Fiction by Kelly White & Art by Carol Radsprecher
by Kelly White
Mary counted the meatballs on the serving plate. Nine, ten, eleven…and…that was it. No twelfth meatball. Did she really make twelve meatballs? Maybe there had always been eleven and she just miscounted. Unlikely, she thought. Twelve meatballs means everyone gets three, and who makes eleven of anything? This time, she got down on her hands and knees and looked in the gross places—under the fridge, in the sticky corner where the puppy’s ball always rolled, and under the lip on the back side of the island, but it wasn’t there.
Mary checked the floor one last time before shouting, “Hey! I’ve lost a meatball! Come help me find it so the puppy doesn’t eat it.”
“Where’s the puppy?” her son asked, as he sauntered into the kitchen. He flicked out his earbuds and let them dangle from the Chromebook he was attempting to balance like a pizza pan on his right hand.
“Two hands! Or use your thumb if you’re going to carry your laptop with one hand. But use two hands! We don’t need another broken one,” Mary chided, alarmed that her son seemed to think Chromebooks were disposable.
Mary inhaled, briefly closed her eyes, and exhaled. She responded, “The puppy is in her crate.” She felt a twinge of pride at her careful response. She wished someone else had been there to notice that she had avoided a ridiculous argument with her kid. Her younger son and husband were only just ambling into the kitchen, so they’d heard none of it. But even if they had been there, they probably wouldn’t have noticed what she didn’t say.
“How is she going to eat the meatball if she’s in her crate? Can’t we deal with this after dinner?” her husband asked, while plunging the first two knuckles of his right index finger into the bowl of marinara, dripping sauce down the front of his t-shirt as he slurped it up. He swiped his left hand over the drips. Mary felt the heat of annoyance start to prickle just below her ears as she tried to ignore the sauce mess. There was no room for a pragmatic approach in a situation that defied logic. The meatball was gone, and she couldn’t enjoy eating dinner until she figured out what had happened to it. Never mind the fact that when it was her husband’s rare night to cook dinner, she did everything she could to help the evening go smoothly. He wouldn’t even have to ask her to find a meatball or set the table. She would just do it for him, and he knew it.
“I’d rather find the meatball now so I don’t have to think about it anymore,” Mary said, choosing to use a calm voice that she thought sounded a little bit like her favorite yoga teacher, Dawn. This was as close as she was going to get to composed confidence in this situation.
“And why would it be so bad if she ate it? She’s a dog. It’s a meatball,” said the tween, teetering dangerously on the edge of backtalk. He was slouching, but as his Chromebook slipped a little from his right palm, he jerked up to full height, and clumsily whipped his left hand up just in time to catch the device. Looking at the floor, he mumbled, “Yeah, yeah, I know. Two hands,” and placed it on the table.
Mary raised one eyebrow and said in a voice studded with building irritation, “It has garlic in it, and while it might not kill her, I foresee a very expensive vet bill. I mean, remember the smoothie last week?”
“There wasn’t any garlic in the smoothie,” he glowered.
“Touché. Well, how about the roasted garlic crostini she ate in February? Maybe the pesto pasta she puked-up in July?”
“And remember that coaster she ate, mom?” her younger son chimed in. “That was the grossest! She kept throwing up pieces of cork all day long and she wasn’t allowed to leave the kitchen!”
“Bro. That was so gross!” agreed the older son.
“Where’s the flashlight?” her husband asked, as he began looking around.
“Dad. You can use your PHONE, you know. There’s a FLASHLIGHT on it,” the tween said as he rolled his eyes. Mary almost said, “He’s right, you know. You can just use your phone right there in your hand.” But she didn’t. She imagined Dawn was looking at her approvingly for what she had left unsaid. Mary always felt so worthy whenever Dawn complimented her in class.
“So, where do you think it rolled?” asked her husband.
“Mom! Please tell me the meatball rolled off of your plate and onto the floor!” the younger son exclaimed, barely containing his excitement.
