Published Monthly



Non Grata
by Patrick Hall

You're hungry because you haven't eaten in six hours. So you eat tuna. You eat tuna and mayo because that is all you have. You have mayonnaise because you bought it for a friend and she didn't take it when she moved out. You have tuna - not safe canned tuna, but tuna in this crazy foil bag (maybe it's astronaut tuna, maybe) - because your mother gave it to you. She gives you tuna because she thinks you like it.

You liked tuna when you were six, when you were ten, when you were twelve. But you don't like tuna anymore, you're twenty-three, you don't cut the crusts off your bread or slice your sandwiches diagonally because you're all grown up now. But you get tuna in a bag from your mother. It keeps forever, or close enough. You're twenty-three, and this is your mom, every month, saying here, I still like you, you're too skinny, here's some tuna.

So you mix your mayo and tuna in a cereal bowl. You don't need more than that because you live alone. Maybe you live alone because you eat too much tuna. Maybe not. Tuna's supposed to be good for you.

You don't have any bread - that's not true, exactly, the bread's frozen but you have a nice un-frozen bagel so the tuna goes on that. Lettuce goes on the tuna. Fresh garden lettuce your mother gave you. Here, son, I love you, have some lettuce. There's probably sand on it, but you eat it anyway.

You eat your tuna sandwich and stare at the wall. You'd watch TV and eat, but you don't have cable. You don't have cable because you can't afford it, not at thirty or fifty or seventy dollars a month. So. The wall. A white wall with no paintings, just a few pictures and take-out menus. You sit at the kitchen table with its two chairs, your back to the fridge, eating, chewing, beginning to digest. You don't look at the refrigerator because you don't dare to, don't dare to start thinking about what's inside and what is not. Ketchup, mustard, onions, and lettuce do not a four-star menu make.

So. You eat your tuna sandwich and throw away the crumbs and paper detritus of disposable dinnerware. You don't like the mayo but you save it anyway. Maybe your friend will come back and want it. It would be inconsiderate of you to throw it away, to throw it away like nail files, hairbrushes, anything, a bag of tuna, maybe. You're done eating, so you go outside to check the mail, aware that you're wielding breath of tuna. It's dark outside, but you can still see a small brown rabbit hopping down the alleyway in front of you.

There's no mail in the mailbox. Usually, if there is, the mail is a bill for you or a bill for your mayo-loving friend. You think of the rabbit and go back inside and turn off the lights. Maybe the rabbit would like some lettuce. The only sounds are the refrigerator humming neutrally along and the baleful horn of a train hauling a load of iron ore, little marble-sized pellets from the mine to the dock. They will be melted down and turned into steel, into cars, into bridges, into knives and forks and spoons and household appliances. You go to your room, crawl into your empty twin bed, and listen to the nearly empty refrigerator hum and hum and hum.

In the morning, you will wake up. When you do, your breath will smell, still, like tuna. You will brush your teeth. You will shower. You will go to work. There's so much you will do, so much you should do, so much you might do not because you want to but because it is expected of you. You will smile. You will talk to people. You will earn money so you can eat and pay bills. It's what you should do, not what you will want to do. You will want to go home, home away from home, where you will hear the refrigerator run, where it runs.


Patrick Hall is a writer and photographer living in Michigan's Upper Penninsula. His work has appeared previously in The North Wind, Rumor of a Thaw, and online at Inkburns.com.

 

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