Dinner in a Snap!

“I’m so hungry I could eat a humongous cake that’s huger than the universe, if it was chocolate,” she whispers as she cuddles up against her mother on the couch.  Little Teddy has a way with words that every adult seems to admire when they make her acquaintance.

“If it was larger than the universe,” Dylan corrects his kid sister, “it wouldn’t be able to fit in the universe, much less in your stomach.”  Although he is in third grade, he puts a lot of thought into scientific hypothesis and equations.   But this time it isn’t necessary.

“Could too, because I’d eat it one bite at a time,” little Teddy argues, wiggling even closer to her mom.

“That’s enough, you too,” their mother can tell the thought of eating a cake that large would be heaven.  The money she’s been saving for years is paying the rent, utilities and car insurance every month, but that just piddled away this past week.  The food stamps allow a little over a hundred dollars a week, which is not enough for three people to eat properly.  And if she thinks too hard about it, she’ll drive herself crazy.  She’s been there before and can remember the helpless feelings she had.

On the surface, she smiles and tells her kids she understands, but inside she’s screaming and wishing she could disappear.  Crumbling, however, is not an option because appearing weak in front of her children is the last thing they need.

“What are we going to eat? We’ve got cornflakes and some disgusting peanut butter in the cupboard.” Dylan opens the refrigerator and sighs, “There’s half a gallon of milk, some cheese and tortillas.  Hey, we can have cheese tortillas!”

A rustling of plastic wrapper from the kitchen before he continues, “The cheese has a little mold, but I can cut that off, right?”

But his mother doesn’t answer.  Teddy is sitting snugly in the corner of the couch, alone, a blanket wrapped around her body.  “She’s gone,” is her response, “and I’m really scared, Dil.”

Dylan approaches the couch and wraps his arms around his sister, comforting her, “It’ll be okay.  She’ll be back.”

The hopeless face stares up at his with huge brown eyes, “What if she doesn’t come back this time?”

“She will,” he reassures her, “She always does.  Mommy will never leave us, Teddy.  I promise, okay?”

Dylan gives his sister an extra squeeze and can feel her shaking while she cries.  He gently rubs her back while they wait.  “Want me to tell you a story?”  She nods and he continues, “Once upon a time …”

“Time to eat!” their mother chimes from the kitchen as the two children perk their heads up, unaware they even went to sleep.  The air is alive with the aroma of food cooking, and at first Dylan thinks he’s dreaming until he pinches himself hard, leaving a purple mark on his abdomen.  

Taking Teddy’s hand, after giving her a gentle shake, he takes her with him into the kitchen.  On the table are three place settings situated on the plastic picnic table and a glass of water for each. 

“Here’s yours,” their mother smiles as she places a dish in the center.  The kids pull out their plastic chairs to sit while she quietly stands to the side.  “Teddy, would you bless the food?”

Still unsure if he’s awake or not, Dylan pinches himself again, but decides he must be awake. The children bow their heads and Teddy gives a wonderful prayer.  She blesses her stuffed dog, and asks God that they all stay together forever because they love each other so much. 

The kids dig in and compliment the chef, stating these are the best chicken nuggets they’ve ever had.  Their mother is happy and afterwards they nestle together as she rambles off a bedtime story.  It isn’t long before the children fall into a deeper and more comfortable sleep.

Lifting her daughter up gently, so as not to disturb her sleep, their mother climbs out from under her. Over the top of Dylan, she searches for her sweatshirt in the pile of clothes by the wall.  When she finds it, she slips it over her head and creeps out of the room.

Even though she doesn’t receive an income or pay taxes, it is still a requirement to work because she has children who depend on her.  That’s what a mother is and her work is still not finished.

Her slippers are falling apart, but she doesn’t seem to notice as she slides them onto her feet.  The air is brisk, as it always is during the winter at night, but this is when she hunts.   The door is light as she swings it open and a gust of cold air sweeps past her.  The snow forms smooth outlines of her feet as the snow packs down beneath them.  Her toes are going numb in places where the ice is creeping in, but if she can concentrate on her task, she’s certain she won’t feel it.  Carefully, she searches the ground for miniscule indentations or disturbance in the snow. 

Fluttering snowflakes begin to fall, collecting on her eyelashes, and she remembers when she was a small girl.  Her meager beginnings were similar to her children’s now, and she’d sworn to herself she would never do this to her own children, no matter what.  But that was before the car accident.  The one that  took her husband’s life on the evening he was celebrating his kid brother’s wedding proposal. 

Long before that, after their own marriage, he explains he wants her to stay at home.  The kids need a mom until they are in school, rather than turn their upbringing over to strangers.  To leave him in charge of the finances seemed like the thing to do, but she didn’t find out about the lapse in insurance until after his accident.

Here she is now, trying to figure out how they will survive one more week when she hears the snap!   And then another.  She quietly circles the shed to the back and sees the lump in the snow beneath the tiny aspen tree.  On top of the bump is a piece of copper wire squeezing the head of a large rat.  His eyes stare blankly across the lawn, his mouth is open like he’s got something to say, and his legs lay crumpled in the snow.

“Hmm,” she speaks curiously to the night air, “a rat?” 

Not knowing if it will taste any different from the mice, she decides she doesn’t have anything to lose by trying something new and goes to find the other catches.   Snap!  Snap!  Snap!  They should have enough to tide them over now.  As long as she has peanut butter for bait and cornflakes, they can have nuggets every night.

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