“Yes,” she said, “It did,” bracing herself for the inevitable serenade.
“On top of spaghettiiiiiiiii all covered with cheese…” As he hit the long notes, he rose up to the tips of his toes and teetered around in circles, arms stretched high and wide, fingers wiggling. Suddenly he stopped and asked very seriously, “Mom. Did you sneeze?”
“I wish,” she answered, with a touch of wistfulness in her voice. If she had sneezed, this whole situation would have been so much funnier, so much more family-story-worthy. If she had sneezed, or even just lied about it, they’d be one of those families with a hilarious story they’d all tell together, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing so hard they could barely breathe. She wondered what it would be like to be in one of those families. She also wondered what it would be like to find this situation funny right now. Maybe she needed some distance.
“I lost my poor meatballllllll, when not the mom sneeeeeeeeeezed. It rolled off the plaaaaayaaaate and onto the floor,” the older son joined in the sing-yelling, “and then my poor meatball…”
“Please stop, you two,” Mary protested, but without much enthusiasm. She sensed no one was listening.
“Rolled out the door….”
“I said please stop singing. What are you doing on the floor with the flashlight?” she asked her husband.
“Looking for your meatball. Did you look over there? Or what about over here?”
“MY meatball?” Mary thought, “Since when is it mine? How about THE meatball.” But once again, she didn’t say it. She wondered how many more times that evening she’d be able to silence what she actually wanted to say. She suspected zero.
“…and then my poor meatball was nothing but MUSH. (Huge inhale) On top of spaghetti….”
Mary was amazed at how the boys were practically singing in harmony. But, then again, they worked together best when the goal was to aggravate her.
“Seriously. Both of you. Stop singing and help find the meatball,” she snapped. It crossed her mind that there were parents who would just laugh, sing along with the meatball song while recording a video they’d post later. “Those videos are never that good or even that funny,” thought Mary.
“We were just SINGING, you don’t have to SNAP, MOM,” the older son pointed out, while his brother wore an expression that was somewhere between surprise and dismay that the duet might be ending prematurely. He was visibly relieved when his brother resumed the song.
Had the twelfth meatball vanished? Mary was reading about supernatural occurrences in Autobiography of a Yogi. Unexplained things happened in that book all the time—including jewelry disappearing, entire meals appearing, and a yogi looking like he was sitting with a student in one place while that same yogi was walking and chatting with a different student on the other side of the village. None of these examples included meatballs, but Mary couldn’t see why that mattered. On the other hand, all of these occurrences required the attention of someone who was unusually gifted, and not to be mean, but none of the people in her house were anywhere close to unusually gifted. Too bad, she thought, because “It vanished!” was the most elegant solution that she could think of for the missing meatball, and it would have led to so many other exciting questions. If her husband or children could make things disappear with their mind, what else was going to disappear? Would they make her disappear next for being grumpy and tired? What if she had made the meatball disappear? That was the most exciting possibility of all. She was a breath away from asking her family what they thought of this wild explanation when the puppy started barking.
“Somebody. Please go set the table. Take the puppy outside to pee. And STOP SINGING,” pleaded Mary, attempting to direct her family to be of any help at all.
Mary supposed that if she couldn’t reach the meatball, the puppy wouldn’t be able to either. But the meatball was probably going to stink as it decomposed around the corner in Meatball Alley. She heard the back door slam, which meant someone was taking the puppy out. And she heard the clink of silverware in the dining room, so someone was finally setting the table. Mary decided she had better plug the hole. She found a piece of corrugated cardboard left over from the boys’ now abandoned puppy obstacle course they had been constructing earlier in the day. It fit pretty well in the space, so she folded the ends to make a U-shape and jammed it into the hole. She thought about how someday, someone would find a shriveled old meatball entombed in the corner of the kitchen; maybe they would wonder how it got there. On second thought, she realized, they probably wouldn’t even notice.
