[CREATIVE NONFICTION] How to Receive Spam from Church Ladies
I’m on the floor with both doors open to sift through cans of string beans and dried stuffing. The game is won with bread, an onion, and salad dressing. I peel the skin, break the shell, press each onion piece into the bread like an astringent fingerprint. I cover them in ranch dressing and press the wings together.
She wants to taste warm water. She pulls a chair to the sink. Hot water too. Is it better or worse than cold water? She spits it back into the sink. After, she decides to put a Daddy Long Legs in a mason jar with a wasp. She wants to see which will succeed in eating the other.
My mother wakes us by covering our eyes and popping grapes in our mouths, asking: Red or green? She makes instant rice and soy sauce for breakfast. If we are ready early, the water is still pooled beneath the rice.
After, we don’t eat breakfast. There are no grapes. The first half of the day is punctuated by groans. In the cafeteria, sliced bread and butter are provided for anyone.
In the backyard, we attempt to fly kites constructed from grocery bags. The bags fill with air and drag like sails beyond us as we run. They float and fall.
We give up, deciding to set up a restaurant called Morocco’s. The menu consists of mud pies decorated with dandelion sprigs, the neighbor’s tulips, and wild, possibly poisonous, berries.
She makes macaroni and cheese in a casserole dish. There isn’t any cake, but the noodles are filled with milk and cheese.
5 Healing Foods
- Bananas are protective. They reduce stress and cancer risk. I dial my banana, speak slow and quiet.
- She drops off 7up on her way to get coffee for the office. I wake up. Change my soaked pajamas and see a can next to the couch. I wonder if she meant to leave Ginger Ale.
- Coffee may increase metabolism or it may not. My husband leaves a National Aquarium mug next to the bed. I’m too tired to drink. It is coffee to look at.
- Cookies in the shape of peanuts. These are for both of us, she says.
- Field trips are bagged lunches. She calls me Spacey Tracy and takes me to the cafeteria to get a pre-packaged sandwich with the crust pre-removed.
Fear of Lunch also described as Fear Resulting in the Imminence of Checkout
The rules of reduced and free lunches: nachos, soft pretzels, extra helpings are not for you. Much later, I learn about free breakfast. I eat bagel sticks filled with cream cheese and feel full.
He asks me if I remember pizza burgers. He says, chicken patties, fried chicken, and chicken nuggets. He also liked chunked turkey and potatoes with gravy.
I sit with kids who own padded lunchboxes and who don’t like me much. My lunchbox features a wrinkled Little Mermaid. I’m embarrassed, not to joke about wanting their pudding, but because Ariel is showing a line of cleavage the other kids point to and laugh. I cover it with a thumb and turn the fuchsia box toward my leg when I walk.
My mother lets me pack my own lunch. I’ve packed apples. My mom writes a note on the napkin to remind me of her love.
She tells me: baking soda is not the same as baking powder. Both will help your cookies rise, but they have different chemical properties. Unsweetened applesauce can be used for a maximum of one egg. Butter can be interchanged with lard. If you interchange butter with lard, cookies may collapse. To prevent collapse, put the dough in the freezer for twenty minutes.
At my dad’s trailer, he still buys a package of pink, yellow, and brown wafer cookies each week. He grabs one with each pass through the kitchen. Sugar irritates a chronic cough, the body trying to clear the throat, to breath.
While he restarts his life at the tiki bar, we sleep on a sofa bed, watch cartoons, and eat a family-sized bag of Skittles from a mixing bowl. I smash purple and blue together. They crack and fan between my thumb and index finger. My sister asks for a green and pink sandwich next.
She paints late into the night, deer and bear and majestic swooping bald eagles on mushroom fungus, saw blades, and canvas. She has modeling clay for rolling, swirling, stringing. I use my hands like a rolling pin on the table, making three delicate snakes of pink, blue, white. I press them together and roll until they form one, use a butter knife to slice the beads. A stiff wire will make a space for the string. Clay can be dried in the stove at a low temperature. She does not allow us to use the microwave where metallic string radiates and catches fire.
After they announce the divorce, she takes us to McDonald’s. We are comforted. A year from then, when the heat is turned down, she will take us again.
On Stopping for Lunch
As long as it isn’t McDonald’s.
How to Receive Spam from Church Ladies
Sift flour for larvae. Sift cake for missed larvae. Spam looks like cat food, but do not make a deal about it. Smaller sisters may be convinced of its digestibility.
