sporklet 16
Julie Püttgen
The Baba Yaga Deli

You can’t get to the Baba Yaga Deli without being ordered there by a stranger in green pajamas, with a plastic-wrapped chemo port in her chest and patchy hair. You can’t get there without feeling you’re being used, the whole setup is confusingly bone-rotten, maybe it’s a prank call, and you should probably hang up. You must become the pandemic’s cancer stepchild. You must understand that your car could turn into a bunch of rats at any moment, and what you think of as your coat could turn into spit and spiderwebs.


Your AMEX doesn’t work at the Baba Yaga Deli. You need the stranger’s food-stamp card, PIN, and grocery list written on the back of a hospital bill envelope. Before you go in, you need to deposit 108,000 empty plastic newspaper bags in the bin by the door, which you secretly believe gets dumped straight into the ocean when no one’s looking, even though the old cart-wrangler calls this ritual Saving Willy the Whale. An offering for the ferryman, for the Garbage Patch. A prayer for a chance to leave again.


Baba Yaga is your client and your boss, and also she is two crones working behind the deli counter slicing the tidied remains of filthy-caged, terrified animals. You don’t eat any of this shit, but that’s not the point at all, is it? Baba Yaga likes it more fresher, so get in line.


108 hams
108 turkeys
108 perfect loaves behind glass aren’t where your meat comes from. Baba Yaga’s acolytes reach into unseen crevices, from which they extract manky stubs to clamp onto the knife-machine. Does Baba Yaga lick the blade between jobs? If so, her tongue’s the only cleaning happening here. Stub on, stub off. All day, 108-year-old women stand on swollen feet, rendering slaughtered bodies into slices for
the dopesick
the ailing
the bereft
108,000 customers, each in the midst of specific initiations.
Yours is: ½ pound of each, give one extra slice, but not two; and two boxes of raspberries.


Vasilisa makes ham, turkey, and Monterey Jack sandwiches on country white bread for Baba Yaga’s grandchildren whenever they come to visit. She never once says, Fuck off, weird crone, and so, after completing her 108,000th picnic basket, she emerges from the forest with a wish-fulfilling skull in her pocket and a black-dyed rabbit-fur toque that looks like Joan Jett. She knows what’s what. For the rest of her life, she prefers vegan mayonnaise, and she can afford the fancy eggs where you get a picture of Our Girls in each dozen.


Her stepsister thinks Vasilisa is an idiot, but a wish-fulfilling skull sounds a lot better than $14 an hour, so she heads for the Deli in the forest. The stepsister is rude, steals sandwiches only a witch’s brood can safely eat, and soon dies of a listeria infection. She is boiled down for mid-range mortadella.


You hobble at the line’s pace, slide the card, enter the PIN, pack the one bag puffy and full, make sure the receipt is in there, and leave the store. Unconsciously you stop by your own house. You need to be reminded of gone-wild asparagus standing golden where you haven’t yet been willing to chop it down for winter. You need the new allium and fritillaria bed, dark, freshly mulched, sprinkled with milkweed seed, and edged with brick. Home. You turn around and drive the short distance back to the stranger’s porch, where you drop off the bag, the card, the list, the meats, the cheese: Baba Yaga’s picnic into Vasilisa’s hands.


You can’t visit the Baba Yaga Deli on the morning after Election Day and ever ask again, How could anyone vote for him? You’ve been a surly volunteer at the charnel ground meat counter, and you know it’s as close as the breath inside the breath.

Julie Püttgen recently startled awake from a monastery-based dream in which she was causing a ruckus and emailed her ex, Are you still there? Are you whole? Are you human? Even now, these still seem like some of the right questions. Her work as an artist, therapist, essayist, and modifier of initially-feared garments is online at www.108namesofnow.com and www.everyday-regalia.com.