The Palate Cleanser

“Church of the Purple Mango Oma”

by Eric Suhem


“I must find the Purple Mango Oma, he will have the answers to my
questions of existence,” murmured Elba the Waitress, staring at her order

“Well that’s wonderful, but we would each like a tuna melt and a Sprite,”
said the Johnsons, having arrived at the restaurant in matching magenta
sweaters. “Now — uhmm — Elba,” said Bill Johnson as he squinted at the
waitress’s name tag, “We’d also like an order of onion rings and –“ But
Elba didn’t seem to be hearing them. Although she was writing on the
order pad, it didn’t pertain to the Johnson’s meal. She was scribbling
the words “Why am I here?” furiously over and over again, tearing off
pieces of paper and throwing them onto the floor.

Elba was feeling that something was missing in her life. She was getting
tired of the dead-end waitress job, and had had another argument with her
husband earlier that morning, over his habits: On Tuesdays he would
dress up as a stern nun and speed across the church lawn on a tricycle,
demanding a bushel of crunchy seed from the confused squirrels and birds
in his path. “This Tonka toy, Lincoln log, erector set society will not
withstand the steady ooze of the human protoplasm soul juice,” said the
stern nun, staring out from a habit, sucking on a Mr. Frosty popsicle.
Elba and her husband were having issues.

Looking to fill the void, Elba turned to a book written about the Purple
Mango Oma. She had found it in the street. On the book’s cover was a lone
figure, out of focus, frolicking in a Tibetan meadow. It was said that
the Purple Mango Oma had sat for 4 years on the shore of a lake, not
saying a word, in deep meditation. He had attracted a huge following, and
was revered as an enlightened sage. People would sacrifice their lives to
him if he twitched that desire. Elba had not initially been one of the
Purple Mango Oma’s followers, but had slowly been drawn in by the utopian
promises in the book.

The Purple Mango Oma was actually a man named Kevin who had ingested a
household drain cleaner, mistaking it for an energy drink. After nearly
dying at the hospital, Kevin somehow survived, and was wheeled out of the
hospital on a white cart, his ravaged, pale, bloated body twitching
about. A group of people were somehow drawn to Kevin, and became his
disciples and worshippers, renaming him the Purple Mango Oma, enraptured
by his manner of confused simplicity and dazed harmony. Thousands would
throw flowers to him, and grapple with each other to touch his purplish
spasmodic flesh.

Elba glanced at the Johnsons’ newspaper, and was stunned to see that the
Purple Mango Oma was in town for a publicity appearance at the Civic
Auditorium. She threw her waitress apron on the Johnsons’ table, and ran
out the restaurant door, headed for the auditorium, arriving as the 573rd
flower landed on the Purple Mango Oma’s left big toe. She bought her
ticket and jostled her way past pamphlet salespeople to the front of the

“Oh Purple Mango Oma, what is the meaning of life? I need the answer!”
beseeched Elba. The Purple Mango Oma only belched, drooled, and rolled
around on the white table, his handlers dousing the sweat from his pores
with large sponges. Elba looked into his blurry eyes, seeing nothing
there. The Purple Mango Oma belched again, and fell off the white table.

Elba left the auditorium, and drove back to the restaurant, staring at
the flowers in the street’s median strip. She’d never noticed how
beautiful they were. She thought of her husband. He was disturbingly
eccentric, but only on Tuesdays, when he put on his nun’s habit. Elba
thought of her job, deciding that it wasn’t so bad, the tips were good.
And even if things were not perfect, they could be worse.

In the restaurant, she found the Johnsons, who were still at the table,
in their magenta sweaters, looking at their watches. “You’ve been gone
for three hours!” said Mrs. Johnson.

“This is going to be deducted from your tip!” said Mr. Johnson sternly.

Elba smiled and went to the kitchen to get their tuna melts, onion rings,
and Sprites.

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