Spargel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

March 26, 2009
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There is only one word that I know how to say in German.

Mappenklemmplatte. Binder clip.

Why my father took this as a sign to pick up everything I knew – from my bed to my dog to my favorite pen to the “Our Happy Home” mat by the door – and move me to Germany with him is a mystery.

From my perspective, we were perfectly fine in our house by the highway, cars whizzing by, providing a gentle hum to fill in the noise of neither of us talking. He doesn’t like talking, my father, and I don’t like it much, either. He is fat, with a bushy, graying mustache, and he likes to cook. All he seemed to do after my mother died was cook, but I didn’t mind the silence much, because it meant I didn’t have a curfew and our dinners were always good, when we had dinner.

At night, the cars would send me to sleep, the yellowish-white of the headlights seeping through my thin curtains and running along the side of my walls, the buzzing providing a distant lullaby I’m sure my mother used to sing.

I liked it there.

And then we moved.

We didn’t move like other families do, with all the hubbub and special arrangements. I simply came home one day and found a suitcase on my bed. My father had scribbled a Post-it note: “Pack what you want. We’re leaving.”

Looking back, I guess it was inevitable. He couldn’t stay here. He had to run away. Run away from the memories, run away from the world, run away from the broken lights traversing his bedroom walls at night. Which is how I ended up here, watching his shining round face as he babbled in German and sold asparagus.

Or spargel, as I am continually corrected.

Bruiser rests his head in my lap. I scratch him behind the ears, sighing, looking up at the sky, straining for even the slightest sound of a passing car. When he had first said “Germany,” mumbling it over his shoulder at the airport, I was fine. I thought of the Autobahn. I thought of the sound of things going at top speed, of freedom, of moving on, of moving forward.

I hadn’t thought of this.

I hadn’t thought of sitting in a godforsaken spargel stand by a dirt road, smiling at ruddy-faced Germans as they scrutinized the spargel we were selling, comparing it to the spargel the other spargel vendors were selling, because not only was it spargel season, it was Spargelfest.

And I had to watch my father change here. Drinking beer until his face turned permanently red, the sweat rolling down the side of his face from the hot sun, and sometimes I would catch him crying, wiping the tears from his eyes and then pressing his fingers to his mouth, as if his tears may have turned to alcohol and he could just drink them away.

I kiss the top of Bruiser’s head, and he knocks his giant noggin into my face as if to acknowledge the gesture. I laugh, toppling out of the plastic chair to get on my hands and knees to play with him, the only companion who speaks my language anymore. My phone has no service here; our computer makes no connections. I am isolated from everyone who used to make me, me.

Except for Bruiser. He doesn’t know two words of German, either.

A blond boy approaches us. My father is busy laughing over something with another fat man, so I stand up, not even bothering to dust the dirt off my jeans. They are already discolored from infrequent washing, splotched with brown; I can’t bring myself to bother anymore.

The guy is cute. His hair is long and windswept forward, and he wears big John Lennon glasses that reflect the clouds. He looks like Josh, my boyfriend before we left. I never told him I was going, let alone where. I never told anyone. We just … left.

“Hi,” I say, hoping that it’s enough to convey that I don’t speak German. I point to the boxes of green vegetable in our cart. “Spargel,” I say. He nods, confirming that the vegetable is, indeed, spargel.

Bruiser, upset that I’ve abandoned him, bounds over. Before I can stop him, he’s kicking up dust in the middle of the road, jumping up, putting his paws up on the German version of Josh. I hoist myself over the stand, the bottoms of my Converse dangling out of the shoes, holding on by a thread. German-Josh is saying something in German, and if I understood it, I’m sure it would have been a long string of swears.

“Sorry!” I say, grabbing Bruiser’s shoulders and pulling him off. He’s a Great Dane and hard to handle. I had forgotten though. He never jumped on anyone back home. “I’m sorry. I really am. We should keep him on a leash ….”

