Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Delores’s Bowl

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2015 at 3:03 pm


Dolores’s feet didn’t reach the floor even when she sat at the very edge of the chair.  But she could reach the rung above the floor and yet it was of little comfort since she hoped to be taller.  Waited to be taller.  The table was old Formica in a speckled white and silver. A shiny olive green oilcloth—old stains in spots—covered the cool table, warming it.  Dolores waited patiently for a plate to be placed before her.  Her stomach grumbled and its sound—should anyone hear—was an embarrassment for her; a shame. If there was not enough food and her stomach growled, she knew her mother would feel guilty that there was not enough and Dolores, at those times, felt her heart breaking at the look of her mother’s face—a look which really was hidden behind a numb mask. A mask of equanimity. A mask which deceived.

The chipped white plate came.  A thick plate like those used in a diner.  A sturdy, heavy plate meant to hold a substantial meal—a meal of meat loaf and mashed potatoes and peas; a hunk of a white roll and a smear of butter.  There should be the sound of clanging silverware of eaters enjoying themselves, gorging themselves on the bounty; some talking with their mouth full, anxious to eat and converse all at once, refusing to pause in the eating as if the gusto was also desperation.  As if the eater had once been hungry.

Dolores’ plate came chipped and was made, no doubt, in China with lead; with earnest hands in a sweat shop and in this way Dolores and the worker were bound across the globe in the lockstep of pain.

Dolores plate came with a low scoop of beans and half a slice of white bread, the crust cut off only because there had been a spot of mold on it.  It all tasted moldy to her still, and she stomached it on account of her hunger and on account of her mother’s countenance which Dolores hoped could maintain the picturesque pale skin with narrow lips pulled into a smile whenever Dolores looked at her. But her lips were drawn straight and slightly downward when she relaxed, and no one was looking, and the truth of things tumbled forth inadvertently.

Dolores ate with relish, her eyes glued to the plate, counting the beans as each one disappeared in her mouth.  She felt to slow herself down. And so she would stop and sit up and wipe the napkin across her lips after every ten beans.

They were oval reddish kidney beans without sauce.  But they had salt and pepper and there was a large glass of water.  She had come to learn early to fill her belly with water and it would keep hunger at bay.  She peed a lot and worried such peeing would bring on the hunger, so she drank more.

The last bean was bean number 21.  It would be a lucky number, she imagined, if there was a chance to check on such a matter; like at a carnival wheel, a roulette table, playing the numbers—all of which she had seen on TV.

Each of them—Dolores and her sisters Jenny and Meg and brother Jack—brought their dishes to the sink without scraping them. There was no need to scrape. Sometimes there would be a dessert—a part of a candy bar, an apple—and sometimes not.

In a way, Dolores hoped there would not be because of the alternative . So on this, an alternative day: a day without dessert, her mother placed an empty bowl before each of them and then walked around the table and placed a small flower in each bowl.

The florist, Mrs. Edith, next door, always threw out the wilted flowers of the day at 7pm and her mother faithfully rescued them.

Dolores studied her flower, a white and rose colored peony whose edges had begun to brown and wilt.  Still, she thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

Her mother said she did this because of a Haiku poet Basho who said “ She knew the wisdom in this when she watched the faces of her children reflect the beauty of the flowers.  When one child put the flower in her hair and Jack in his shirt pocket. Meg carried it like a wedding bouquet.

But Dolores kept it where it was—in the bowl as her mother had wanted and as Basho had instructed. Dolores kept it in the bowl so she could forever see its beauty and so that the bowl would never be empty again.

-Annie Quintano


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