The Recall

The Recall
by Stephen Moore ’10

Jim looks down at his breakfast:  a cup of coffee, toast, two eggs sunny side up, and two slices of ham.

“Honey, these eggs sure are beautiful,” he calls out affectionately as he pokes the exposed yolk with his fork, spilling green goo onto his plate.

“I’ll tell you, this is a fine way for a man to start a day.”

His wife, Mary, comes up from behind, plants a kiss on his cheek and rests her hand on his shoulder.

“Trust me you’ll need all you can get.  It looks like those hens have been poppin’ out eggs faster than you can collect them,” she says with a loving smile.

“Oh, get off my back would ya?” Jim grunts as he shakes her arm off.  “You know, we’re gonna make a killing this year if they keep laying eggs the way they have been.”

Mary starts to answer, but is interrupted by a loud snare drum knock from the door.  Jim grumbles, slowly gets up, and moves to the door with half of his breakfast still on the plate.  After a couple minutes have passed, she can hear a muffled conversation from the hallway.

“I can’t believe it’s that time already.  Weren’t you fellas just here a month ago?” she hears her husband ask.

“Jim, who is it?” she says with a slight tremble.

After another minute, Jim comes back into the kitchen.  The lines on his face are twisted like the pieces of a puzzle.

“Goddamn health inspector again.  Only this one’s different, not another local guy.  I think he’s federal.  Says he wants to take a look at our hens.”

Jim grabs a couple of documents from the counter and heads outside.  The inspector waiting for him is neatly dressed in a suit and tie, and carrying a briefcase.  Along the side of his black SUV the letters FDA are painted in white.

“If you wanna see the birds follow me over here,” Jim says, pointing to an enormous white barn behind his home.  “I’ve got ‘em all right in there.”

Once at the barn, the inspector reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a small white mask.  He pulls it over his face, letting it cover his mouth and nose.

“Now just what exactly do you think I’ve got in here?” Jim spits through his teeth.

The masked inspector looks at him.  “Standard protocol,” he says in a muffled monotone.

Jim nods uneasily and opens the door of the barn, revealing stacks upon stacks of chickens.  Arranged in what look like tenements, the birds are squeezed wing to wing in small wire cages that climb to the ceiling.  Although chicken in name, they resemble nothing of the typical fowl their name suggests.  The birds are featherless, with dull dried out grey skin.  Where their beaks had once been, now runs tiny plastic tubing filled with crawling green sludge.  The only sound that can be heard in the barn is the low murmur of the eggs as they roll underneath the lifeless birds.

Jim raises his head back, marveling at the view.  “Well this is how Old Macdonald gets his eggs now, eeyi eeyi o.”  He laughs.

The inspector looks at him without changing his expression and asks, “you’re feeding them Sam’s Certified Green Feed correct?”

“That’s right, wouldn’t give ‘em anything else.”

“None of your own additives?”

“No sir.”

“I’m going to need to look at one,” the inspector says, pointing to a tube of rolling eggs.  Jim walks over to the cages, picks out an egg and returns with it to the inspector.  The man holds the egg up over his head and studies it carefully, spinning it between his fingers.  His breathing is heavy underneath his mask.  Squatting down, he pulls a small hammer out of his briefcase and gently strikes the egg’s white shell.  Using two hands he splits the shell apart, and lets the green yolk splatter on to the ground.  Taking a step back, he pulls a small black Geiger counter out of his bag, and holds it to the runny green puddle.  The soft clicks of the meter speed to a rapid hum.  His eyes widen and he turns to Jim, saying, “These chickens need to be destroyed immediately.” Jim hardly has time to respond as the man gets back into his car and speeds back to Washington.

Across the country, in a Massachusetts hospital, little Patti Allen is dying.  Her skin is white like fine porcelain, but like a doll, she is too fragile to touch.  Her hair has grown back, and now sits like a brown curly nest on top of her head.  A year and half ago, however, this nine-year-old had been in perfect health.  More active than most girls her age, she climbed to the tops of trees, kicked soccer balls, and was known to bound through fields on hot summer afternoons.  It was a surprise when she fell ill.  Like most children, it was expected that she would make a full and speedy recovery.  When her condition worsened, her parents expected that her doctors would have answers for them.  Instead, they only had questions.

Dr. Samuel Burk, a spectacled man in a white coat, interrogates Mr. and Mrs. Allen in his office at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Has Patti has been exposed to any filthy cigarette smoke?”

Mrs. Allen’s head bows, and she reveals a thin frown.  She tells him that while she smoked before Patti was born, she hasn’t touched a cigarette in over 15 years.  Mr. Allen nods, saying that he never smoked—wouldn’t go near the things.  Dr. Burke looks gravely over his notes.  He asks about the electronics in the house.

“Is there anything out of the ordinary?” he asks.  Mr. and Mrs. Allen look at each other, shaking their heads.

“What about any strange metals?”

Mrs. Allen scrunches her nose in disbelief.  “Strange metals?  You have to be kidding me.”  Mr. Allen puts a hand on her shoulder, trying to calm her.

Dr. Burke asks about the girl’s diet.  Mr. Allen explains that they’ve worked hard to make sure the girl eats healthily;  home cooked lunches and dinners, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, grains, as little fast food as possible, and Green Eggs and Ham every morning for breakfast.

Dr. Burke raises an eyebrow at this.

“How long has she been eating Green Eggs and Ham?”

