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From American-Alien Relations, 1900 to 1999

Born and raised in Indiana, J.Z. Kelley currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their cats. Her speculative fiction reviews are available at jzkelley.com.

The First Lady later wrote, she "felt a sort of maternal responsibility to the other American wives in the consulate," and especially to Mrs. Smith, the "pretty young girl" the translator had married not three weeks before his appointment. We can imagine her watching with growing concern as the translator's wife returned both the first and the second course to the kitchen untouched. She would have waited until the Embiilid servers carried out the third course, the clatter of their servingware providing a little cover for private conversations, to lean across the table and whisper, "My dear, while I admire your restraint, surely you can wait until tomorrow to begin your diet. We don't want to offend our hosts."
The translator's wife might have reddened. By all accounts, she was a vain woman, proud of her generous figure and quick to anger, especially when she was hungry. "Diets are an insult to God and the farmer," she is reported to have said.
"Then eat," the First Lady urged. "You needn't clean your plate, but do eat something."
Historians can only speculate about the source of Mrs. Smith's unwonted aversion. While Calvin Richards's article "Eighteen Recipes that Changed the World" suggests Mrs. Smith was nauseated by "the Embiilid custom of digesting food before eating it," Jim Chandler's biography of President Burgess states she was "still full from an afternoon snack." Meanwhile, Fergus Bishop's The Lanthanum Rush argues:
The course of history and the fortunes of our country hinged not upon the whims of a single, ordinary woman but rather upon the extraordinary biology of her husband. Arnie Smith's eldest child, Jonah, was born a mere six months after his first marriage. He went on to father another fourteen children before his first wife's untimely death. There can be no doubt, then, that six weeks after her honeymoon, as she sat at that critical dinner, the second Mrs. Smith declined the Embiilid dishes for the sake of her child, which she nevertheless miscarried shortly thereafter.
Whatever her motivation, we know the translator's wife merely picked at the subsequent courses, if she sampled them at all. Each dish represented hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and development. The United States government invested more manpower into creating recipes that were safe and palatable to both humans and Embiilids than into any other aspect of this visit, including the defense of the border between the Embiilid consulate and the rest of Niobrara County, Wyoming.
This was the second strike in what President Burgess called "the war for the hearts and minds" of the Embiilids. (The first, as you'll recall from chapter seven, being the crates of books and records sent home with the freed Embiilid scouts.) By facilitating the Embiilid ambassador's desire to "share our web and catch with the human [leaders] that we may become one web," President Burgess hoped he could convince the ambassador to facilitate his desire to mine lanthanum and other rare minerals on the Embiilid's capitol planet. He dispatched chefs, nutritionists, biologists, and anthropologists to the consulate. For eighteen months, the team studied the Embiilid diet, digestive system, and food preparation methods. They shared American table manners and dining customs, and they taught the Embiilids to prepare a variety of dishes both sweet and savory from nothing but insect flours, chicken eggs, and a few spices.
The Embiilids are not great chefs, subsisting primarily on large rocks which they grind into digestible pieces with their four rows of blunt teeth. Yet no artist on earth can match them for sculpture and industry. Photographs of the first diplomatic dinner show grasshopper protein cakes steamed into honeycombed towers; forests of merengue broken by deep, craggy ant-brittle chasms and rivers of custard; and a perfect 1:100 scale ant-and-tarantula cracker recreation of the consulate.
If the Embiilids were upset by the translator's wife spurning these creations, the memory of their offense was lost during the 1985 Niobrara County riots. However, it is unlikely they noticed. The American delegates later learned this dinner was the Embiilids' way of asking to establish a colony on United States soil. The translator's pretty young wife was irrelevant.
One popular misconception about the events that followed is that the Embiilid ambassador agreed to support giving the Americans exclusive lanthanum-mining rights on the Embiilid home planet out of love for the translator's young wife. Nothing could be further from the truth. Arnie Smith's journals and letters confirm his wife remained faithful to him until her death. What she and the ambassador had was not even a proper friendship, merely a fortunate misunderstanding.
As the plump Mrs. Smith squeezed through consulate halls that had been built by and for the tall, narrow Embiilids, she lost her brooch. No one noticed the mishap until the delegates returned to their camp. The translator wrote of the incident:
I retired early. Some time later, I am not sure of the hour, Mrs. Smith joined me saying she had met the [Embiilid] ambassador in the kitchen of the [...] trailer where we are obliged to stay until the end of this [...] affair. I reminded the lady of her doctor's advice regarding her episodes. As she reclined with her feet elevated, I returned to the kitchen myself to put the kettle on. There, I was astonished to find evidence that the [Embiilids] had indeed trespassed in our home. Breadcrumbs and black hairs like wires littered our countertops, the bulk pantry goods had been spilled onto the floor, and in the very heart of the mess, my wife's misplaced brooch shone proudly.
Smith returned to the bedroom and questioned his wife. She reported the Embiilid ambassador had appeared in the kitchen with her broach while she was making herself a sandwich. Though her husband was not there to translate for her, she believed the Embiilid apologized for scaring her and inquired about her sandwich. She offered it to the Embiilid and made herself a second.
Smith's journal contains no record of the conversation his wife purported to have had with the Embiilid, merely that he thought it:
...a product of a young girl's fantasy. The Lord gave her a mouth meant for monophthongs and rhotic consonants, not for the trills and growls [Embiilids] use to communicate with these outside their own species.
Nor did he believe the visiting Embiilid could have enjoyed his wife's sandwiches, which he called "sticky" and "rotten-tasting."
The original recipe for what is now known as the Niobrara Treaty sandwich calls for two slices of white sandwich bread, two tablespoons of Lost Boy peanut butter, three tablespoons of tangy soybean oil dressing, and a single slice of processed American cheese. None of these ingredients are part of the Embiilids' natural diet. It is likely the Embiilid ambassador experienced severe indigestion upon returning to the consulate.
Nevertheless, when he returned to Washington, President Burgess told Congress this "equal exchange of hospitality" had been the crux of his negotiations with the Embiilids. When the Treaty of Niobrara was ratified six months later--granting Americans the exclusive mining rights they had sought, among other privileges--the signatories celebrated with Niobrara Treaty sandwiches.
Artie and Mrs. Smith had their first child in the fall of that year. As a result, she was no longer able to accompany him in his work. His wife's sandwiches appeared in her place at every meeting between humans and Embiilids until the destruction of the Embiilid consulate in 1986.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 29th, 2022


Author Comments

As children, my mother and her siblings often ate condiment-only sandwiches at the end of the month, when the money ran out. Peanut butter, Miracle Whip, and cheese was one of their more successful combinations. It has enough fat and protein to fill you up, and the "tangy zip of Miracle Whip" is a nice counterpoint to the peanut butter. I grew up eating it. If you choose to try it, make sure to use white bread and individually wrapped American cheese.

- J.Z. Kelley
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