Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Sweet Potato Casserole

BY LYNN OBERMOELLER

Sweet potato casserole exploded against the passenger side window of the blue Beauville van. My head spun around like in The Exorcist as I glared at Ron and watched sloppy pumpkin and shards of white Pyrex slouch down the window in clumps. I gripped the steering wheel and gritted my teeth. “Get! Out!”

I wanted to rip the curl of Ron’s upper lip right off his face as he fumbled around like he was adjusting more comfortably in his seat. A sharp pressure shot through my left molar. “Get the fuck out! Now!”

Whimpers whirled in the background from my children, but I kept my focus on Ron. Their stepdad stumbled out into the road. The door rattled shut, sealing in the staleness of an old bar.

I turned to look at the children. A thin line of snot had reached the tip of Jessica’s Kool-Aid stained lip. Her tangled chestnut hair fell across her face. Rita clung to her ni-nite, a tattered piece of red handkerchief she’d never let me wash. Her little chest was heaving up and down. With her asthma, I thought she might throw up. “Are you going to be okay, Rita?” I inhaled my first conscious breath as Rita gently rubbed her ni-nite across her smooth pink cheek. Casey, the eye of the storm, stared out of the window in the far back seat.

“None of this is your fault, do you hear me?” I glanced back through the windshield at the signal light. Turn green. Turn green. Please turn green. It occurred to me that Ron might not have any idea why he was staggering down the middle of a busy four-lane intersection on Easter Day. I couldn’t handle the thought of his intoxicated body climbing back into the van.

We had just come back from watching airplanes fly above our heads and land in the runway situated in front of us. I stewed in my own brew each time I heard the tinny clank and whoosh of another beer. I chopped grudges and minced up hurts. I added flavorful resentments and strong judgments. Clank. Whoosh. My pot overflowed.

Green. I pushed down hard on the gas pedal as I kept my eyes peeled to the rearview mirror to make sure Ron didn’t make a run for the rusted blue tank. Even after a belly full of beer, he might outrun this heap. As I turned the corner, he was out of sight, but my mind was racing: Would he get hurt? Would he come home? Did I care? Did he care? Did it matter? Would he remember?

I thought of him reaching back to tickle Rita with his callused, grease-stained hands, tickling her until she was gasping for breath, her tears falling. I told him to cut it out and he spat back, “She’s a fucking baby!” Intense, fiery heat flashed upon my face. The demolished casserole dish crashed against the window. I imagined his nostrils flaring below those hollow eyes as he heaved the dish like he was going to bludgeon someone to death.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, do you understand?” I said, still trying to soothe Rita, the most visibly shaken of the three. I watched her head nod up and down as the salty stream soaked into her ni-nite. “See what happens when you drink too much? You lose your mind.”

I sputtered into the driveway of our home and sat in the worn, cushioned seat, wondering whether Ron would walk home. What would he do if we were here? I decided not to take any chances.

“You guys stay put. I’ll be right back.” I rushed inside, grabbed some clothes, scribbled a note to Ron—keys in the mailbox—and taped the note to the door. Why should one more thing be damaged?

The unrelenting pang continued to hit the pit of my stomach. I changed stations in my head faster than any man with a remote. First I viewed Ron strutting up the street, waving and smiling. Then I watched his body slamming against the front fender of a Chevy.

I shook my head, inhaled a deep breath, opened the driver’s door and hopped back into my broken-down getaway. “Hey, we’re going to spend the night at Aunt Sue’s!” I turned around and saw a sprinkle of sunshine fall lightly on my children’s faces, but they saw what I was trying to hide.

I didn’t want to clean up the casserole. I wanted it to rot like Ron’s liver to always remind him of what a jerk he was when he drank. I wanted Easter to be like I remembered it as a young girl. Waking up to a basket full of rainbowed jellybeans, chocolate bunnies and stale yellow marshmallow chicks. Going to church in my new Easter dress with a white bonnet on my head. Playing outside and having an Easter egg hunt with the boiled, colored eggs that we had dyed the night before. But I cleaned up the sticky mess that smelled of maple and hints of pecan. I picked up bits of shattered glass. I scraped off dried remains of sweet potato that clung to the blue velvet felt on the door. I scrubbed the already stained blue carpet. I washed the windows. I feverishly rubbed and rubbed the marred glass of the passenger-side window. I sprayed freshener. I scoured the inside of the worn-out blue Beauville until it was spotless. But I knew it wouldn’t go away no matter what I did.