Mr. Allen smiles.  “Well just about her whole life.  We started giving them to her when she was just a little girl, maybe two years old. We used to cook the eggs right out of the carton, but ever since they came out with those microwavable breakfasts, we’ve been giving her those.  She just gobbles them right up.”

Throughout the country, similar things are happening.  Children aged eight to ten are becoming ill.  The sickness is unexplainable.  Children of normal health and fitness are wasting away in hospital beds.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hold an emergency closed door meeting with the nation’s leading doctors and nutritional experts.  An emergency safety alert is issued the next day.  Green Eggs and Ham, the foremost American breakfast, causes cancer in young children.

Shocking headlines sprint across the tops of national newspapers, magazines and television programs.  One reads, “Green Eggs and Ham Is Killing Our Kids!” another says, “Green Eggs and Ham to be Pulled From Stores, Boats, Planes and Trains!”  In hysteria and confusion, households empty their refrigerators.  Cartons of green eggs and spirals of green ham are burned in landfills outside of towns.  Green smoke from the burning breakfasts fills the air.  Worried that the smoke may also be cancerous, the government is forced to send specialists in to remove the smoldering ruins of egg and ham.  Teams of men dressed in white hazard suits glide like ghosts into the burning pits.  They are surprised to find that the embers glow a bright, nauseating neon green.

Amidst this chaos, the children are not getting better. In fact, more are becoming ill.  When the FDA releases its report, public fear turns to anger.  The research indicates that Green Eggs and Ham is only cancerous when fed to a developing body.  To a fully grown adult, Green Eggs and Ham poses no threat.  It only seems to affect the growing cells of a child.  Public rage points at one man, the individual responsible for selling the breakfast to their children, the illustrious entrepreneur, businessman and socialite, Sam-I-Am.

Outside of Sam-I-Am’s New York offices, anger is at its peak.  Mobs have formed.  The most popular chant among them being, “We will not eat them here or there!  We will not eat them anywhere!”  They carry signs declaring, “I do not like Green Eggs and Ham,” and “I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”  Airline hostesses, who used to serve Green Eggs and Ham in the air, have declared in one united voice, “We will not serve them on our planes!”  Similar cries come from the service industry.  Restaurants, grocery stores and markets all say in one voice, “We will not carry Green Eggs and Ham!”

As if Sam didn’t have enough to deal with already.  News of the first dead child has just broken.  Sam paces back and forth in his office.   Scratching his balding gray hair, he watches the television in front of him. A scowl distorts his hairy face as he hears a cable news pundit report the death of Patricia Allen.  Only nine years old.  They’re calling him the greatest mass murderer since Mao.  Fitting, too, that this would come right before the deal with China was settled.  Green Eggs and Ham on billions and billions of breakfast plates.  Little chance of that anymore.

Sam moves to his desk, sits down, and looks around the room.  The walls are filled with old advertisements.  Pictures of a younger Sam with goats, foxes, boxes, trains, planes, boats, selling green eggs and ham.  A Time Magazine cover featuring a young, whiskered, smiling face, with a caption underneath reading, “Who is Sam? Meet The Man Who Revolutionized Breakfast.”  A map of the United States, dotted with pins, hangs on one wall.  Next to it hangs a map of China.  He had created an empire. Every American child had grown up eating his Green Eggs and Ham.  Now this outcry threatens to bring everything down.

It’s not that he had started out maliciously.  In fact he hadn’t even known.  The Dr. had given him the recipe.  Once he had it, he just had to sell it.  That had been easy enough.  “Just try them,” he had said.  “Try them, try them, you will see.”  The slogans had been written in the simplest English.  Three to five letters each—easy enough for any child to read.  And that had been the beauty.  For many children, his ads were the first words they ever read.  Putting simple words and ideas into their heads had been his marketing genius.  Every child wanted Green Eggs and Ham.

Now it would be the death of them.  A younger Sam may have felt pain over this.  He may have even wept.

Now there is too much at stake, too much to lose.  So it falls on him to make things right again.  Sam-I-Am must save the brand.

He appears before the press in his finest yellow suit and red top hat, looking much like he did as a younger man, only now his face is older, graver, and without a smile.  His voice no longer bounces and rhymes melodically, but instead is sharp and edgy like wood crackling in a fire.

“First and foremost I would like to extend my deep condolences to the families that have lost their children as a result of this blunder.”  He pauses, knowing how important his next line is going to be. “I want it to be made clear that at no point have I known about the adverse effects that my breakfast has had on children.  I never knew Green Eggs and Ham were poisonous.  Had I known the truth, you can be assured that I would have recalled every last green egg and every last green ham.  As a final point, I would also like it known that my team of nutritionists and scientists are working right now at developing a new, safer recipe. You can expect to see Green Eggs and Ham back on the market within a year’s time!”

With his apology out of the way, Sam returns to his office.  The prospects of bringing Green Eggs and Ham to China still linger in his mind.  He lights a cigarette and slowly paces towards the hanging map.  Exhaling smoke through his nose, Sam stares at the map, carefully studying its details.  As time passes, the country begins to change shape.  Sam slowly becomes convinced that China strangely looks like a big fried egg.  Needing to complete the image, he takes his cigarette and presses the burning end into the center of the map.  The paper crinkles and withers away as the flaming hole spreads like a punctured egg yolk, consuming the country.

This entry was posted in Literature, Nonfiction. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply