Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Big Piece of Bread

He shot the last bit of scotch down, and then they got up from the couch.

“You ready for dinner?”

Maureen had the last of her drink. “What’re we having?”

“Something simple. I’m tired.”

They had a good set-up, Neal and Maureen. Paying the bills and balancing the checkbook made him nervous, so Maureen undertook the roll. In exchange Neal took care of the groceries and did all of the cooking. This didn’t bother him any. He was just so glad to not have to pay the bills. Even with Maureen paying them, he still couldn’t be in the apartment while she balanced the checkbook. Usually he would go outside and smoke, until she came out and told him it all was done. He never asked for the balance, just wanted to know if they were fine.

“How about some ravioli?” Neal said. He pulled out two bags of cheese ravioli from the freezer. Maureen nodded emphatically. She had a weak spot for pastas and red sauce. “I knew I bought that loaf of Italian bread for a reason.”

“What can I do?”

“Just stand there and look pretty.”

“I’ll get us some more scotch and set the table.”

Maureen went and fixed two more drinks, as Neal filled a pot with water and set it on the stove to boil. She set the table, as he grabbed a couple cans of sauce from the cupboard. He swayed a little when he closed the door, wishing he hadn’t had the three scotches on an empty stomach. Plus he was tired. He hadn’t slept well the whole week, staying up in bed worrying about bills and his health, and listening for odd noises in the night. Maureen always slept fine. Most nights she was out before he was done running the day through his head. He always envied her that luxury.

“Here.” Maureen handed Neal his new drink.

“It’s strong.”

“Yeah, but I figure we hardly drink after dinner anyway, so why not make it strong.”
“I hope it puts me out tonight.”

“Are you still having trouble sleeping?”

Neal nodded, took a nice pull on his drink.

“What’s bothering you?”

“I don’t know. Just worried. Last night, every time I started drifting, I couldn’t help but feel that tingling in my chest again.”

“You still think it’s your heart, don’t you? The doctor said it was just gas. I mean you had your blood pressure done. He hooked you up to the machine and drew blood. The most he could find was a little bit of cholesterol.” Maureen smiled kindly. “Neal, honey, he told you to change your diet and you haven’t for months.”

He had more of his drink. “I’ve done better.”

“Yeah, but you’re reaching that age where you might have to start cutting things out of your life.”

“Look, baby, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Neal finished his drink. “Could you fix us another one? Make it weak.”

The water boiled and he put in the two bags of ravioli, stirring once so the pasta wouldn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Then Neal opened the two cans of sauce and threw them in the microwave to heat. Maureen came back with two fresh drinks, and they nursed them in silence while watching the ravioli boil in the cascading water, until some started floating to the top.

“I forgot the goddamned bread!” he shouted.

Maureen had a pull on her drink and set it down. “I got it honey. You just take care of the pasta.”

She grabbed a knife then a cutting board from the bottom cupboard and got the loaf of bread from the top of the refrigerator, as Neal prodded the last of the ravioli to the surface. He grabbed the pot and poured the pasta into a colander, moving his head a little to avoid the rush of steam. Then Neal shook the pasta bundle once and set it in the sink. He had another pull on his drink.

“How’s this?” she asked, pointing the knife at a slice of the bread.

“Good. I’m hungry.” Maureen took another slice of bread, one much greater than the one she pointed to, and put it on Neal’s plate. “What are you doing?”

“Serving the bread.”

“But that’s like half the loaf you put on my plate.”

“So what? Just don’t eat it all.”

“Well, I thought you were giving me the one you pointed at.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah, that one is normal sized. Cut mine down a little.” Neal gave her a moment, but Maureen didn’t budge. He put down his drink and stormed over to the table. He picked the big hunk of bread off of his plate, and ripped a good portion off the end off of it. Neal threw it away in the small garbage can underneath the sink. “I don’t want some goddamned hunk of bread taking up my plate, like I’m some kind of fat fuck or something.”

“I didn’t call you fat.”

“Just sit down.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” she said.

“Fine. Stand the whole time.” Neal went and got the ravioli, as Maureen stood there and watched him. When he was done he brushed past her and got the sauce out of the microwave. “Are you really gonna stand there the whole time?” he asked, sitting down.

“No.” Maureen came over to the table and sat down. She didn’t touch her food, but Neal began to eat. “What just happened?” she finally asked.

“Nothing. I told you I didn’t want that big hunk of bread, so I took care of it.”

“By ripping it like an animal?”

“I asked you to cut it for me, but you just looked at me.”

“You’re insane,” she said. “People don’t get irate over things like bread.”

“Oh, I’m insane?” Neal asked. He stood. “I’ll show you insane.” He lifted the plate of ravioli and made like he was going to throw it, but instead slammed the plate back down on the table. The violent motion shook Maureen’s iced tea glass, and some of the drink went onto her plate. “Goddamn!”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” she said, wiping some of the tea away with her napkin. Maureen started to eat as Neal brooded over the situation. Then he started eating again. He grabbed the bottle of Romano cheese and shook it over his ravioli and sauce. Neal slammed the bottle down just as Maureen reached for it. The sound of the bottle connecting with flesh and bone made a dull thud. She hopped up out of her chair clutching her right middle finger. “Shit, shit.”

“Christ, I’m sorry,” he said, jumping out of his seat. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” He went over to her, but Maureen walked away into the living room, still clutching her hand. “It’s fine. It just stings,” she said, through tears.

“I didn’t know you were going to reach for it,” he said. “I didn’t know. I didn’t do it on purpose, honestly.”

Maureen let go of her hand and shook the finger a few times. She came back over to her seat and sat down. The food looked like a coagulating mess. Neal followed soon after. “I know you didn’t do it on purpose,” she said.

“Honestly, I didn’t.”

They sat there for a moment, neither touching their food. Then Neal had some of his iced tea, and raised a hand to Maureen, asking to see her finger. She leaned over and gave him her right hand. He held it tenderly then began stroking the finger, trying his best to make it all better.

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