‘Hills Like Almond Milk’

  Photo courtesy of  Manel on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Manel on Flickr

Editor’s Note: If you haven’t read Ernest Hemingway’s brilliant “Hills Like White Elephants,” well, what the fuck? Read it! Do it now! Okay, good, welcome back. Now you can read Alex Tzelnic satire without feeling like a heel because you blew off English class back in the day trying to impress someone who had already put in the friend zone. Enjoy!—Daniel Ford

By Alex Tzelnic

The hills across the valley were white. Not like, completely, perfectly white, like a sheet of printer paper. But like, kind of milky, though not quite two percent milk. Maybe more like almond milk. The hills were like almond milk.

The train station was between two railways. The railways were what the trains traveled on. The station was in the middle of them. It was very bright. Sunglasses were definitely an asset. The man had on a pair. So did the girl. They took them off as they parted the bead curtain and entered the train station bar. The beads kept the flies out. The beads were terrible at their job. It was hot and the flies buzzed and the man and the girl sat at a table. The express from Barcelona would come in thirty minutes. It stopped here, it picked up passengers, and then it continued on, like basically every other train that has ever existed.

“Let’s get a drink,” said the girl. She put her sunglasses on the table.

“It’s hot,” said the man.

“Let’s drink beer.”

“Dos cervezas,” said the man through the beads. “That’s ‘two beers’ in Spanish, “ he whispered to the girl.

“No shit. I took seven years of Spanish. Middle school through high school.”

“Right,” said the man.

The woman brought two glasses of beer. She put the glasses down. They were filled with the beer. The girl looked off at the hills.

“The hills look like almond milk,” she said.

“I’ve never had almond milk,” said the man.

“No, you wouldn’t have.”

“I might have,” said the man. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything. I just haven’t needed to drink it because I haven’t declared myself allergic to everything, like everyone else these days. What’s so great about being allergic to everything anyway?”

The girl looked at the curtain. Another fly buzzed through the beads and into the bar. 

“They’ve painted something on it,” she said.

“Yes. It’s called an advertisement,” said the man. “People create them so other people will buy their pointless shit. Like almond milk.”

“What does it say?”

“It says, ‘Licorice’ in Spanish.”

“Could we try it?”

“Spanish licorice?”

The man called to the woman behind the counter for licorice. She brought the licorice.

“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said, and put the Spanish licorice down.

“That’s the way with everything,”

“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice.” She stared at the stick of licorice in her hand. “You know, licorice is one of those words that when you say it over and over, it sounds like gibberish. Licorice. Gibberish is one of those words too, I guess. Gibberish. Licorice.”

“Oh, cut it out.”

“You started it,” said the girl. “I was being amused. I was having a fine time.”

“Well, let’s try and have a fine time.”

“All right. I was trying. I said the mountains look like almond milk. Wasn’t that bright?”

“Uh, yeah. That was ‘bright’,” said the man, air-quoting the word “bright” to imply that her statement was actually not bright at all.

The girl looked at the hills across the valley.

“They’re lovely hills,” she said. “They don’t really look like almond milk. I just meant the coloring of the hills in this light was like the color of almond milk.”

“No, I get it,” said the man. “I know what an analogy is.”

They drank the beer. The beer was in the glasses. The glasses were on the table. The table was in the station. The station was in Spain.

“It’s really an awful simple operation, babe,” said the man.

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on. The ground was also in Spain. One hundred percent Spanish ground.

“I know you wouldn’t mind it, babe. It’s really not anything. It’s all perfectly natural.”

“Then what will we do afterward?”

“We’ll be fine afterward. Afterward will be great!”

“What makes you think so?”

“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.”

The girl swatted at a fly. A Spanish fly. She wondered if a Spanish fly and an American fly could communicate, could understand one another’s buzzes.

“And you think then we’ll be all right and happy.”

“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”

“So have I. And afterward they were all so ‘happy’,” said the girl, air-quoting the word happy to imply that actually they weren’t happy at all.

“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”

“And you really want to?”

“Hell yeah.”

“And if I do it you’ll be happy and you’ll love me?”

“I love you now. You know I love you.”

“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like almond milk, and you’ll like it.”

“You know how I feel about almond milk. But yeah, basically.”

“If I do it you won’t ever worry?”

“I won’t. Because it’s perfectly simple.”

“Yeah I know,” said the girl. “You’ve mentioned that like three times.”

The girl stood up. She drained her beer glass and put it back down. She walked toward the bead curtain and peaked outside. She saw the river through the trees through the curtain, which she was peaking through, hoping not to get a Spanish fly in the eye.

“And we could have all this,” she said.

“What did you say? You’re talking out of the curtain.”

“I said we could have everything.”

“I still can’t hear you.”

“We can have everything.”

“I’m getting nothing. Just muffled sounds.”

“We can have the whole world.”

“Still nothing.”

“We can go everywhere.”

“What?”

“It’s ours.”

“Sure babe.”

The girl sat down at the table and then looked back at the licorice advertisement on the swaying beads.

“You’ve got to realize,” he said, “that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. I just think all natural breasts implants would look fantastic on you.”

“Wait, what?” asked the girl.

“That’s what we were talking about, right? Breast implants?”

“Would you do something for me right now?”

“I’d do anything for you.”

“Would you please please please please please please stop talking?”

“What’s the problem?”

“I’m pregnant you jackass. I wasn’t talking about implants. I was talking about getting an abortion.”

The man gulped. This was a major revelation. “Oh boy,” he said.

The woman came out from behind the bar. “The train comes in five minutes,” she said.

“The train comes in five minutes,” he told the girl.

“I know how to speak elementary fucking Spanish,” she said.

The man drained his beer. “I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station.”

He picked up the bags and carried them around to the other side of the tracks. He considered his options. He could just start running, and hide in the almond milky hills. He could fling himself in front of the train when it arrived. Or he could suck it up, like a hard-boiled character from a Hemingway story, and be a man about it. The downgrade from a boob job conversation that he thought was going rather well to an abortion conversation was immense, a tremendously tough pill to swallow, but, he thought, pregnancy will temporarily increase the girl’s breast size, so it’s almost like getting a boob job. He returned to the table.

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

“Are you kidding me? My boyfriend is a moron who thinks I have a flat chest and didn’t even know I was pregnant.”

The man thought for a moment. “That has to be like, one of the top five miscommunications of all time. Like, in the history of human life on Earth. It’s almost kind of funny when you think about it.”

The girl thought about it. It wasn’t funny.

They looked at the hills.

“You know, now that you mention it,” the man said, “if I squint just so, the hills do look kind of like almond milk.”

The girl laughed a little.

“Do you feel better?”

“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”

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