We sat there like that, dipping our spoons in a can of cold Beefaroni and not talking and not thinking too much about the devastation of each of our lives in the wackiest week of winter. We didn’t speak as we scooped the cold, saucy dumplings into our mouth. We didn’t express warmth or gratitude to each other for being there, holding the space, providing comfort at the beginning of uncertainty. I tended to wolf food down when hungry but in the company of men, I try to avoid this unseemly, messy side of me. My eating, a secret, always, as was my life so i began timidly each bite and in between chewing began to offer conversation.

“Whenever the power would go out when I was a kid, my family and I always played storytelling games to pass the time.”
He didn’t look up or say anything even though I gave him time to react. I let my spoon hit hit the side of the can just to break the silence; allow myself permission for announcement  like the formation of a toast.
“It always helped my nerves,” I played with the shredded beef in the can leaking from one of the pockets. “I was an anxious child.”
“Oh yeah?”
Bet on paternalism.
“Yeah. My brother and I both liked scary movies a lot so the game tended to lean that way often.”
I waited until he looked at me.
“Scary, I mean.”
I swallowed a tiny bite, a dainty bite. I was starving. I could not eat fast enough. I could not eat slow enough.
He smiled a little and stood up.
“I’m finished,” he reached his hand out to collect my can.
“Oh, I am still eating.”

He nodded and walked to the kitchen, back turned, without suspicion. I heard metal clanging and assumed it was the trashcan opening or shutting or some knock to remove the cans. The freeze had pushed out rats and mice but only slightly. They were everywhere. I took the opportunity to swallow two of the beef dumplings whole and take a large gulp of water before he got back. My mouth was still full when he came out with some wrapped brownie thing.

“Oh,” he eyed me. “I forgot to offer you a napkin.”

He turned back again to grab and I wiped my face with my sleeve, chewing as fast as I could. Back quicker, then I thought, I grinned without teeth to express appreciation.

“Take your time,” he handed me a paper napkin.
Chewing slowly and deliberately, I kept my chin down like the doctor told me.
“Take smaller bites, put your head down and make an effort to swallow and over time, you may find that it gets easier.”
She handed me a script.
“Take this too.”

I was not out of meds yet but would be and that was the least of my concerns.  The brownie had nuts on top, sat plainly in front of me in its plastic wrap. One giant brownie, not like the kind I ate as a child; where two came in a package and I ate six a day. Don’t tell him this.

He was still standing when he said, “I don’t have any cat food.”
“It’s ok. Thanks for dinner.” I added, “And dessert.”

He stood over me a bit but I didn’t budge. Finished the cold Beefaroni in front of him. Wiped my mouth in front of him. He stood there. Stay calm. I hate men towering over and people watching me eat and if this was any normal day in spring, I would have commanded he sit or fled or threw my spoon at him but instead I took dainty bites like this was charm school. Like this was a normal day in spring. Like I was here for impression, twirling, bowing, c h a r m. I began to unwrap the plastic carefully knowing I was almost out of water.

“There’s a little bit of water left,” he said, peering down at me.
Nodding without facing him, I focused on unwrapping the paper. We were making each other nervous and I was scared anything I told him would make him uncomfortable. I regretted telling him anything. He carried the kettle to the table. It was that bright teal so I knew he got it at Target or Walmart. There was no originality here. Start a conversation.

“So you and your family told scary stories?”

When I recount things, sometimes they are blurred by my filter; my emotion at the time of recall. For accuracy, my baseline is recalcitrance. My tongue is bloody from biting. I understand that the way to get an extra brownie is to walk in the room the ingenue. The confluence of both parts of me has created an immediate distrust and then visible relaxing from parties. I watch them breathe as we continue to talk. I watch their shoulders slag. I watch their faces change into suns and smiles and laughter. When I recall things, I must remember if temper came into play, if anxiety was near, or if I was a gymnast doing cartwheels for the crowd. I must remember which part I played. What I will remember about this man is that when he poured the hot water, he smiled at me in a fatherly way, and that I was not the coquettish mouse trapping cats in the basement, but the helpless girl in the dark gripping horror films to stop her wailing.

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