by Than Pence
Cramp Winner: Michael is learning more about his food than he ever wanted
|“No soup for you!”
Thank god, he thought as the bowl was pulled from the table with thin, stool-colored liquids and a chunk sloshing out.
Michael looked up at his caretaker, his foster mother. Her round, fuzzy face puckered. “You spilled on my table!”
“I didn’t! You spilled it!” She raised her lengthened eyebrow. “Ma’am.”
She sauntered back through the doorway into the off-limits kitchen, grunting. Terry tugged his left elbow. “You’re lucky. I don’t wanna be eatin’ the other kids.”
Leaning closer, Michael whispered, “I don’t think there’s kids in the soup. I think she’s just a weird cook.” Clatters of metal echoed from the kitchen, making the boys jump. A firm swear followed the clattering, causing Michael to blush.
Terry leaned close to Michael, spitting words into his ear. “If we tell ‘em she cusses like that, they’ll put us somewhere good.”
Michael pushed the younger boy away. “And go somewhere…” He checked his volume: Miss Davish’s kitchen sounds had quieted, so he did, too. “And go somewhere where there’s more kids to share food and space with? We got it alright here, Terr.”
Terry pulled a spoonful of brown goop from his bowl. Michael’s face scrunched up. “Well, mostly alright.”
Miss Davish appeared again, frumpy, wiping her forehead with her sleeve. “Mikey,” she started. Michael hated being called that. “You come help in ‘ere, please? I dropped some pots. And since you’re rude about comin’ to the table and ain’t eatin’ just yet, I know you’re free to be doin’ so.”
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Michael scooted his chair out and stood. “Hey,” she snapped. Michael flinched. “What have I told you ‘bout the floor? Be careful!”
Michael nodded, stepping past Miss Davish into the kitchen. Ordinarily, this room was out-of-bounds. She claimed it was because of all the dangerous appliances and utensils, but Michael secretly thought she distrusted her charges: most foster teens that Michael knew could be thievish at times.
In the floor before the cabinet next to an old-looking, greasy oven was a pile of pots. Their bottoms were scorched and cooked food lined the interior of most. Michael began to understand why her food never seemed to taste that good.
“Just stack them up and put ‘em in there, Mikey. Please.” She huffed: thinking about the task must’ve tired her out.
Squatting down to cross his legs, Michael winced when he noticed the dust balls that buffeted the baseboard beneath the cabinet. Glancing around, he noticed other scraps of food, dust, and paper on the kitchen floor. He was asking himself how often she cleaned this room when Miss Davish said, “What’re you lookin’ at?”
“You lookin’ at my dirty kitchen?” She sighed heavily. “Well, if the Royal Prince o’ the Emirates thinks I got a dirty floor, then I best be sweepin’ up!” Miss Davish went so far as to grab a broom and flourish her motions, but Michael couldn’t help noticing that she still didn’t bother to sweep anything up.
Beginning his task, he stacked little pots into bigger ones as she watched over his shoulders, breathing heavier for her sarcastic efforts. “Nah, not that way. Match ‘em up by size.” Michael slowed, stopped. Terry could be heard clearly in the next room, humming to himself as he dinged his spoon against the bowl, presumably shoveling soup into his mouth before the main course of sliced turkey sandwiches.
He looked up to the foster mother. “By size? Like, big ones together and little ones together?” She nodded at him while licking her cracked lips, her brown eyes bugged out. “But if I stack them like this, they’ll fit in the cupboard.” Michael stared down at the dirty floor once again. “And shouldn’t we wash all of this stuff?”
“I’ll wash it when I go to use it again. And do what I say: same sizes together!” With that, she left the kitchen. Seconds later, she shuffled behind him, grunting, carrying Terry’s bowl. “And hurry up! I gotta make you sandwiches.”
His brain caught something, freezing Michael. “Make what?”
“Sandwiches,” she said. “For you and Trey in there.”
“His name’s Terry.”
She rolled her eyes. “Trust me, Mikey, kids like him go by ‘Trey’.”
Michael quickly resolved to shove the various pots into the cupboard and get out of the kitchen. As he stood, he watched Miss Davish drop unmeasured amounts of turkey slices, lettuce, and mayonnaise onto white bread. Even though I hate white bread. After she finished, she shoved her thumb into her mouth, cleaning mayonnaise off of it.
Pulling it out of her mouth, she wiped it on her stained apron and grabbed both plates. She turned toward him and looked down at the floor. “You’re done. What’re you still doin’ in here? Go sit! ‘less you want to skip ya whole dinner tonight?”
His eyes focused on her thumb, how it touched the plate and the plate itself was being held close to her dirty apron. Michael was feeling sick about being in the kitchen and wished she had left it off-limits to him. He easily thought back to all the meals she’d prepared and wondered if she was just lazy or if she didn’t know anything about germs.
“Mikey!” He blinked rapidly. “Get in there!” He moved as she followed, snorting loudly. Once he was seated, she set down both plates: the thumb-plate was Terry’s. He couldn’t help but think about her thumb on his plate.
Terry gingerly grabbed the sandwich, the white bread contrasting his black skin. Michael almost stopped him from eating it but thought Miss Davish might have a reaction that no one wanted to weather tonight.
Looking at this own plated food, Michael slowly grabbed it. As he took a menial bite, Miss Davish nodded once, her hands on her hips, her thin stringy hair sticking to her forehead with ease. Maybe it isn’t that great to have more food he thought as he carefully chewed.
Word Count: 998