Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cereal City

My stomach growled at ten a.m.,
in the middle of religion class.
Eyes flick from left to right seeking the offender,
but there was more than one hungry teenager
trapped in a desk-chair in that room.
The smell hanging in the air triggered the restlessness,
though the midway point between breakfast and lunch
might have contributed as well.

Something sang softly of grain,
like pancakes, or oatmeal,
combined with a sweet, caramel overlay,
like maple or dark corn syrup.
If I’d known then what treacle was, I’d have called the odor this.
It drew me out of my seat and compelled me to fib
I needed a hall pass, and so did my classmate,
the one whose nose twitched like mine,
whose eyes slid to me as I raised my hand.
The rest of our cohort slouched and sighed.
They acknowledged we had beat them to the end game.

Which was downtown, three blocks from that classroom,
left out of sight of the principal’s office, right, then right again, mid-street,
in a greasy diner reeking of burnt coffee and fresh bacon,
a line drawn for our escape drawn by that sweet-grain scent
from school door to the hole-in-the-wall on Main Street.
We perched on worn Naugahyde at the end of the counter,
as far from the door as students could get,
in case a wandering nun or a priest might stumble in
from our Catholic school’s confines for a cup of joe.

Seems ridiculous now, to envision the elderly penguin
Sister Mary Elizabeth popping into that diner
for a thick, dark cup of bitter morning swill
with a crumbly slab of apple pie,
when she struggled to make it down the school’s corridors
without wheezing up a lung.

We ordered our ill-gotten treats and
ate them with the same furtiveness we employed
to arrive at the diner, our loafered feet
swinging in time with the beats of our hearts
and the swish of our tongues.
A sticky glazed doughnut seeming the best choice
over a powdered one, which would surely give us away.
It’s a time-worn truth:
Nobody escapes the tell-tale residue
left by an illicit powdered doughnut,
when the uniform is darkest navy blue.

Like city-born ferrets, we weaseled our way
back into school and class,
Sister Margaret of the Obscure Saint’s Name
none the wiser for our escape,
though classmates scowled during the
remaining minutes of dogma-based torture.
Smugness felt like sugary residue
on the tips of our well-licked fingers.

Over lunch two hours later,
fellow students hissed their envious disapproval
at our daring fulfillment of clandestine cravings.
But the smell — how could anyone not give in
to the pied piper call scent of cooking grain and syrup?
We were only giving into the baser natures
our God had given us, we explained.

Not me, said Alice, too brightly.
She was a little too priggish even for a Catholic girl,
the sisters’ suck-up sycophant who couldn’t be trusted.
But she brazened out the curled lips
and said her piece.
That smell is the plant four blocks away,
where my dad works.
He smells like that every Tuesday and Thursday.
When the corn is ground and cooked
into dog food.

To this day I don’t know which I regret more:
that I allowed my consumption to be driven
by grain-based commercial pet food,
or that my children will never know
the special contentment one earns
by flouting convention
and enjoying freedom
munching an illicit doughnut
off campus
away from priests and nuns
during school hours.

Copyright 2015 Femme Malheureuse

No comments:

Post a Comment