Allison Landa

Photo Credit: Magda’s Cauldron

I’m making pesto. I do this when I need to think, when I need to run away from thought, when I want to get cut as I inevitably do, the blood seeping to stain the cutting board, another one ruined.

But first, my recipe for pesto: Really, it’s not different than anyone else’s. Take some basil, some pine nuts, some garlic and olive oil and cheese, and there you have it. Cut the basil. Smash the nuts. Grate the cheese and mince the garlic. Put it in a food processor, pour in the oil, pulse.

I’m making pesto. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the sun is streaming in through the dirty window. The pasta is boiling on the stove and this morning I was diagnosed with cancer.

It’s blood cancer. I don’t even know how you get blood cancer. Maybe I cut myself one too many times. Maybe I didn’t wash the wound properly. Maybe I let it heal too fast. Maybe you’re supposed to prolong the cut, run your finger along its edges for a while. Maybe life has been too smooth. Maybe none of this is the case at all.

Smash the basil, cut the nuts. I’ve done this a thousand times and still I don’t know what I’m doing.

The pasta boils over.

I close my eyes.

None of it goes away. Nothing changes. Except for how everything’s changed, everything’s shifted. Or has it? I had cancer before I knew I had cancer. I was sick for—how long? The only thing that’s changed is the knowledge, not the fact. If you pull open a curtain to reveal an atrocity, does that mean the atrocity didn’t exist before it was acknowledged? Or was it there the entire time, gaping and grimacing?

None of this is helping.

Nothing can help.

I open my eyes, turn to the stove, snap off the burner. I watch the flame vanish in an instant. My motion has invalidated its existence. I am the god of the gas.

Pesto. I need to make pesto.

Actually, what I need to do is sink to the floor, feel the hardwood against my ass. I need to cradle my head in my hands, feeling my chin sharp against my palms. I need to feel my hair fall against my face, thin and blonde as my hair is, pale and drawn as my cheeks can appear.

In my hand the knife is smooth and sharp. Pointed. It knows what it’s doing. I’ll let it lead.


Allison Landa is a Berkeley, Calif.-based writer whose work has been featured in Salon Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Swill Magazine, Word Riot and Defenestration, among other venues. She has been a resident at The MacDowell Colony, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and The Julia and David White Artists’ Colony. Her website is Email: allison[at]

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