Food Pantry Fable | Teen Ink

Food Pantry Fable

June 25, 2021
By Lydiaq ELITE, Somonauk, Illinois
Lydiaq ELITE, Somonauk, Illinois
148 articles 41 photos 1014 comments

Favorite Quote:
The universe must be a teenage girl. So much darkness, so many stars.
--me


Lilla Mae twisted her scanty purse around her arm, then let it unfurl. The chair of shame dug into her bare thigh. She might as well have been in Babylon in exile. The chair was school-quality, pea-green. A small boy had tipped one of those chairs over and got a concussion.

She stared at her toes squashed down in their red platform sandals, the tattoo snakes crawling up her legs, the fringe of her ragged denim. She had little more than a bikini top over this, and everybody had a full view of her belly-button jewel, glimmering on her fat stomach. Lilla was ashamed of nothing. Not the chains on her neck. Not the blond streaks dyed in her Strawberry Shortcake hair. Not her half-price perfume, or the faint odor of dirty cats that hung about her.

She had an electric bill and a cracked laundry basket and a hollow of hunger in her stomach. A nondescript old geezer, Mr. Gribson, next to her, was guzzling a Coke and swearing, oblivious that he was in church. A juvenile delinquent looking kid in a Hells Angels T-shirt slouched beside his washed-out, middle-aged mother. Their chairs were supposed to make a waiting room circle, but if one looked too closely, it was the shape of a heart.

Lilla Mae was the curve of the heart. She was all bent over, suddenly gasping with the nausea that came at her from nowhere, like a basketball to the gut. She staggered to the church washroom and threw up in the sink. The decorations were frilly lotion and Bible-verse mottos. Out of place, sick to her core, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. The shape of her face was rather revolting to her. The eye shadow she wore daily was gone, and there was no hiding her new, tired eye bags. Fiercely, she took a pinch of her waist. Just where had all this mystery weight come from? She’d never had enough to eat. She was poor as dirt, a gas station floor-mopper on welfare.

Feeling stupid, she heard Food Pantry Lady Ethel holler, “Lilla Mae—Kawasaki? Electric bill? Your turn’s come! Don’t keep us waiting, girl!”

Ethel asked her if she had any children under eighteen. That was a foolish question. Lilla looked scarcely eighteen herself. “No children,” lied Lilla. Ethel’s glassy blue eye fixed on her ruby navel.

Behind them, an avalanche of spilled potato flakes caused Food Pantry Lady Janet to scream, “Watch what your kid’s doing!” Middle-aged Jody wrestled her teenage son out of the room, muttering at him to shape up for the love of God, did he want to get them kicked out?

Two Food Pantry Ladies whispered behind the turkey burgers, “Jody drank while she was pregnant. That’s why her son acts like one of those scoundrels on the TV paternity court show.”

Lilla Mae threw her eggs into her laundry basket, ignoring Food Pantry Lady Margaret’s admonition not to let them break. Yolk sprayed. She threw down too many boxes of Kleenex, opened them, and wept hysterically into the tissues. Her platform shoes made her a head taller than Margaret, so she easily snatched the Scooby Doo Fruit Loop Cake Mix. Flexible as a football player, she swooped on the gluten-free, expired Raisin Bran.

“Do you have any whiskey?” she asked.

 Food Pantry Lady Margaret cried, “Girl, you are in the house of God! Who are you serving? We do not hold with drinking alcohol. Read this tract, girl—”

“You can’t even ask these people a reasonable question,” Lilla Mae muttered. “May I have one of those beautiful hand-knit sweaters, then? My cats peed all over my clothes, and they smell like it. Winter is coming, and I have nothing to wear but what I’m wearing now, excuse me if it offends y’all.”

“Those sweaters—” Margaret’s bubble hair didn’t move, and her eyes were as cold as chicken meatballs. “Those sweaters are for the Chinese—they’re for the Albanian—well, let’s just say they’re for poor people.”

