Monday, March 24, 2008

Two themed stories by John A. Ward

Two stories
by John A. Ward
Theme: Home Cooking

Mmmmm, Crunchy!

I was a fussy eater. My mother always told me that. She tried to fix things I liked, but if she did that all of the time, the whole family's dinner would be so restricted that they would go nuts. The rest of the family was my father. There was a six-year gap between me and my brother and sister. I didn't find out why until years later.

That night, my mother had fixed tuna fish. She prepared some kind of sauce with flour and something else. I don't know what else. I was just a finicky eater, not a gourmet. I liked tuna fish. It was one of my favorite foods, but I didn't like the bugs. They were evil little black bugs with ovipositors on the ends of their abdomens that looked like little devil's horns.

"You're not eating. What's wrong? It's tuna fish. You like tuna fish. I made it just for you," she said.

"I'm not hungry," I said.

"Why are you not hungry?" she said.

"Because there are bugs in it," I said.

"There are no bugs in it. Eat it," she said. I wondered if I was the only one who saw the bugs. She looked at my father and pleaded with him, "Say something to him."

My father was eating, but he stopped to look at his plate. I don't know if he hadn't seen the bugs and was just being polite, or if he had glanced at it and thought they were some kind of new seasoning, maybe pepper, or seeds. His fork stopped on his way to his mouth. "There ARE bugs in it," he said.

My mother grabbed the pot off the stove and stirred the spoon around in it. Then she rushed to the cupboard, pulled out the flour, looked into the container, and put it on the table. I looked into it too. There were black bugs in it. They were alive. They were crawling in and out and over the flour and my mother was crying.


Regimented Eating

I eat different sandwiches on different days now. At the first and third Sunday long story workshop, it’s grilled cheese at Barnes and Noble™. I’m not sure, but the bread looks smaller. I think they’ve been cutting back. When I started eating them, it was five cheese and tomato. I took it apart one day to count the cheeses. They’re different colors in the spectrum from white to orange with yellow in between. It’s hard to tell which is which, because they’re all melted together, but I could detect subtle changes in hue and shade. Five cheeses must have been too extravagant for them. They took it off the menu for a while. We protested, so they brought it back, but I could only find four cheeses after that. About a year later, there were only three and now the tomato is gone.

I don’t eat the same sandwich every day. On Tuesday, it’s seafood wrap. They’re kept in the Grab’N’Go at work, in a refrigerated kiosk in the center of the room. I watch it rotate until I see the perfect sandwich. Then I open the glass door and take it out. I like it when they wrap the seafood in a spinach tortilla wrap. The green tacos are so much more aesthetic than the yellow ones. Rudy says it’s not crab or scallops. It’s just whitefish and egg with lots of mayonnaise. I don’t care. It seems very elegant to me if I imagine they’re crustaceans and mollusks.

On Saturday, when I go to the Mocha Bean to write, I have seafood on croissant. If I go on Friday, I have a tuna melt. I try to keep some variety in my sandwiches. I used to be compulsive. I don’t want to be like that again.

When I was in grade school, I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for three years straight, with the crusts cut off. My mother sliced them away while complaining that I was throwing away the best part of the bread. I don’t know why she did that. I never asked her to. Maybe it was because I always left the crusts, but not because I didn’t like them. I liked to tear the center of the white bread out, roll it into a ball and eat it like an apple. Peanut butter and jelly is just the right consistency for that. It begs to be torn out and balled up.

Once, I mentioned to her that it might be nice to try something different once in a while. She told me I was never satisfied and made me egg salad sandwiches for five years. I hated egg salad sandwiches, but I didn’t tell my mother because I didn’t want her to think I was finicky. You can’t roll egg salad into a ball. It wants to fall out. I haven’t tested that empirically. I didn’t even try. It just seems obvious to me.

When I could no longer tolerate egg salad, I dared to ask for another change. “Nothing I do satisfies you,” she said. “What do you want? You decide.”

I was in my senior year of high school by then. “Tuna salad would be nice,” I said. I ate tuna salad all through college even though my mother stopped making it for me. I bought it with money I made working during the summer and over the Christmas holidays and from jobs on campus. They sold it at the snack bar, on hard rolls. I was on the track team and I sometimes carried my lunch to the locker room so I could talk to the trainer while he did the laundry. I liked to listen to him tell stories about the athletes who came before me. He commented on how I always ate tuna salad. Twenty years later, I went back for a reunion, visited my coach, and he served me tuna salad. My record in the mile has been broken since then, but if they had counted the number of tuna salad sandwiches I ate, that record would probably still stand.

Author bio:

John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60's, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine, and became a scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. He has published in Doorknobs & Bodypaint, Apollo’s Lyre, Toasted Cheese, Green Tricycle, Clockwise Cat, Alighted Ezine, Cenotaph Pocket Edition, The San Antonio Express-News, Antithesis Common, Wild Child, Holy Cuspidor, Idlewheel, Sentence, Sun Poetic Times, Byline, Quirk, ken*again, R-KV-R-Y, The Smoking Poet and Long Story Short. Links to his work can be found at Dancing Fool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding work as usual. Keep it up.