August 1, 2012

Wendy Oleson

EAT YOUR M&M

My friend Kate said she liked those Little House on the Prairie books as a kid. The prairie people ate delicious things: homemade butter, desserts made of syrup and snow. Her boyfriend, Joe, said those books had depressed him: their lives were hard. They threw syrup in the snow and ate it. Kate thought it would be marvelous to live like that—with everything so precious. She and her mom squirted Aunt Jemima on the yard one January, but it hadn’t come out right. When they asked if I’d read those books, I didn’t remember. I only remembered the way my third grade teacher used to reward us: whoever answered a question or won a game of around the world got an M&M. I learned to suck on the candy shell—yellow, orange, red, green, and two shades of brown back then—to make it last, just as I learned in middle school to ride my bike to the Quik Trip to buy a Nestle’s Crunch with every dollar from every hour I’d babysat. I ate them locked in the QT restroom, chomping until my jaw cracked and the flavor went flat. I ate them, slicing my palms on the foil wrappers and feeling my heart race when another gas station patron twisted at the knob. I’m not sure the Prairie books could have cured my desperation or saved me from my shame. But I remember the way the M&M from Mrs. Seery tasted: it got bigger and bigger on my tongue—a dense star expanding, a never-melting chocolate flame.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011