Saturday, October 29, 2016

Family Style

The can of meat had been sitting on the counter next to the sink for years, but no one had paid attention to it. Whenever it was time to clean the kitchen, Mother would simply lift the can and clean underneath it, replacing it to the exact spot it had been earlier.

"Are we ever going to eat that?" Sissy asked one day after watching Mother go through this ritual.

"Eat what?" Mother asked.

"That can of meat. It's been there for years, so when are we going to eat it?"

Mother looked at the can of meat on the counter in surprise. "Huh," she said. "I guess I never noticed it. How long has it been there?"

"Long as I can remember," said Dad. He also looked astonished. "Let's just toss it out."

"It might still be good," Mother said. "Look, the lid isn't even bulging out. Let's have it for supper and see what happens."

It fell to me to cook dinner that night. I decided to make a casserole with noodles and the meat from the can on the counter. I opened the can and looked inside. It looked like ground pork, moist and pre-cooked, ready for heating. I sniffed at it, and it smelled fine. I wasn't about to taste cold ground pork, but otherwise it seemed fine. I dumped it into the pan with the noodles and various spices and herbs and a can of mushroom soup and started heating it up.

We had the casserole with green beans and dinner rolls. I just poked at the meal, but my parents and Sissy chowed down, consuming every morsel, sopping up the sauce with rolls.

"That was incredible!" Sissy said. She eyed the pile of casserole on my plate. "Just like pork salad. You gonna eat that?"

I stared at my still-full plate, thinking about how much the ground meat in the can had looked like little worms. "I think I'm a vegetarian now," I said.

She didn't say anything else as she grabbed my plate and began scarfing down my casserole.

"Wait!" said Mother. "Let me have it!"

"I'm the father," Father said, "So it's mine!" He took his fork and began waving it around menacingly. "That's the rule!"

"I never heard of such a rule," Mother said, grabbing her own fork. "And the mother always makes the rules at the dinner table!"

"Have at you!" Father cried. Then the two of them began to duel with their forks, completely ignoring Sissy, who was still wolfing down the remains of the casserole. When it was gone, she looked at me, sauce dripping from her lips.

"More!" Sissy said.

"What?" Mother and Father said simultaneously. "It's gone?"

I nodded. "Sissy ate the rest of mine while you guys were fighting."

"Make some more!" Father demanded.

"Yes, more!" said Mother.

"I can't," I said. "There's no more meat. The can's empty and I threw it out."

Father dove for the recycling bin and pulled out every item until he found the can that the meat had come from. He sniffed inside. "Nothing here," he said, nearly growling at me.

"I rinsed it out. No food in the recycling bin. Isn't that the rule?"

"But I'm still hungry," moaned Sissy. "Are you sure there isn't any more?"

"I rinsed it in the sink," I said. "There might still be some juice in the bottom of the garbage disposal."

"OUT OF MY WAY!" screamed Mother as she ran toward the sink. She shoved her hand into the garbage disposal, then brought it back up. She smiled as she licked her fingers. "Mmm, delicious!"

"I want some!" Sissy said.

"No, it's mine!" shouted Father.

I couldn't handle it. "May I be excused?" I said. "I need to finish my homework."

No one answered me, so I just went upstairs to my room, closed the door, and began reading about the history of the Napoleonic Wars.

A few minutes later there was a knock on my bedroom door.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"It's your sister," Sissy's voice said from outside the door. "We're still hungry."

"So? The casserole's all gone."

"But Daddy just remembered what else tastes like pork. Are you ready for seconds?"

A chill went through me. "I'll be there in a few minutes," I said. "Start without me."

I left through my bedroom window, and I haven't been back.

And that, Samantha, is why I'm a vegan now.

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