He continues to issue words I can’t understand. I stand there, pulling Bruiser down. “Bad dog,” I hiss, “bad, get down, Bruiser, damn it ….”

“The kid says you need to get a leash,” my dad shouts. I glare at the German version of Josh.

“I know. The dog’s a bastard.”

Josh-the-German rips off his glasses and says something else. I look to my father, who looks slightly confused, then tunes in again. “And he says that dog is a bastard.”

I look pathetically at the boy, and point to our stand. “Spargel.”


I hate Germany.

I have to hate it. It is an obligation, not a choice. Like how you’re supposed to naturally hate a stepmother, or a bratty little sibling. Germany is my new evil stepmother. And I am Cinderella, crawling around on my hands and knees, trying to please it, trying to make things even remotely better for myself.

I’m not doing a very good job.

The day after the German-Josh incident, I snuck into the money my father had been saving and bought myself a German-English dictionary. I sit here now, reading it in the shade of our stand. My father sips a bottle of beer and bellows a crude song with two other vendors. I don’t even want to look up the words.

“Hallo,” says a voice I barely recognize. I look up, squinting against the sun, and see German-Josh. I turn around: Bruiser is breaking the neck of a sheep squeaky-toy I had brought with us, far in the distance. I turn back. My face and the words of the dictionary are reflected in his glasses. I wonder what color his eyes are.

He points to the stand. “Spargel?”

“Spargel,” I confirm, and I stand up, raising my chin, hoping I look like a salesperson. I point to the sign that lists our prices, acting as though I would know the difference. I still have no idea how the whole euro thing works yet.

He buys some. He turns to leave but stops, coming back. He points to his temple, then gives me something wrapped in brown paper that he had been carrying in the crook of his arm. I take it, and he waits. I unwrap it, glancing warily at him to make sure that it is, in fact, a gift for me.

I let the paper fall to the ground and lift the gift up, blocking the sun with it. It’s a leash.

I smile. “Thank you,” I say, hoping he understands.

Bitte schön,” he says.


He comes back for more spargel every day for the next three weeks. We never say anything, and I have no idea whether he’s paying me the right amount; in fact, he’s probably just using me to get cheap spargel for his spargel soup for Spargelfest for his spargel-happy family.

But I secretly hope not.

Today, I stop him from leaving. I hold out my hand, and he turns, looking at me, then warily at Bruiser, who’s at my feet, panting in the heat. He stares, waiting. I swallow, and close my eyes, trying to remember. I can do this, I tell myself. I can do this.

Danke für den Kaufen unseres Spargeles,” I say. Thank you for buying our spargel – at least, I think that’s what I said. I hope that’s what I said.

“Thank you for you to sell the spargel to me,” he says.

I smile. I smile, and I do not know what to say next.

So I say the only thing I can.


Binder clip.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the June 2009 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.

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This article has 146 comments. Post your own now!

earlybird_8 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm
Loooooovvvveeee it! Seriously, one of, if not the, best short stories I've ever read. It's polished, the pacing is great, and the ending is really funny.
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Thank you! Your specific compliments are so nice to read, because then I actually feel like I did something right, if that makes sense. (: I am so honored for you to say that it's one of the best short stories you've ever read, it really made my day! :D

Sorry this response is so late, by the way. XD I tend to get a bit lazy when it comes to my reviews, and I really shouldn't! I appreciate them so thanks. (:

Snowkittenz said...
Aug. 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm
I wrote a sequel to your work! Hopefully that was okay, I wanted to share it with you. I'll let you know the link when I get it. Or you can keep checking my written work and read it when it's online. If you don't like it, I'll take it down, okay? I completely respect your work. I know maybe this isn't what you had been thinking exactly, but hopefully you can enjoy it a little? :) Thanks for writing Spargel.
JessieBecker said...
Jul. 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

