Issue 2.33

Orbs and Orts

Onions and oranges

My mother made a salad of orange sections and thin slices of red onion on lettuce, dressed with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. A picky eater, I wouldn’t eat the onions, but I liked the tangy bite their presence added. My mother didn’t object when I picked them off my plate and slipped them onto hers. “More for me,” she’d say. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who ate onion sandwiches—onion and mayonnaise on rye—a carryover from the Depression.


There were the soggy green orbs in a jar, stuffed with bits of slimy red pepper, and the musty-tasting canned black ones. Olives were on my untouchables list until as an adult I discovered brine- and dry-cured Kalamatas, Picholines, and Niçoises, my favorites. My daughter loved the pitted black canned ones, ten at a time to poke her fingers into. “Look at my black nail polish,” she’d say, before nibbling off one glossy globe at a time. In a summer cooking class before sixth grade, she learned to make bean tostadas, topped with lettuce and tomato, shredded cheese, and sliced black olives. She insisted that the ingredients and preparation were inviolable and had to be followed to the letter, so I kept a can on hand at all times to encourage her efforts.

“Oh-Oh SpaghettiOs”

…was a refrain from the oft-heard commercial for one of my daughter’s favorite childhood meals, which she preferred to the spaghetti I labored over, my mother’s prized recipe. Franco-American canned SpaghettiOs, plain-sauced orbs or with mini meatballs and hot dog slices, got me out of cooking on busy nights, and eventually she outgrew it. Her son, my grandson, loved Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast, lunch and dinner, bowl after bowl, from his early years well into adulthood. Maybe food in circles and rings is a comfort thing.

“Orts, scraps and fragments”

Virginia Woolf’s characters in Between the Acts reflect on this trinity, her nod to Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida: “The fractions of her faith, the orts of her love, / The fragments, scraps, the bits, and greasy relics.…” From Middle Low German orte, orts are food remains, yet Shakespeare and Woolf aptly applied the term to fragments of lived experience. Food and life intertwine in memory, my childhood mealtimes often battles fought over the orts, the greasy remains I left on my plate, at odds with my mother’s abhorrence of food waste, another Depression-era holdover.

Olio is a spicy Spanish stew,

also called olla, the name of the pot it’s cooked in. An olio—not to be confused with oleo, the butter substitute—is also a hodgepodge, a mishmash of often unrelated things, edible or otherwise. My husband throws odds and ends into a pan and calls it gruel—I’d call it an olio. Virginia Woolf writes in her diary about “flowers, clouds, beetles, and the price of eggs.” My olio comprises random observations on orbs and orts, round food and the letter O.

Alice Lowe writes about life and language, food and family. Her essays have been published in more than eighty literary journals, this year in Bacopa, Change Seven, Epiphany, Burningword, (mac)ro(mic), Potato Soup, and Superstition Review. She recently won an essay contest at Eat, Darling, Eat, and has been cited twice in Best American Essays “Notables,” nominated for Best of the Net. She lives in San Diego, California, and her work can be read at

Last Rites

Someone’s died on the tracks at Swindon
Coincidence, I know, not omen
People groan at the two-hour delay
Will your death coincide with my birthday?

A damp gale gusts through the platform:
Shivers and people turning inward
I hop a train to Bristol then Wales
For some reason reading Beaumarchais

But even Figaro can’t keep my mind
From wondering whether you’ll reach
Your terminus before I reach mine
Whether you feel the same sense of purpose

I spend the night in Rudry, you’re still alive
Misplaced in a ward that treats skin diseases
As good as any other place to die,
The doctors must rationalize, meanwhile
The neighbor’s cheap frontyard chime tings all night

Dylan Willoughby is a permanently disabled LGBTQIA+ poet, composer, music producer, and photographer, born in London, England, and currently living in Los Angeles, California.  

Song and Dance

“Oh, I don’t know,” you’ll say and it’s true in that there’s no easily palpable way to really describe it, just a gnawing hole inside you and a need to fill that raw wilderness with something and a part of your brain that feels a little less broken when you do it and another part that never feels good enough except in the moments when you do it well and there’s something you think is good for a second and for that second you can live with yourself, and the contentment feels strange but nice and you can see how stringing that feeling together long enough might make somebody happy eventually, not for a moment or a day, but like an actual happy person if that’s a thing, and you’ll just continue, “it’s just a hobby, I guess.”

Brenden Layte is an editor of educational materials, a linguist, and a writer. His work has previously appeared in places like Entropy, Ellipsis Zine, Pithead Chapel, and the Forge Literary Magazine. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, with his girlfriend and a cat that was described as “terrifying” the last time he went to the vet. He tweets at @b_layted.