By Chris Bullard
Mom is stuffing her purse with the Parker House rolls that the cafeteria left out in a basket. She’s already scooped up the jelly packets from the table and now she’s adding the rolls.
We’re out at Morrison’s because my dad doesn’t want mom to have to cook the night before she drives up to Asheville. My aunt puts us up for a week every summer while dad gets a chance to stay home and work on his golf game.
I know my mom hates to eat out. She says she can cook, so why spend the money. I’m wondering if she agreed to come to Morrison’s just so she’d have a chance to load up on rolls.
“Why are you taking that stuff?” I ask.
“Because I’m not just going to leave all that food there,” she responds.
There’s nothing more to our exchange than that that, but I know that we’ll have a fight tomorrow. I know she’ll pull over at a rest stop and take the rolls and jelly from her purse and open the jar of peanut butter that’s been sitting in the trunk. I know she’ll say in a cheery voice, “Look, I’ve brought some P, B and J for lunch,” as though she’s come up with some special treat.
Even before it happens, I can hear myself saying, “Why don’t we just stop at McDonald’s?” and I can already imagine the hurt look she’ll give me. “Waste not, want not” she’ll say.
Whenever she sees something that’s free, she takes it. She buys dented cans at the supermarket because they’re cheaper. She takes hand-me-down clothes from our cousins.
Anything that I leave on my plate at dinner shows up in my lunch box the next day.
Her father went bust. I’ve been told about it a hundred times. I’ve been told about how they had to sell the big house in the city and how they had to live in the house in the country. I’ve been told about how mom had to give up the idea of going to college and how she went to secretarial school instead.
My dad has a good job. We have a home in the suburbs. None of that matters to her. Childhood is her bedrock truth. Anything that happened after that is as insubstantial as the dust that she vacuums off the carpets.
I’ve already come to believe that my parents will never be as real to me as my friends. I can talk with my friends about movies and music and about all the homework Mrs. Johnson assigned. Every time we talk I learn something new from them.
My parents are a story that I’ll hear a million times and it’ll never be any different. I already know it from start to finish. It always starts with Mom stealing Parker House rolls and jelly packets.
Chris Bullard is a native of Jacksonville, Florida, who now lives in Philadelphia. Kattywompus Press published High Pulp, a collection of his flash fiction, in 2017. His work has appeared in recent issues of Nimrod, Muse/A Journal, The Woven Tale, Red Coyote, Cutthroat and The Offbeat.