by Claire Baiz
It was served on a metal tray, with one of them metal covers.
Not a fancy dome from some fine hotel: jus’ an upturned cookpot from the chow line, brillo’d to a mighty sheen.
He’d asked for fried chicken an’ macaroni and cheese. Two cans of Mountain Dew.
The guard had tapped his #2 pencil like a waiter who ‘spected more.
“An’ a side order of cav-i-ar.”
All week was spent imaginin’ little brown oily flakes of chicken, tiny bent cylinders of pasta stuffed choc-a-bloc with yellow cheddar–the good stuff from the blue box–not the lumpy drywall mud they call dinner.
Hardly much thought about the caviar.
When the time came, the same guard what took his order rolled in the rattlin’ dinner cart an’ backed out, saggy ass first.
When he touched the heavy dinner plate, the chipped flat rim was still warm from the dishwasher, though the food on top was already edgin’ on cold.
Right there, between Kraft mac and Kentucky Fried, was a dark mound in the shape of an upturned can of Fancy Feast.
He put his good eye up close: it looked like bait gone bad, an’ it smelled like the stirred-up bottom of Haney Pond.
After one bracing taste, he scooped the whole mound on a Saltine an’ took it like a man.
The poppin’ and squishin’ inside his mouth made him wonder if, after squeezin’ out all them babies, the caviar people whacked mama fish an’ sold her upriver too.
Somethin’ bad in this life, he thought after a Mountain Dew belch, is almost always followed up by somethin’ worse.
He pushed the pasta ’round the plate. Long stalks o’ wheat, gone from swayin’ to swathin’ to eatin, and then to nothin’.
He turned his fork palm up, the tines all tiny and shiny in his puffy mitt, the outsides brown, the insides pink, just like that chicken.
They was brothers in fryin’.