Brownie’s idea of a good meal was one with no leftovers. No waste, no overstuffed stomachs; no need to unbuckle, unbutton and lean back with a sated groan. Not in her house. Whenever the children pleaded for something at the store, some tasty morsel, she always responded, “Why? You’ll just eat it.” She didn’t believe in waste or excess. She allowed herself one cigarette a day and sat smoking it on the veranda after the children hurried off to walk the half mile to St. Dominic’s. Three and more to come, though the last ones asphyxiated in the womb, blue shipwrecks. She kept the cigarettes in the freezer so the tobacco would not get stale.
They rebelled in small ways.
Candice went off to college and gorged herself in the cafeteria. She ate worthless things like lime Jello with a dollop of whipped cream on top. She made numerous trips back to the soft serve ice cream machine and always told the kerchiefed cooks to drench her chicken fried steak with gravy. When she came home for Christmas that first semester pudgy and satisfied Brownie said, “We must watch our figure, dear,” and shot sidelong glances at her during meal time.
Annie fell in love with a boy who could eat for both of them. After they married, she made the richest cream sauces, chose the fattiest cuts of meat, and watched him balloon from year to year. Finally he just sat in his chair in the den, too swollen with love to even come to the table anymore.
Once Haney, the littlest, dumped far too much ketchup on his plate, forming a lagoon around his cube steak. “Waste not, want not,” Brownie said and made him eat every clotted bite. Well after bed time, Haney sat, the pool of ketchup staring up at him like the bubbling witch’s cauldron in his fairy tale books. Finally, his father came in from reading the paper and set him free.
“For god’s sake, why?” he asked as they got ready for bed that night. “We’re not poor. I make a good living, don’t I?” Brownie just smiled, suddenly beautiful now as she once was the day he sailed into San Francisco harbor, all his mines swept and sunk down deep in the shimmering ocean behind him. How like a vision! But he turned away because he’d eaten a donut from his private hiding place. The powder still stuck to his lips like the remnants of some sin.
Andy Jameson has worked a variety of jobs including: bookstore clerk, construction worker, FedEx driver, mover, and the person who rolls up rugs in a rug factory. He currently lives in bucolic Greenwood, South Carolina with his wife Misty and teaches writing at Lander University.