I am Eating Myself Alive

Aida Riddle

The headline is gruesome today. “Watch as the GOP eats their own entrails.” I think of a snake cannibalizing its own skinny tail, a never-ending circle, a scaly violence that lives into eternity. I put the paper back on the rack. I am next in line.

I pull the vegetables from my basket one by one and place them on the belt, try not to look up.

Henry, with his gap tooth, with his underbite, bagging groceries at the Fine Fare, carelessly placing my eggs and my sourdough at the bottom of the paper bag. “Debit or credit, Ms. Lee?” He chews on a piece of jerky.  I remember Henry as a ruddy child in the kindergarten yard. He ran through my legs and held onto my shins for life, crying “mommy,” before looking up and realizing I wasn’t his. His ears were red, his cheeks burned brightly. He scowled at me bemusedly before sprinting across the playground and crouching behind a bench. I watched his eyes watch me.

The brown paper wrinkles in his hand, only temporarily, only for an instant, now lost to me. And the moment where his thumb presses into the avocado, the moment past, a perfect intake of breath, hair like a raven’s wing fans over his eye, and I’m gone.

On the corner of 23rd Street and 8th Ave. steam rises from a manhole at my feet, and the world takes off from the curb as the light changes. A small boy with dark hair walks into the intersection, walks away from me and into the crowd. He wears a sky-colored slicker, like Dark did when he was small.

But no, I’m on my couch, gripping my grandmother’s teacup, and knowing I’ve let go of something I can never get back. There is emptiness now, just the cloud of memory, a whisper through the wrinkles of my brain.

While I cook dinner, my son comes home. I snap the Angel Hair, a muted crack in my hold, dropping each dry noodle into the leaping pot. He watches from his stool, “I saw on the Food Network you’re supposed to save the pasta water to mix with the sauce at the end of the meal. You never do that, Mom.”

In bed, the television screen flashes many colors at my face. Actors always need to be doing something, especially on screen. This man adjusts his cufflinks in the foreground. That one claps invisible dust from her palms after throwing lettuce in a bowl. They pretend they have it all together. I pull the covers to my chin. The whir of the space heater invades my dreams.

In the morning cold drafts blow through my window. Did I leave it open like that? The stack of mail has fallen off the edge of my bed. A letter from a family member dates back to June. I could answer. I will answer. Tell them about how Dark has grown into an insightful young man. He has top honors in his class, he has many friends. He goes on dates with girls, and although spirited, he is never fresh. I toss the letter in the trash, throw away the entire stack.

I bend over to pick up the envelope at my feet. It reads:

Tivoli Village Court
86 Broadway
P.O. Box 397
Tivoli New York 12583

He slurred his words on the phone that night, his tongue thick in his mouth. “It wasn’t me drinking, Mom, I was just holding the beer.” I didn’t make him come home, I was already in my pajamas and not ready to make the two-hour drive up. So I let him have his fun with his friends, “Okay, hun, see you next week.”

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Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay