MASHED POTATOES

John Thomas Tuft
5 min readJan 5, 2024

MASHED POTATOES

By John Thomas Tuft

It was a dream. Possibly. Maybe. Hopefully. Maybe not. I am standing in a hallway. It is empty. I know that it is nighttime. There is a hush resident in the corridor of closed doors. I know that behind each door is a resting soul. In whatever state of rest that they can achieve given their circumstances. I don’t know if I am a ghost or a real person standing there, knowing what I know. Two young people, a man and a woman in their early 20s, wearing the uniforms of CNAs and pushing an empty gurney, approach the closed door. They glance around furtively, then steal a kiss before entering the room. Maybe I am a ghost. Moments later they emerge with the gurney now bearing a sheet wrapped tightly around a form. In my head I hear Bruce Springsteen singing “Streets of Philadelphia” as the body of 88-year-old Mrs. Smith is wheeled away. No one is there. No family. No friends. She is alone in her dying. She is alone in her death. I am a ghost, bearing witness. And I look at the ceiling as I ponder, who decided that we human beans need a purpose? Who asked first, what does it mean to be a human bean?

I am in the living room of a company owned house that the mill built for the town where they owned the utilities and grocery store at one time, as well. The woman works in a local bakery. The man works at the local water authority digging ditches, laying pipe. She looks at flour and sees bread. He looks at a piano and hears music. One listen of a song and he can sit at the keys and recreate it. I am an empty suit. Later that evening we are at a community potluck dinner in the church basement. I take in the laughter, the earnest conversations, the human beans being human beans. In walks one of the two senators for this state. Old school, good old boy, political powerbroker in the nation’s capital. I’m surprised at how short he is as he makes the rounds, gladhanding those gathered for a feast. We gather for a photo. In my head now I hear Simon Russell singing “Moon Eyes” — “I’ve been trying to see it/through cracks in the wall…When I think too much/I know nothing at all.” Right before the shutter clicks, the senator raises himself onto his tiptoes to appear taller. I am a ghost in an empty suit.

I open my Facebook feed. First thing that I read is an enthusiastic commentary on how Presbyterians need to reform, recreate how they do this church business. Because it is how God wants it to change. We are sure God is behind this. Get rid of professional, educated clergy. Get rid of buildings. Get rid of whatever we feel is holding us back. From something. Because God will like us more then. I smile as I read and hastily comment, “The more we hang on to adolescent magical thinking, the more God loves us especially. Every denomination and independent church believes it is because God likes it their way. Why don’t we anoint Taylor Swift to be God?” The Presbyterians kicked me to the curb long ago. I am homeless. I delete my comment. Suddenly I am back in my sister Susan’s living room. She is pacing the floor before me, telling me about the times she was raped and assaulted for being a gay woman. She is dying before my eyes, though her heart will go on for another grief-filled year. In my memory now I hear Billie Eilish singing the “Barbie” song, “What Was I Made For?” I am a ghost in an empty suit who is homeless.

I am in a movie. I’m an actor playing a role, written by someone else, cast in this story because…? I am Bruce Willis crawling through the ductwork of the skyscraper taken over by terrorists who are really stealing a huge amount of money. I look into the camera. “Sure, come out here, have a few laughs, be a writer, tell a few stories, maybe a novel, or two. What could go wrong?” In my head I’m watching the video for the song, “To Build a Home” by Cinematic Orchestra. A man carries a woman on his back through the countryside. They approach an isolated house and enter. He puts her in a chair, and it becomes obvious she is wearing a hospital gown. He goes to prepare the bedroom while she goes through a box of papers, pictures, memories. He gets her upstairs and into the bed and returns to the kitchen. There he takes out some pills while the teapot is set to boil. He crushes the pills into fine powder and dissolves them in the tea. He takes it to her in the bed and they kiss and say tearful goodbyes. It is a love story. I am a ghost in an empty suit, homeless as I play my role in the movie.

I am mashed potatoes. The notification for email dings. It is an executive of one of the big five publishers. They are having their doubts about taking on my novel. Prove you have an audience. Do this. Don’t do that. I hear the strains of “Chevaliers de Sangreal” by Hans Zimmer for the movie, The DaVinci Code as I type out my reply. I briefly tell her some of my story. I end it with these words: I mean no offense when I say, getting The Healer published traditionally is gravy on the mashed potatoes. I was going to say icing, but I love cake with icing too much. Mashed potatoes are good and sustaining with or without gravy. I’m still the guy sitting at a table surrounded by infirm people who have had to leave their homes, holding a carpenter’s pencil over a food-stained paper placemat, writing words that mean something to me. Because it gives me peace and purpose. And when I look up, there they are, gathered around me, saying read us your poem, John. That’s my mashed potatoes.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

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John Thomas Tuft

John is a novelist, retired mental health counselor and minister and sheep farmer, who now lives in Roanoke, VA.