A Change of Pace

The salad is perfect: crisp shredded romaine. A small handful of organic white corn kernels and a few garbanzos. A gauze-thin slice of onion, every layer pulled to shreds and evenly spread. A twice-diced grade-A boiled egg, sprinkled liberally. Five croutons, a thin coat of light ranch dressing, and capped with a dusting of white pepper and finely shredded parmesan. Pair this with a four-minute cup of Darjeeling, and Greg’s after-work snack is complete. Every weekday at five-thirtyish central standard time, without fail. Perfect in every way. Every weekday. Five-thirtyish.

Greg looks at his miserable little salad, this perfectly balanced, delicately flavored, sickeningly wholesome dish of his. Every day, perfection for the mouth and body, for eight years running. As he takes the bowl and mug to table, Greg wonders how much cubic space his lettuce, corn, and croutons of eight years’ accumulated salad would take up. How many bags of onions the gauze-thin whispings would comprise. How many tea trees have had their top two taken to brew his 2,085 mugsful.

He takes a forkful and puts it into his mouth. Despicably delightful, the same as every other day. Crunchy, cool, with just a hint of pepper, green onion, and sour cream. Vomitous. Greg puts the fork down and reflects on a lifetime of good decisions, made each and every day by his damnably sound reasoning. “To hell with this!” he declares to his salad, pushing it away gently so not to send it off the table. “I’m making myself a snack!”

Rising to his feet, to this end he proceeds to search the cupboards and pantry, to scour the freezer and very depths of the fridge. Greg finds nothing but a healthy stock of ingredients and carefully sealed leftovers. “Rat farts!” he shouts angrily, after he remembers the kids are away at their afterschool crap. It feels good to shout; different, and satisfyingly irrational. He checks his watch. Bonnie shouldn’t be home for another half hour yet, time enough to visit the Kroger. Grabbing his keys, with a laugh he is out the door.

* * *

“God’s cock,” Greg exclaims as he wheels his Taurus into the driveway. The Caravan is back, already parked in the garage. He parks alongside it, then grabs a white bag from the passenger’s seat and heads over to the workbench.

Inside, Bonnie continues fixing supper when she hears the car pull in. It isn’t usual for Greg to be gone yet, less so that he would leave an uneaten salad on the kitchen table. Seconds tick to minutes, and still he has not come in. Strange behavior, and Bonnie begins to feel nervous. Setting aside her chopping, she ventures out to the garage. She begins calling, “Greg, honey, where did you go? You left a salad on-” when she stops short at the bizarre spectacle of her husband leering about in the garage’s far corner.

Hearing her gasp and realizing he is no longer alone, Greg stiffens nervously. Clearing his throat, he tells her “I’ll be inside in a second, just a minute.”

But his mouth sounds full of something, and with a suspicious leer of her own Bonnie approaches her husband. “Greg, what is that? What are you doing?!” To her horror, Greg appears to be eating Spam, cold from the can, with a putty knife. Like some ravenous beast!

“I’m eating Spam!” he explains to her emphatically. “Can’t a man have Spam once in a while?”

“Put it down, hon! Think of your arteries!” She advances cautiously, as though the can were full of trans fatty contagions. “Put down the putty knife, hon.” She tries to grab for the tin, despite his protests and defensive shuffles backward. At last, she loses patience with this childishness. “Give it here!”

“Never!” Loading up on another mouthful Greg dashes for the door, Bonnie close behind. He savors the greasy, salty, faintly porky flavor and distinctly foamy texture of the meat as it squelches between his teeth. He feels exuberant. “This is different! This is madness! This is life!!” he thinks to himself as he rounds the corner, and breaks a sprint across the back yard for the tree line.

Bonnie cannot keep up; nearly a decade of salads have kept him fit and surprisingly spry. She gives up around the middle of the yard. “You’ll spoil your appetite!” Bonnie shouts after her fool of a husband, but to no avail. He calls something back between mouthfuls about living, she thinks, and the snapping branches and crunching leaves fade distantly into silence.