That evening, the family ate their meatballs with penne as planned, but everyone, including Mary, wished they’d had spaghetti.
Within a day or two, the whole family mostly forgot about the missing meatball. But early in the morning on the third day, Mary noticed that the cardboard barricade had been pulled out from the entrance to Meatball Alley. She rolled her eyes at this discovery. She picked up the cardboard and flattened herself against the floor so she could shine the light on her phone into the hole. She saw nothing.
Still looking down the tiny corridor, she spoke absently to the puppy who had beaten her downstairs and into the kitchen minutes earlier. “How did you get this cardboard out of there?” Shaking her head, she began shoving the cardboard back into place. She froze mid-shove when she heard the puppy licking her lips. As she turned to look, she saw the puppy gulp down the last bite of something meaty, and caught a whiff of garlic.
Before she could let out a groan at the digestive horror that was to come, Mary saw the puppy tilt her head while looking her square in the eye, blink hard, and begin a pre-puke full-body undulation. Resigned, she tossed some paper towels under the puppy. At the same time, Mary felt a strange lightness filling her body. It was as though she would pass through the ceiling, beyond the roof, and into the morning fog.
“What the actual fork,” Mary murmured, remembering that she had promised her older son a couple of days ago, in a “what did you just say?” argument, that she’d quit cursing. Mary was terrified by the buzzing she felt in the back of her head, the sudden hollowness of her torso, and the way her limbs seemed like they were floating around like helium-filled party balloons. She tried to force herself down to feel the ground, pressing her back against a wall to steady herself. She stared hard at her arms, willing them to wrap around her body, but she couldn’t do it.
Desperate, Mary began to inhale for three counts and exhale for six counts, over and over again. She thought about how proud Dawn would be of her. Eventually, she was able to notice that their neighbor, Jim, who went out to get coffee every morning at 7:12 was just locking his front door behind him. She saw a trio of crows dive bombing that scrappy little white dog from up the street—the one that had a huge grudge against skateboards and made sure everyone knew it. She clocked a missing roof tile on the house next door, and then she found she was looking at her own home. Could they see her if she peeked in the windows? She wasn’t sure, so she tried to hide from view by scrunching herself into as small a ball as she could while holding on to windowsills.
Even from the edges of the window frames, she could see that her family’s day was starting to unfold. She could see her younger son, hopping into the kitchen with only one leg in his green trousers. Her husband was shaking his head while a small smirk played on his lips. He bent down to help unfasten the tight snap that was preventing the boy from getting dressed and kissed him on the top of his head. Mary smiled, “It isn’t all annoying all the time, is it?” she mused. “They are doing their best. We are all doing our best.” A warm tenderness began to envelop her, but it retreated when she heard her older son yell from across the house, “MOM! I dropped my Chromebook again.” And then she heard her husband yell, “MARY! The puppy’s hiding like she did something bad.”
The smile that had illuminated Mary’s face a second earlier became a scowl. She wished she had grabbed a jacket. Those clouds up ahead looked chilly.
Kelly White is a visual and fiber artist, she has published knitting patterns and articles relating to art and craft. Her paintings have been shown in galleries and collectives across the country. As a practicing attorney, Kelly wrote more memos, briefs, and articles than she can count. This is her first foray into fiction.
Carol Radsprecher’s images combine figurative and abstract elements. She earned her MFA in painting in 1988 from Hunter College, CUNY. A longtime painter, she discovered the wonders of digital image-making and found that media well-suited to making a succession of rapidly-evolving narrative images based on distorted representations of the human body, especially the female body (her body). Her work has appeared in several solo shows and numerous group shows and has been published in print and/or online publications. Her website is https://www.carolradsprecher.
I utilize forms based on the shapes and contours, the bulges and wrinkles, the surfaces and depths of the female body. These images depict these imagined women in various, often uncomfortable situations. All of these images emphasize and refer to interior space — the space within each print and the spaces of the mind, memory, and emotion.