Note: A recent train ride home found me next to a woman involved in a very curious conversation about macaroni. I couldn’t help but jot down some notes. Later, I shared those notes with Marc from Sorryless and Dale from A Dalectable Life. I wrote this a couple weeks of ago when the inspiration occurred, and tabled it until I found time this morning to clean it up. I realized that I had only completed half, and had fun with the ending.
I also found a hummingbird this weekend at a family gathering, that I was lucky enough to capture on film. The discovery of which prompted a family member to tell me that the tiny bird’s presence represents my Grandma Burns, which I loved hearing. Both the conversation on the train and the hummingbird are reminders that when we look and listen for life’s gifts they are aplenty.
Macaroni, truths, and denial
“I’m sorry to hear that you lost your job,” she said. She snuggled up against the window. The phone pulled in close to her ear. A woman asked that she move her bag so she could sit beside her on the train. “What do you plan to do now?”
“Stay with you of course,” he said. “The old lady threw me out.”
Tears started to roll down her face. Her voice raised as the engines started churning. “Wow, I guess I’m supposed to be overjoyed?” she asked. “Wait don’t answer that. Let me change that to grateful. I should be grateful, now that I don’t have to compete with your wife?”
“Well now that you mention it, it’s what you’ve wanted for a long time,” he said.
She looked out the window. She was seated backward. Looking the city’s skyline as it became smaller and smaller. She was disoriented. She was moving away from something, not toward anything.
“Right, it is what I have wanted for a long time,” she responded.
“Is there anything to eat in this house,” he asked.
She tried to steady her voice. This man, who she once loved, who she thought loved her, too, was now in her home, waiting for her to arrive. The home he bought her years ago to keep her close. She was his safety blanket. The house was his safe house; he came home to roost.
“I’m afraid I haven’t been to the grocery,” she said.
“Jesus, all I find is macaroni,” he said. “What the hell is this, some kind of joke?”
“No, it’s no joke, Jer,” she said.
“Well, if it’s not a joke, what is it then? There is one pantry and two walk-in closets filled with Cremettes,” Jer said.
“It’s not a joke,” she said. “And it’s not about the macaroni.”
“Then what is it about?” he asked.
The tears rolled. Her voice bellowed. Ears throughout the train car pricked. She unloaded:
“It’s about every time you said you would take me out over the last ten years, and baled.
Every time we were supposed to have dinner.
Every time we were supposed to see a show.
Every time my makeup was perfect.
Every time my hair was camera-ready.
Every time I bleached my teeth.
Every time I bleached my lip.
Every time I waxed my brows, and more.
Every moment I spent fanaticizing what you would do when you saw me.
Every moment I spent freshening linens.
Every moment I spent embarrassed and ashamed that I was canceling another reservation.
Every moment I told the host, that you’d be there in a moment and to hold the table.
Every time and moment spent disappointed.
Every time I accepted your nonsense, like a worn dart board just asking for more.
Each and every time you disappointed me, rejected me, disrespected me, and lied to me I bought a box of macaroni.
Why? You are probably wondering.
Why, would I buy macaroni?
Well, you idiot. If you had one unselfish membrane in your whole self-absorbed body, then you would know.
Macaroni is was what I served you when we first met.
The first time you stopped in my father’s diner on Route 59. Your ordered the special, tuna casserole.”
Exhausted, she said, “So, yes, I like macaroni.”
“Well, you have enough macaroni here to feed a stranded ship of immigrants for the next year,” he said.
She was infuriated. It went right over his head. “Yes, the boxes were my safety net. An assurance that one day when you showed me your true colors, that I would have something to fall back on,” she said. “I knew eventually she would kick you out and I would have a moment of truth.”
“Look, Betty, all I am looking for is some grub, and you are talking about truths and macaroni,” he said. “What the hell?”
“The hell is this, Jer. You are alone. Like I have been for all these years, waiting for you. You are now alone. All those boxes are empty. They are shells for a relationship that never was. I dumped the macaroni into the trash every time you sent me another shush money check. And then I deposited the check into an investment account,” she said. The only voice competing with hers was the conductor. Every phone was shut off, book closed, and newspaper set aside, as the whole train listened.
“You what? You invested my money?” he said.
“No, Jer, I invested my money,” she said.
“Well that’s great news doll, that must be a tidy sum,” he said.
“Tidy isn’t the word,” she said.
“Well, when does your train get in, let’s go celebrate. This morning I lost my job, my wife kicked me out, and now my doll has saved me,” he said. “This might be the best day ever.”
“Oh, it is the best day ever,” she said. Tears absent. Cheeks raw. Voice Strong. “I just came from meeting with my financial adviser, and she said I’m all set.”
“Hot diggity dog,” he said. “I knew I could always count on you.”
“Oh, thank you, Jer. Would you be a dear? My battery is running low. Go ahead and make reservations at The Capital Grille. You know the one in Lombard?”
“Sure, babe, I can do that,” he said. “I’ll pick you up at the Lombard station in ten minutes then?”
“Yes, that sounds about right,” she said.
“We have a lot to celebrate Betty,” he said.
“You bet we do,” she said. “I’ll meet you in Lombard then,” and the line went dead.
The conductor yelled “Lombard”. The train stopped and the doors opened. Betty stayed seated.
The skyline was no longer visible. She smiled. Relief, vengeance, and vindication consumed her. She started laughing and couldn’t stop.
The train started moving again, and moments later the conductor yelled, “Glen Ellyn.”
She stood up. Every eye was on Betty. One woman put her hands together and started to clap. Others followed. The whole train erupted and celebrated her truth.
She exited the train. The Lincoln Town car was parked in the commuter lot. The driver greeted her. He opened the door. Jerry’s wife sat inside. Betty placed her bag down. Grace handed her a glass of champagne.
“To the truth,” Grace offered.
“To vengeance,” Betty replied.
“To freedom,” Grace said.
Their glasses chimed.
“To O’Hare?” the driver asked.
“To O’Hare!” the woman echoed.