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April 15, 2024

Going Hungry 30

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Thirty: The Inventories

The walk-through of the Baker's kitchen had been revelatory, as all her days working there had been. The pantry was a room -- a large room -- all to itself, with flour and canned goods and boxed pasta and spices and jars of sauces and a freezer. Maria knew what all should be there, what all had to be there for the week to come. It was a space and quantity that she knew by heart, something that Gloria would need to learn.

Not only about the Baker household, but about her own, as well. She was too tired and sleepy to tackle such a job on Sunday night, however -- it was going to have to wait for one of the few days when she had a chance of talking to her mother, one of the few days of confluence in which they were both in the same house at the same time, and in the same mood of helpfulness. This week Philli would be adjusted enough to spend her days off with her family, and take pride in how those who had previously been mere children were now wage earners keeping a roof over their heads.

When Gloria came in the front door, Will and Ben were sitting in the family room watching TV. "Hey, how was it?" Will called.

"It was a day of one whole meal that lasted from ten until five. I never saw so much food served at one table even in the movies."

"Not even Tom Jones?" Ben asked.

Gloria frowned. "How do you even know about that movie, let alone the scenes in it?"

While Ben turned red and had no answer, Will looked at Gloria, shrugging. "Never heard of it," he said. "What is it, one of those anime things with hentai?"

"I probably saw it on YouTube," Ben said, a little too quickly. "Parts of it. There was a link to it from 'How To Cook Chicken,' I think."

"Right," Gloria sneered, not wanting to know even the slightest about teenaged boys' private movie habits. "But that's a coincidence. We roasted three of the biggest hens I ever saw today for the main course. Here, dumb brothers, Maria sent each of you a chicken wing, which you obviously don't need, judging by all the tamale husks. What did you do, hold up a taco truck?"

"Salvi's mom and sister gave me a big bag of them to bring home. We saved two of them for you, in case you're hungry."

She shook her head. "Not hungry ... there's something about all that food that kind of overwhelms my appetite -- not that the whole staff didn't have treats today. God, the amount of food that was served was huge -- way more than the family and their guests could eat." Suddenly nothing seemed more appealing than claiming her chair and sitting still, letting the tenseness in her shoulders flow out. "I'm going to change into pajamas. Once I sit down, I'm not getting up again except to go to bed."

Salvi's family can't be all that well off if he's working an almond harvest -- how can they afford to feed us a full meal like that? I hope Will isn't making it sound like we're worse off than we are. She tossed her blouse and socks into her hamper. On the other hand, maybe Salvi isn't facing foreclosure. The thought made her eyes ache, and she just wanted to watch stupid TV until her brain was ready for sleep.

Will and Ben had switched the TV to a football game by the time she got back to the family room with a stemware glass and an uncorked bottle of Beringer pinot grigio, a light, dry wine that was amazingly inexpensive, and one of her favorites. "We still have a few of these in the garage wine rack, so I thought I'd chill one for me tonight."

"After slaving all day over hot stoves."

"It doesn't feel like slaving. In fact, I enjoy the work, but I feel like I don't know anything about cooking, which is stupid, because I do. It's having to learn all the ins and outs that make me tired."

"I hope that Boss Maria isn't being a shit with you."

"No, she's not, not at all. I know how to cook for us -- but not for a family group of thirteen plus their guests, and not the way they want to be fed. They're way less interested in taste than they are in color and fat-free." She almost repeated things that Maria had said about the Bakers, but then held her tongue. Probably Maria should not have mentioned stuff in the first place, but it was not Gloria's place to advertise her indiscretion. "But the amount of food was worth a documentary! The part that floored me was the slabs of jicama we cut to put the chickens on -- it was just for show, the Bakers didn't want any of it! Maria cut it into strips and put it out on a tray for staff. They ate it like it was candy. I tried some, but it tasted like a turnip to me."

"I hate them," Will agreed. "Went to a party and thought they were big chunks of apple. Just about spit 'em out on the carpet."

"Aww! Look at that idiot! He just threw that ball away!" exploded Ben in outrage.

"Run it back, Ben, was he gonna get sacked?"

Gloria smiled at her brothers' fervor, wishing they could keep cable until at least after the Superbowl.

She awoke to a darkened room, with a small throw blanket across her lap. She had apparently fallen asleep at some point in the conversation, not even waking to her brothers' shouts about the football game. She was touched that one of the boys must have covered her before they went off to bed. It was almost four in the morning, and Gloria wanted to just shift in the chair and go back to sleep until her alarm went off, in what -- ? Two hours? She hoped they still had eggs in the fridge, so that she could make Will his breakfast. It was highly unlikely, and in point of fact, rather senseless to believe that her mother would stay awake to take care of her sons. Not going to bed would only screw up Philli's already messed up internal clock further. But she might want to watch a little television when she got home from work, just as Gloria had; that meant a move back to the bedroom. Make way for the next shift.