That was really good(: I liked it, most of my family is German and the language is extremely confusing, I hate it and they expect me to learn before I travel to Germany again, so I kinda know how your character feels. I like the characters a lot though(:

p.s. you think you can check out one of my stories?? it would be kinda nice(:


moonpetal said...
Jul. 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm
That was cool, I liked it! The way it was writen rocked! Good jod on it! Very creative.
CLC93 said...
Jul. 14, 2010 at 10:58 am
This is great! It made me laugh and it's really sweet. Where did you come up with the idea for this?
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Sorry for the belated response, but here goes: It's actually a funny story - I was checking my email, and I have a fun fact bar across the top of my screen. For some reason, Google decided to tell me that "spargel" was the word for "asparagus" in german. Earlier that day, my friend Becca had told me the word for 'binderclip', and the rest is history.

Well, not really. But seeing as the word "Spargel" is kind of hilarious, I was determined to write a story with that title. I did some Go... (more »)

CLC93 replied...
Oct. 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm
Lol, it's cool. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question :D
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 24, 2010 at 10:39 am
Ha, no problem! It's a blast to talk about yourself/own writing/etc, I'm definitely addicted to it in a slightly vain way. X)
CLC93 replied...
Oct. 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Hahaha, I feel the same way :D
wild-free said...
Jul. 14, 2010 at 9:55 am
This is wonderful, I couldn't stop reading! Very creative, interesting and even funny. Great job!
gymbabe This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 22, 2010 at 7:10 am

This is so amazing, very realistic and relatable.  I loved it!  Keep writing!

Btw, anyone who sees this, will you check out and comment on my work?

Kisip_Typical_Islander said...
Jun. 22, 2010 at 6:16 am
Spargel is one of my favorites because I can truly relate to the frustration and excitement of moving homes into new and strange countries. I've been island-hopping all my life in the Pacific Ocean and been through about 8 different schools. Many people assume that if you've lived somewhere for a bit, esp in years, they expect you to pick up the language and speak it fluently. That is not always the case, sometimes the language itself doesn't capture you and you are left to ignore it... (more »)
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm
I know this response is a little late, but I just have to let you know how much this means to me that you actually connected with what I've written. (: Seeing as I've never actually gone through it, a lot of it was lucky guesswork combined with trying to mold a character's personality. I just know that I have always had difficulty with languages, and still do - so I'm glad that I actually achieved something here! :D Plus, whenever someone says they can relate to something you've written, it's al... (more »)
MoonlightAngelx0 said...
May 31, 2010 at 9:09 pm
HelloLover said...
May 31, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Wow, this is so cute!  I love the realness of it.  It really seems like a modern fairy tale; especially with the allusion to cinderella.

My absolute favorite part was the very end because that is the exact kind of confused, lovestruck, lonely thing I would have done.  It really ties the beginning to the end.  I love how you ended with just that. 

I also think it's cute how annoyed the main character is with the situation.  She has such an interestin... (more »)

jmartins This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

I think this story is the epitome of a great story. And that's the cool thing about it, because the plot isn't that strong. I mean, you could have dragged it on and on, with her learning german and loving Germany and this German-Josh and all, but you didn't, because you didn't need to. Instead, you just left the audience with an amusing story, with an ending that said, 'think what you want'. 

Which was so much better!

I really, honestly, truly enjoyed this story about a gir... (more »)

Taylor C. said...
May 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Binder clip.

bahahah! that was so funny!

not to mention that Spargel is just a halarious word! I'm going to say it all the time now. spargel spargel spargel!

izzy2 said...
May 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm
this is a great, entertaining story. the ending was the best part.
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm
Thanks! The ending actually came as a bit of a surprise - unlike a lot of my stories, I didn't know where this was going until about halfway through. But I'm really glad you thought it worked! Strong endings are my favorite part of writing, so I'm glad you appreciated it. (:
ellelavielovee said...
Apr. 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm
please continue this!
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