Here is the opening of the new supporter-driven work, Accidia, which will unfold through 2022 with new chapters added regularly. How do you get involved? Check out the Join! page and connect with us as a Community or Lifetime member.
Later today she could look forward to reruns on cable (maybe Suddenly Susan or Dharma and Greg, both favorites), a quiet pasta at her table, resting her head against the denim pillow she had crafted herself. It was a decadent aloneness which she had learned to value, a retreat from the cacophonous work world of the Roosevelt Middle School cafeteria. The quiet was a time to do nothing at all. Just nothing.
The trash can next to her still reeked of spoiled fruit, Cheetoh paste and Lysol, but this was its natural condition. No one had yet approached to drop their leftovers. No one had crossed the crevices in her floor tile or–which was always worse–dared to throw a bag from their table. Peorl began to count another tile to see if the deadly gaps matched those in the first.
She felt her feet carry her forward towards the table with a self-righteous intent. “Yes?” Peorl asked, looking down at his round face, his chubby-nosed imbecilic grin. “What do you want?” She heard the words from her own lips, a bray of sound which seemed to cut through the nearby space and shove itself against his skin. Even through the grin, she felt him tense.
What was to be done? She could demand he listen to her, but what would she say? That he had mispronounced her name? That he wasn’t supposed to call her by her first name in the first place? She imagined demanding to be called “Ms. Brown” but that demand for dignity seemed preposterous in light of the drool. She could ask for an apology, but for what, exactly? For mocking what she’d rather no one saw at all? In horror she wondered, would she apologize for his revulsion of her? Silently she cursed the shoes which had believed she might shame him to regret.
His sniggering voice behind the broken bowl haircut asked a friend, “Is she still there?” The friend nodded.
A brown-eyed girl with a pony tail was the only one who now faced her directly, her eyes melted with anxiousness, even pity. The boy, still barricaded behind his coat, had begun muttering over and over for the amusement of the group, “Go away, Lunch Lady, Go away, Lunch Lady,” like some kind of revocation. A blue panther on the back of the jacket watched for Peorl’s response. Rising up from her head was a condemnation of her own: Put your compassion away, you pony-tailed bitch.
She grew conscious of her jaw, her lips, drew them tight. Her mouth whispered, loud enough for all the ones nearby to hear: “I see you.” She could not tell if it emerged as threatening or absurd. Her shoes turned back toward the trash can, tripped against each other briefly, and Peorl retreated.
In the short time she had been gone, the can had grown half-full of lunches, but no one approached it now. Peorl Brown watched over it. But all of these children, years and years of these children, must eventually meet her. They would offer their waste before her; and she would judge them.
Additional Chapters will begin February 2022.