The smell of garlic and oil filled the gaps between my fork and her brown eyes, one darker than the other. Her eyes followed my fork down to my plate where it picked up one of the eighteen left over ziti noodles.
“Just eat it,” my mom said– like it was no big deal, eating. Like breathing. For some people, breathing was the hardest thing.
“Okay,” said my mouth. “I’ll eat it.” I could feel my tongue tingle at the back. My hand shook.
My dad pounded the table. “Mm–Mmm–Mmmm! Damn that’s good!” The spoon in the parmesan bowl rattled and the plates flew up and crash landed back down perfectly in place. “You should try some.” The dead hair on my head shook. I thought I noticed powder from the ceiling fall and dust my ziti like a sprinkling of cheese.
“Just eat it. It’s just a little noodle,” my mom said. “It won’t hurt you.” She grabbed Dad’s arm. “Don’t you want to get big and strong like Dad?”
Sweat showed up uninvited to my shirt. I outgrew it when I was eight, and now it fit me again at twelve. Like snake sliding back into its shed skin. Wetness dripped down every bump on my spine that poked out of my back. The beads ran down my ribs and got absorbed somewhere on my waistband that sagged around my hips. My nose wiggled at the smell of my body eating itself — like sweet clay baking in the sun or a dead possum on the road.
“Look.” Mom put a piece of ziti on her fork and popped it in her mouth. “Easy peasy.”
“Football game’s gonna be on in about an hour.” Dad stuffed so many fat tubes of noodles in his mouth I thought he would pop. “Weshoowatit.”
“Ya know how much those guys put away?” Half-eaten noodle mush tumbled around in his open mouth.
“Muscles.” He raised his arms in the air and flexed them. “Muuuuuuuscllless.” I thought his sleeves would explode. His elbows came back down to the dinner table with a thud. The salad bowl screamed.
I picked up the fork and closed my eyes and made a deal with myself. I would open my eyes and look at the clock on the oven. If the clock said it was after 6:30, I would eat. If it said it was before 6:30, I wouldn’t. I opened my eyes and turned to the oven. The green digital numbers on the black screen blurred and then I squinted and they came into focus. 6:15. How was it only 6:15? Had I only been sitting down at the dinner table for ten minutes? My mouth watered and then dried up. I put my fork down with a clang on the plate.
Mom touched the crucifix around her neck. Dad cracked his thumb knuckle. It was the size of a horse’s knee cap. If you seared my dad’s hands in a skillet, you could feed a family of four. Easily.
“I made some cookies for later,” Mom said.
“Grandma’s recipe. Your favorite.”
“Cookies, too? Damn, that sounds good!” Dad’s five–pound fist banged down on the table, re–tossing the salad. “Doesn’t that sound good?”
I just wanted to be in my room. I wanted to be drawing pictures of ooey gooey pizza being eaten by gluttonous penguins. I wanted to draw fat, wrinkled, old men slobbering over wheelbarrows of ice cream. I told a therapist about the drawings. She said it was a sign my brain was starving. But I didn’t care about my brain. I wanted to be in my little room and run in place and feel my bones shake inside me. I wanted to see the bones.
Something inside my belly started to gurgle and rumble. That’s weird, I thought. There hadn’t been anything in my belly since yesterday’s lunch. But my belly shook and quaked and the table shuddered and the glass in the windows began to crack from the pressure and the plates and the bowls rattled against wood and the forks and knives and spoons jumped up in fear and the ceiling shook out two heaping spoonfuls of wall–cheese onto my ziti. My parents didn’t seem to notice.
“If you’re not going to eat dinner,” Mom said, taking my plate. “Please, at least have a cookie. I made them so good.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Cookie me!” Dad’s dumbbell hand smacked the table and the entire house heaved to its side and then back again. “I could eat a dozen!” He forced a smile at me.
I nodded my giant skull back and forth on my tiny neck.
Mom took the plates to the kitchen and sink and ran the water over them, and then put on the little radio on the counter. It was only ever on one station– they’re favorite Motown station. Sam Cooke was in the middle of singing, “It’s alright it’s alright it’s alright, believe me when I say it’s alright. Darling it’s alright.”
The positive affirmations mixed with the garlic and oil and sweet–baked cookies on the tinfoil tray and made a sauce in the air that made me both sad and happy at the same time.
Dad lurched to the side in his chair and let out a groan as he stood up and patted his belly with his fat hands and the kitchen groaned with him. “I’m gonna have one of them cookies.” He walked behind my mom and put his ham hock arms around her porterhouse waist and they started to rock back and forth to the music and the kitchen rocked back and forth with them. The walls shook and the water glasses on the table vibrated and the plates danced on their own and the ceiling coughed up more of its cheese.
Dad dipped Mom like a donut in Irish coffee and grabbed a cookie off the oven tray with one of his flank steak hands and Mom smiled with her Twizzlers lips.
The cheese ceiling cracked and caved in on top of me. Hundreds of thousands of giant ziti noodles came pouring in, burying me alive and pinning me against the floor.
Dad’s meatloaf hand slapped the counter. “You should really try a cookie!”
The ceiling and the noodles pressed down on my bones and my bones pressed against the slim skin of my back. My stomach rumbled and my ribs curled around it and my mouth watered and I craned my tiny neck forward and opened my mouth and took a bite of a noodle that was covering my face. It melted in my mouth and I gobbled up another one with my teeth and chewed and chewed and let it slide like sludge to the back of my throat.
I watched Dad twirl Mom like one of those cakes in the spinning display cases. He took a bite of his cookie and crumbs stuck to his mustache. I could tell the cookie was moist.
I chomped my way through the giant ziti noodles and the cheesy ceiling sprinkled on top. My mom looked at me with her one chestnut eye and her other black fudge eye and smiled. I gnawed through the rhubarb rebar that fell on me and broke my little French fry legs.
Mom kissed Dad, Twizzlers on rare roast beef.
Mouthful after mouthful, I ate through the pasta and parmesan that had buried me in my ziti grave.
Mom smiled, reached down into the abyss, found my hand and lifted me up and twirled me. She twirled me close to her chest where I could hear her Sam Cooke heartbeat. Dad patted me on the back with his pork butt hand and my spine shattered into a million candy cane pieces.
Dad and Mom turned me into a boney sandwich with two big pieces of bread on either side and swayed with me from side to side. I gave up against their bodies and embraced their arms and let them carry my weight like carrying the lightest of air and we danced and smiled and cried.
“You want a cookie?” Mom asked.