Tuesday, July 4, 2023

“Poutine” • by Pete Wood

Harris could take the 300 mile per hour winds of Io, the unpredictable lava flows, and the tin can of a bio dome that housed the hundred miners. He could even tolerate having to move the biodome on short notice several times a year because of the aforementioned lava flows. Piece of cake.

But damn it, he was sick of poutine.

The French-Canadian chef served French fries with cheese curds smothered in gloppy congealed gravy every single night of July. Canada Month. It seemed lost on the contingent of Canadian miners that Canada Day ended at midnight on July 1st.

Harris turned up his headphones, but even jacked-up Kenny G couldn’t drown out the drunken revelry down the hall. His head pounded. He couldn’t take it any longer. It wasn’t like he could go outside and get some fresh air.  

He jumped out of bed and stomped down the narrow steel passage, past the lounge where yet another snooker tournament had erupted into yet another argument about Halifax Rules or the Calgary Carom.

Commander McKenzie sat on his bunk. He watched a holotape of the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup win two weeks ago.

Harris cleared his throat. “Commander.”

McKenzie rolled his eyes and then quickly plastered on a smile. “Evening, eh.”

“Sir, it’s July 3rd,” Harris said. “Tomorrow is July 4th.”

McKenzie looked puzzled. “Yes.”

“It’s American Independence Day.”

“Ah. That’s right. You’re from the States.”

“There’s eight of us.”

McKenzie stared at the holotape. Toronto’s goalie stopped a game-winning shot on goal and flicked it to the right wing or the center or the grand poobah or whatever the hell the position was called. The player skated past the defenders and scored. “Yes!” He looked at Harris. “Sorry, but it never gets old.”

“I was thinking we could maybe have a little celebration for the Americans tomorrow,” Harris said. “Maybe some hotdogs or hamburgers.”

“It’s only the fourth day of Canadian Independence,” McKenzie said. “We have seventy-eight Canadians who have been looking forward to it all year. Why don’t you join in? You might like it.”

“I’m not Canadian.”

“As you keep telling me.” His tone softened. “Why don’t we have a special dinner in August after we get past Lord Simcoe day?”

“They signed the Declaration of Independence on July Fourth,” Harris said.

“I’m sure they did,” Mackenzie said.


“Happy Fourth of July,” Johnson, who hailed from Shreveport,  said to Harris the next afternoon. They were chilling in their sleeping cube, one of four in the American nook behind the galley. They spent a lot of time chilling. The dirty little secret of the Io base was that the bots took care of everything. Two guys could man this place.

Thank God for union jobs.

“You know what they’re having for dinner?” Harris muttered. “Meat pasty, Molson ale, poutine. You don’t watch fireworks and eat poutine.”

“You came four hundred million miles for the food? For me, it was the money. Well, to each his own.”

“Is it too much to expect decent food once in a while? French fries with gravy? What the hell? You’re supposed to have fries with ketchup. Fries shouldn’t be soggy. You eat mashed potatoes with gravy and meatloaf. And cheese? Who the hell puts cheese on French fries, and it’s not even good cheese.”

“So, you want to eat mashed potatoes and meatloaf?”

“Not all the time.”

“Do you want to live at a Denny’s?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Make yourself a sandwich or something.”

Harris glared at his bunkmate. “Jesus Christ. I shouldn’t have to make my own sandwich.”

Johnson yawned. “Why don’t you play snooker?”

I am not playing snooker.”



“Take your complaints to the shop steward.”

“He’s from goddamned Saskatoon.”

Johns smiled. “That man loves to talk about Neil Young. Harvest Moon and—”

“Don’t! Just don’t!” Harris snapped.

Johnson shrugged. “It’s good music.”

“So’s KISS.”



The conversation ended when some miners from Toronto drowned them out. They took their sweet time belting out a Rush song.


Harris stayed in bed all day for the Fourth. Not that anyone noticed. It wasn’t like he was needed anywhere.

Ten a.m. on the Fifth he stared at the ceiling and listened to the creaking of the station. He wondered if it would be worth it to quit. He’d be bailing on his five-year commitment three years early. He’d lose a fortune, but he would never have to eat poutine again. Even prison food had to be better.

He heard Johnson laughing outside. The door opened and his pool-cue-wielding bunkmate flipped on the light. “Up and at ‘em!”

Harris stuck his head under the pillow. “No, thanks.”

Johnson pulled the pillow away. :”I have good news.”

Harris glared. “What?”

“Mackenzie is leaving.”


A week later the shuttle departed with Mackenzie and several of his flunkies. They’d all been promoted and sent to the Mars station.

Surrounded by crates, the new commander, Henri De’Villepin, and his newly arrived team organized the commander’s office. Harris knocked on the door.

“Oui?” the Commander said.

“Sir, I have to ask you something,” Harris said. “Do you like poutine?”

De’Villepin frowned. “Non c’est terrible. Peasant food.”

“So, you wouldn’t serve it?”

“Certainement pas. I am from Marseilles.”

“I’ve never been to France,” Harris said.

De’Villepin smiled. “Ah, mon ami, I have a treat for you.” He pointed to the largest of the crates. “Escargot and other delicacies. I have even brought my own chef.”

Harris stared blankly. He smelled something dank and musty.

De’Villepin slapped him on the back. “Nothing but the finest French cuisine from now on. Tonight. Cerveaux.”

“What’s that?”

“Lamb’s brain. Magnifique.”

“But you wouldn’t be eating that all the time.”

“No, we would have other dishes. Pigeon. Tripe. Perhaps—”

“Pigeon? Did you say—”

De’Villepin’s eyes shone. “And why not. We are about to start a month of celebration, because next week is—”

Harris sobbed. “Bastille Day.”



Photo by Lee Baker
Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past two years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles, and now with Tales from the Brahma, a shared world saga that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Jason Burnham, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Pete Wood photo by Lee Baker.




Gary said...


Karin Terebessy said...

This was just delightful! There are certain truism that feel truer and truer the older we get, and "It could always be worse" (so appreciate what you have and stop complaining) is definitely one of them. I really enjoyed your using sci-fi and cuisine to highlight this idea.

Made in DNA said...


Pete Wood said...

Thanks, Gary, and Karin, and Made in DNA! I really appreciate y'all taking the time to read and comment.

Anonymous said...

Okay, that was funny.