I hate myself a little more today but that’s not much different than yesterday. Maybe I don’t hate myself. Maybe what I’m doing and where I’m at is affecting how I’m doing. My lonesome thought is disrupted by the demanding growl of my stomach. Maybe I’d feel better if someone in this cursed place knew how to cook.
“I already told you twice Devorah, dinner is at 5:00 and lunch was only two hours ago. You can have a pudding cup if you need a snack until then,” Howl states fighting back. He talks to the other residents like they’re children but with me he always just tells me like it is. I appreciate it in most circumstances but this isn’t one of them.
“You call that slop lunch? My father fed our pigs better meals than what was served today. What would you even call that garbage?” I snap. Howl is good to me and frankly he’s the only caretaker I can stand. Still though, I’m hungry and I’ll call 911 for elder abuse if I don’t get something worth eating today.
“Beef stroganoff. It was good. You might have even liked it if you would’ve tried it,” Howl says pointedly. He knows just as well as I do that I wasn’t letting that crap anywhere near my mouth.
“Just one that’s all I’m asking for. I’ll eat it out of sight and I won’t tell a soul. Come on Howl you know my word is good,” I haggle. He’s already offered me a pudding cup three times but I can’t stand the sight of them. They’re not the same after they put my medicine in a few while I was sick last May. Three years in this place with a poor excuse for food and they’ve made me hate pudding cups.
“Devorah I can’t make you a grilled cheese every day, three times a day, for the rest of your life. You have to try to start eating what is prepared. Besides, I don’t even work in the kitchen. You should be asking the kitchen staff not me,” Howl chides. Howl along with a few other caretakers are the only ones who call me by my first name. All of the residents call me Domino. I earned the nickname my first month in this joint when I cleared the lot and won 32 pudding cups. Now I willingly give my pudding away and only play for higher bets. The pearl necklace I’m wearing right now belonged to Janet last week. It’s mine now.
“Oh come on Howl. Those ladies wouldn’t know how to make a grilled cheese to save their life. Bernice always puts too much butter; there isn’t anybody that likes a wet sandwich. And Paula skimps on the cheese. So it has to be you Howl. You make the best grilled cheese I’ve ever tasted in my seventy-six years. I swear I can see the moon when I bite into it. And if I don’t get something to eat soon, I think I’m going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh no. It’s already coming, Howl. I feel faint,” I whisper dramatically placing my hand to my heart and then pressing it against my temple.
Howl crosses his arms looking unimpressed, waiting for my dramatics to end. “You do know cheese doesn’t actually come from the moon right?” He asks with his thick eyebrows pulled together in a downward scrunch.
“Listen here kid,” I start but Howl tries to interject at the kid part. I don’t care if he’s in his twenties. I’ve got at least fifty years on him. I hold my hand up to stop him so I can finish. “I will give you thirty dollars for a grilled cheese. Right here. Right now,” I barter. Howl knows I need the money to bet in dominoes. He knows it’s my only sense of happiness in this blasted place and that I don’t have any family that will be stopping by to bring me any cash any time soon. I’ve got him right where I want him.
“What would you do if I ever did take your money?” Howl asks but he doesn’t let me answer. “I suppose you’d turn me in claiming I stole it if I had to bet.” Although his words could be seen as an insult I’m smiling with him. Howl knows me well. He knows me just as good as I know him. He’d never take money from me. I would never turn him in for taking it. I would likely if it was someone else but I wouldn’t do that to Howl. Then who would make me grilled cheeses?
“So?” I ask with a tilted half grin.
“Alright but this is the last time. I’ll have to make you two. I looked at the dinner menu and I already know you won’t eat what they’re serving tonight,” Howl gives in with a shake of his head.
“God bless you child. I don’t know how I could survive this place if it weren’t for your miraculous grilled cheese making gift,” I compliment clapping him on the back. I know he is amused and flattered despite his head shakes and eye rolls.
I follow Howl all the way to the kitchen door. I take my post being lookout while he dives inside to make me not one but two grilled cheeses. I can hardly believe my victory. I am about to feast like a queen.
I don’t have to keep lookout for Howl. He is allowed to be in the kitchen. I have to keep lookout for my own self-interest. If any of the other residents find out that I have a personal supplier they’ll sniff Howl out and take him for themselves. Then I really will starve to death.
“Hey Domino. Ready for the game tonight?” I hear a rumbly voice call out. I look to my left to see Edgar slowly making his way up the hall on his walker. A terrible scrapping sound follows as the bottom of his walker scoots across the floor.
“Yeah, I sure am. I’m just getting some overdue pudding cups now to start a low bet with tonight before all the heavy players show up after crochet class,” I lie before nodding down towards his walker that is still creating a terrible sound as he nears me. “What happened to your tennis balls Edgar?”
Edgar pauses in his ascent. He looks down at his ball-less walker legs and then raises his eyes back to me with a sly grin. ”Lost them in the tournament last night. Rhonda’s balls were turning black so it was either give them up or my reading glasses.” Edgar shrugs, his smile only growing. “Don’t worry though. I plan on winning them back tonight,” he says with promise.
“If you say so,” I remark but I have my doubts. Rhonda is number three on our leader board right now and Edgar hasn’t even
managed to make it onto the board yet. “Good luck, I’ll see you later on tonight.” He needs all the luck he can get.
I watch Edgar, well more like listen, as he waves goodbye then scoots his walker around the corner with the ear blistering noise following him. Maybe I will win his tennis balls back for him tonight. If not to be nice then to at least shut that awful racket up. I think I can feel blood sliding down my ear now.
“Alright Devorah two grilled cheeses wrapped and ready for you to quietly enjoy in your room,” Howl instructs but he is still smiling. He won’t admit it but he knows his job has been more entertaining since I’ve gotten here. He may deny it but I know I’m his favorite.
“Bless you Howl for your service. I am eternally grateful for you,” I chatter reaching up to take my two individually wrapped grilled cheeses.
“You may compliment like an angel but I’ve seen you speak and take like the devil Devorah. You don’t fool me,” Howl comments with a knowing closed lip smile and a quirked eyebrow. He smiles because he thinks he has me figured out. I smile because he’s right.
I thank Howl once more before heading off to my private room. I sort through my winnings deciding on what to bet with tonight. I pack up three bracelets, two books, twenty-five dollars cash, a puzzle, and a pack of glitter pens. Along with my betting items I pack my lucky box of marked dominoes. I am feeling prosperous for tonight.
I flip the light switch off, climb into bed, and click the TV on. The sound of recorded applause fills my room as a wheel is turned by a young woman in red. I unwrap my first grilled cheese with unsteady hands. I inhale deeply before taking a generous bite. As the only tolerable flavor in this hellhole graces my tongue I smile at the sight of the moon. The second bite brings forth the stars to surround it. Howl created a universe for me to enjoy.