Mess Hall

What the Living do:
Lake Arrowhead. Sweat before it dug back into skin. Young enough to place my bets on giant’s shoes splattered with blue paint, old enough to glance sidelong in the mirror and try on my face with a concave belly, bangs pushed back on my forehead. None of these changes immediate, only someday skips, promises I’d later keep. The paper box of paper bags, bloated with lake water. Brown baseball cap pulled firmly over my eyes and I made the decision of turkey yesterday. My name is on the bag. Someone else put it there. Bliss. Wax paper folded and unfolded recklessly, and as far as I know, this is what making love looks like: you won’t get the time or the spreading back, you’re shooting for ravenous smiles, not careful unwrapping. There is more waxed paper than chocolate, cookie thumbprints welded to the other side of the bag, faint taste of salt blooming into what the lake water lacked. There is American cheese. There is one slice of gleaming, clean, deli turkey. There is white bread that will soon take on my thumbprints, welding its insides together, one perfect equation. There is a 12:30 time on the schedule for this. I am doing nothing without format. I am doing nothing extra. I am watching the cheese and the turkey come together, I am feeling the texture grow uniform between my teeth.

“This is what the living do.”

I don’t want this meal to end. That feeling is worth an entire summer. That feeling is worth a lifetime. I pass my apple to the sunburnt girl licking potato chip grease off her fingers.

What the Dying do:
Italian restaurant. Air thick with exhales. We know grandma is going to die. Because we know this, the birthday dinner is half planned. Snickers bars are thrown on the table because my aunt had them in the back of her car. Grandma doesn’t like snickers. She was a daughter of hoop skirts and hayrides. She collected Victorian diffuser bottles and tiny brass thimbles. Now, she couldn’t eat a thing. Not here or anywhere. This meal was planned for everyone but her.

“This is what the dying do”

I am nauseous before the menus are dropped heavy before us, and I am nauseous after they are handed back. Greasy faux snakeskin and thick, green canvas. Nothing here is safe, all soaked in the same olive oil and gasoline. The pasta is thick with grime, lamp oil and gravel mixed into the pesto. My stomach is a shallow ditch, aching to be burned or emptied or simply dug out from under this lead blanket. My stomach is a closed fist. I want this meal to end. My stomach is forced entry. I know this meal won’t end for days. All entry is forced, all conversation is forced. I’m not supposed to be the dying one here.

In quotes:
“this is what the living to”

If that’s the case, I don’t want to. My grandma slides a single blood-soaked piece of pasta into her mouth, she spits it into her napkin without breaking eye contact.

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