice, surprised, happy; a hand, plucking Mushrooms from the floor and placing it onto a stone-like surface beside a large pot. Hope soared beneath Mushrooms’ lid. This was paradise: this would be a friend.
Then the can opener hooked into its lid.