Lilla Mae’s eyes seemed to ask, Whom do you think I am?

“Do you eat chicken hot dogs? How about some nice fresh liver?”

“Have a good day, old girl,” Lilla cried at last, as she teetered away, her chains jangling, her laundry basket clunking. It didn’t occur to Margaret that she had no car and would have to haul that basket three blocks.

Back at the church, a head-wrapped and sad-eyed lady was sobbing to Margaret, “The doctors said only six months!”

Lilla Mae went one block, slowly and painfully, before a pickup truck honked and made her nearly trip over her shoes.

A voice shouted, “We’ll have a good, good time! Hop on in! Well, what are you waiting for? Everything will be wonderful!”

She was confused. She thought it might be her boyfriend, Mike, but that wasn’t so. The voice was Gribson, the Coke-guzzling geezer from the food pantry! Piled in his pickup truck bed were Jody, her son, and five other assorted poor people. More people crowded into the seat next to Gribson.

“Where are you going?” Lilla said. She spat the words.

“We formed a coalition, girl, and we’ve determined to take a cross-country road trip where God wants us to go.”

“What about your food?” shrieked Lilla.

“Bungee-corded laundry baskets are fastened on top of this here truck,” cackled Gribson. “Jody’s son will lend you a hand with your food. It’s too heavy for a girl like you.”

“I can’t leave town! I have a job! I have a life!” Lilla cried. She wanted to say, “I have a baby coming,” but she didn’t dare. Not yet.

“Margaret thinks poor people are going nowhere, but we’re going to see the sunset in fifty states—God willing, even Alaska and Hawaii. Who knows? We will stow away on a freight-boat to China and Albania. We will tell stories all the way.”

“We could use a story-teller, a yarn-spinner, on our trip,” said Jody.

Winking back tears, Lilla surrendered her food and climbed into the truck-bed.


The author's comments:

Growing up as a kind-of-maybe poor kid, I did spend a lot of time in food pantries like Lilla Mae, so this is partly based on personal experience. If any of you ever had to visit a food pantry, I get what you're feeling. It's pretty awful, the way they make you feel second-rate like their food.


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This article has 4 comments.


Lydiaq ELITE said...
on Jul. 19 2021 at 12:06 pm
Lydiaq ELITE, Somonauk, Illinois
148 articles 41 photos 1014 comments

Favorite Quote:
The universe must be a teenage girl. So much darkness, so many stars.
--me

Yeah i'll try and help, only at present I'm visiting a house with little internet...

on Jul. 18 2021 at 7:36 pm
SparrowSun ELITE, X, Vermont
200 articles 23 photos 1053 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It Will Be Good." (complicated semi-spiritual emotional story.)

"Upon his bench the pieces lay
As if an artwork on display
Of gears and hands
And wire-thin bands
That glisten in dim candle play." -Janice T., Clockwork[love that poem, dont know why, im not steampunk]


on Jul. 18 2021 at 7:31 pm
SparrowSun ELITE, X, Vermont
200 articles 23 photos 1053 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It Will Be Good." (complicated semi-spiritual emotional story.)

"Upon his bench the pieces lay
As if an artwork on display
Of gears and hands
And wire-thin bands
That glisten in dim candle play." -Janice T., Clockwork[love that poem, dont know why, im not steampunk]

theres a poet, still active, theyve been on t 4 years and are almost to 100. out of 90 someodd, 2 of their poems have been commented on... 0

on Jul. 16 2021 at 2:52 pm
SparrowSun ELITE, X, Vermont
200 articles 23 photos 1053 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It Will Be Good." (complicated semi-spiritual emotional story.)

"Upon his bench the pieces lay
As if an artwork on display
Of gears and hands
And wire-thin bands
That glisten in dim candle play." -Janice T., Clockwork[love that poem, dont know why, im not steampunk]

poor woman