Tell the phone the pantry wasn’t so bad until you felt watched. It is okay to want to leave your children. Tell the phone this, but don’t leave your children. Take a minute and act excited when you see your nine-year daughter hanging stockings you can’t fill.
Hide cases of soda in the cupboard. They will call to ask about meal plans for the confirmation celebration. They will bring a ham, milk, eggs, cereal, juice, JELLO, apples, potatoes, frozen peas, and a single box of sweet tarts. Thank them. Be relieved and embarrassed but do not be ashamed or angry. You may cry tonight.
In which, I Recognize the Reason I can’t Sleep
Middle school, the same year my training bra popped open in class. The average child grows 2.5 inches per year.
Consumption of Muscle Tissue
Her boyfriend hangs a deer we will eat near the swing set. My little sister screams. I ask to touch the brain. He cuts it out and holds the gray mass in cupped hands.
Two years later, I find a lung in a chicken breast. I see the notches of a blackened spine. A girl stops eating, pulls the purple organ from its cavity and flings it with a plastic fork.
Two years later, we dissect fetal pigs. The teacher asks us to cut the intestines out. Try to jump rope with it. Anatomy is amazing! A boy steps on the rope, and it stretches before separating. The pigs lay open for a month. Someone cuts the head off and punctures it with a pencil for the English teacher reading Lord of the Flies.
I stop touching raw meat. I put plastic bags on my hands.
The insurance application needs a record of my weight. I am ten, in the backseat of a Pontiac.
There is no singing at the dinner table. My sister stops singing the “Turdy Point Buck.” He calls her the Human Garbage Can. Once, at a buffet, the manager said he needed to charge her as an adult. In her teens, she will eat in cycles. She will eat nothing but noodles, nothing but instant potatoes, only omelets, coffeecake, grapefruit, hard lemonade. She makes each of these uniform meals, sitting down to a full plate of spaghetti at an empty table.
I buy a bottle of German communion wine by mistake. For the first time, I get drunk on the blood of Christ. I lay on the floor and tell the room that thin is being able to see ribs, the stomach should be lower than hip bones.
In your dorm, girls make meatloaf on meatloaf night. They make meatballs on meatball night.
Eat dry cereal and heat up a slice of leftover pizza. Microwave and throw away. Will this motion be enough to trick the body into feeling full?
In the library, bodies can climb six flights before becoming dizzy. Meal plans run out during finals week.
You can Pick One Thing
You can pick one thing, she tells us. She will cry tonight. She watches us watch the fruit snacks, the cookies baked by elves, the cupcakes topped with plastic rings.
Later, we have to put away the flour, eggs, milk, rice, soda before we are allowed to have our one thing, but when it is time, we sit in plastic chairs around a plastic table in the basement.
My little sister has chipmunk cheeks and front teeth that are parted in the middle. Her nervous excitement, too, is wide-eyed and punctuated by theatrical gestures, tiny hands spread wide. You go first, she says. Her fingernails are the size of clover petals, doll’s hands if not for the dirt under each nail and, the reason, I will associate children with stickiness.
We decide to go at the same time. We lick the salt and chili powder off one side of a chip. We breathe dragon’s fire and gulp down glasses of lukewarm water, not realizing the water will only light the powder and burn our tongues.
I like to sit in the corner beneath the stained glass roaster. On the corner, where the counter turns. She speaks into a spoon to ask me what we are cooking on the show today. Chocolate chip cookies or sugar with her grandmother’s copper cutters? She has a standing mixer that sprays flour if I don’t hold the paper towel around the top just right. There is only one speed. I ask to lick the butter wrapper and do it before she responds. Sugar cookie dough begins to taste like the flour used to make it lift from the cutter. My sister and I both get our annual flu.
We climb the pine tree by the road. It is forked low to form two sturdy trunks. Level with the second story roof, my sister sits in the branches emanating from the right trunk. I sit on branches emanating from the left trunk, facing her, a primitive booth. We hang Halloween bags from Happy Meals on the spines of broken twigs.
She is brave enough to put a fireball on her tongue. Her face turns red before she takes a break, pinching the jawbreaker between her fingers, salivating and recovering.
Tracy Haack studied creative nonfiction and pedagogy in Northern Michigan University’s MA program. She teaches at UW-Green Bay and was recently published in The Flager Review. She has upcoming work in The Wisconsin Review and The Pinch.