She kept the the warm throw blanket wrapped around her as she crawled into her bed, nestled into her pillow and let the night flow back into her head.

She was walking, just walking. There were people on the other side of the street, people in the shops, people talking to each other. But she just kept on walking, passing by the brownstone houses of the older part of town, under the trees that lined the street. She was putting one foot in front of another, and had no one to tell her the way. The people on the street ignored her as though she was not even there, even though the big white kitchen apron had to stand out. No one was moving along the sidewalks, either. She was the only one with a destination. She stopped and turned. No one was following her. I'm alone, she thought, and the feeling that welled up in her was of such loneliness she thought her insides would crumble. There was no one who wanted to talk to her, no one who wanted to go with her. And how could they? I don't know where I'm going.

Gloria woke from the dream to her alarm going off. Unable to shake the feeling from the dream, she turned the chime off and sat cross-legged on the bed. What a dull, sad dream. Saddest of all is that I don't know where I'm going, do I? I went from having girlfriends and a boyfriend to nothing but family in less than a week. Don't miss that stupid Damon, but I miss going for tea and scones on Saturday mornings with the girls. Or going to the club now and then, dancing until midnight.

There was no cure for her feeling though. The day had begun, and though Maria said it would be a fairly easy day, it still wouldn't end until it was sundown. She shook her head, determined not to let the mood paralyze her. There was Will to think of at the moment, getting him out the door, and Ben, too. She set the bread out, and the toaster, and the frying pan. They were out of bacon, which was a shame. Five eggs left. That was barely enough for the three of them. Well, maybe if Mom gets up and finds the empty egg carton, she could go to the store and get more. Somehow, though, Gloria knew that she wouldn't, and that meant her brothers were going to have to muscle through dishes of oatmeal tomorrow morning.

Will shambled into the kitchen in his pajamas and socks. "Mornin'." He went to the front door and went outside to get the newspaper. Sipping hot tea with honey, he opened the paper immediately to the Help Wanted ads.

She scrambled the eggs and divided them onto three plates. Will got the largest share. At least there was plenty of toast, although they were down to their last stick of butter. Surely if her mother got up and found only a partial stick of butter, and no eggs, she'd go to the store. Surely.

Ben emerged, showered and dressed for school. "That's it?" he asked when he saw his plate on the counter.

"Sorry, Ben. We're out of bacon, out of eggs, just enough bread for Will's sandwiches. I kind of thought Mom would go to the store yesterday. Maybe she'll go today."

"Make a list and leave it on the table where she'll see it. If she hasn't gone by the time I get home from school, I'll pester her until she does." He used two pieces of toast and some mustard to make his portion of eggs into a sandwich.

"How much longer before the end of the harvest?" Gloria asked Will as he carried his dish to the sink. He'd closed up the newspaper even before he finished eating.

"I don't know. There's a late shaking being done today, but there can't be much more. I'll be lucky if I'm there for another week, even with clean up. I don't know anything about trimming the trees -- Salvi and Jorge do, but it's not something you can learn as you go. One wrong branch and the farmer cuts off your head as well as your pay."

"And then what?" Ben prompted as Will finished his tea.

"Then I guess I try to find one of those restaurants that hires some unskilled dumbass to hold a sign on a street corner and jiggle. I can jiggle. They taught that in Phys Ed."

"Yup, I could do that too. But I have to wait until spring. They teach it before the Prom."

Will laughed out loud. "See you pickles later. I gotta go." He left them, and they heard the garage door shut.

"Go take your shower," Ben said. "I'll take care of the dishes. I want to show you something before I leave."

While Gloria waited for the water to heat, she had a look at herself in the mirror. There she is, the girl in the dream. All alone, doesn't know where she's going. How do people find out where they're going? Do they just wait until they're married? Or is marriage their destination?

I kind of thought I'd know where I was going by the time I finished college, but that's not going to happen now, not for a while, anyway.

As she picked through her hair with the water running off her shoulders, a thought surprised her. I'm glad I'm not in school any more. How many classes have I taken, and learned nothing of value? What got me my job was the things I learned at home, and every day, I'm learning more about how to make sure I have the skills to get a job. Like today. I've never made lamb chops. But by golly, by the end of the day, I'll know what to do.

Not that I'll be able to afford to eat them, she concluded her reverie. I wonder if the soup Maria is making for our lunch will be any good?

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-11-23
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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