“Loaves and Fishes” by Elizabeth Volpe

Elizabeth Volpe


          Santa Catalina Retirement Villas, April 2008

Rebuttering the roll I’ve torn into pieces, I smile across the table
at Gladys and Walt, recruited to make Mom and Dad

feel welcome. When the popcorn shrimp appear, they could be anything,
tiny balls of deep fried anything. The residents are tucked into

their tables—overdressed ladies curled like shrimp
into their upholstered chairs, in the refrigerator chill

of the dining room. A man here and there, shirt buttoned to neck, negotiates
with his meal in deep concentration. I can’t get anything to move

to the back of my tongue. I’m a child again, moving the food to and fro,
trying to make it look as if I’ve eaten. My husband’s the life of this party,

jokes rolling off his tongue, but I see he, too, has broken his bread
into enough pieces to feed everyone in the room

and hasn’t touched his fish. I reach under the table, clutch his knee,
marveling at the miracle of his good cheer, at my father’s determined

chewing, at my mother’s plate, her “shrimp” nearly gone, though her rice refuses
to be coaxed out of its gummy ball. “Ice cream sundaes for dessert,” Gladys beams,

as if at the blessing about to be bestowed on all, “every single day!” Forking his peas
onto his spoon, Walt seems to be hurrying the legumes into his mouth

in anticipation of this very reward. We’ve been seated at the “best” table,
by a corner window, the sky a delicious Arizona blue, orange trees

in the manicured courtyard around a tiny, turquoise pool, and out beyond,
in the gritty wilderness of the desert, loom the Catalina mountains,

saguaros propped here and there like discarded dressmaker dummies. Now,
Gladys and Walt have tucked into their sundaes, and there’s a wisp of Cool Whip

on Dad’s chin. I look out the wide windows, praying for one of those desert monsoons
that rocket over the mountains and flood the streets until the water pours

into the wash, taking with it everything without sufficient ballast: saints, sinners,
silverware, red-rimmed Hello nametags, all this ludicrous damask.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

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