Curry Farts and Snackeroos
Curry Farts and Snackeroos
by Elise Glassman
Marisa and Carole eyed the guy at the microwave nuking his lunch. “That Sanjay is such a kiss ass. God, I hate him,” Marisa said.
“I hate him, too. I wish he’d hate me,” Carole said, in a lascivious tone.
Marisa had had the same thought—Sanjay was a looker, a dark-eyed overachiever in a Eurotrash zipper-front shirt with good hair and faux Prada glasses that lent him a hunky-nerdy look. After only three months at Marstellar-Dixon, he was already a management trainee. She bit into her sandwich, tasted salty tuna and the bite of kimchi mayonnaise, a specialty of the Korean sub shop downstairs.
“I better go. Abe’s taking me to my first check-up.” The way Carole cupped her belly, a person would think there were full-term twins in there already and not just a few conjoined cells.
“So you decided to keep the zygote,” Marisa said. The pregnancy had not been welcome news–Carole and Abe weren’t even together, had only dated a few months. She followed her friend out of the lunchroom. “So, I guess us getting a place in Seattle is out.”
“We could still do it,” Carole said. “Molly’s about ready to be on her own, right?”
Marisa chucked the rest of her sandwich in the trash. “Nah. Never mind.”
“We can still do it,” Carole insisted. Marisa wanted to believe her. They parted ways at the elevators: Carole to find Abe, and Marisa to her computer, to record her calories.
“Damn, girl, slow up,” Bernard panted. They were hiking St. Edwards Park. His hair curled damply over the collar of his shirt. “You want to see a movie later?”
She slowed, hating the feeling of obligation. “I don’t know. I better not.”
“Molly will be fine for a few hours.”
“I know that.” But she wasn’t saying no because of Molly.
“Is she sick again? Get her to the doctor, Marisa. Remember last year?”
Marisa angled off up the muddy trail, smelled the sharp scent of cedar. Did she remember? The bills for Molly’s rehab had morphed from one tidy Sacred Heart envelope to daily stacks of collections claims. What her sister could pay wouldn’t even cover the interest, so now Marisa just carted the bills straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin.
Bernard hurried to catch up. “Marisa. What’s going on? Are you seeing somebody else?”
“I’m here for Molly. You know that.” Bernard had been crushing on her since high school. Marisa occasionally said yes but mostly she just didn’t say no.
“Yeah?” he said challengingly. “You’ve been hanging out here for over a year now.”
She looked at the mist hovering over the lake, water quiescent on water in a breathless suspension. “Moll’s better. And Netbiz is holding my job. As soon as she’s situated, I’m out of here.”
“Whatever you have to tell yourself.” He kicked a loose rock. “Hell, I’m heading back.”
She followed him uphill. He’d ask again. What she’d say, she didn’t know. She just needed him to ask. If she ever beckoned, he’d come for her like an avalanche.
Break time. Marisa logged out of her phone. In the lunchroom, Sanjay sat eating pasta and reading. She jingled some coins and he looked up. “Ah, Marisa.” Mareesa. The way her mother had pronounced it.
“How’s it going? How’s the new outbound project?”
“It’s going well.” He set down his spoon. “You work inbound, right?”
She nodded. Outbound paid better, but she’d quit after a week of nervous diarrhea. She literally couldn’t stomach the tension of cold calling, of begging people to buy products they didn’t need.
“If you want to be a supervisor, you have got to master outbound,” Sanjay said.
“I don’t care. I want to work for the Man, not be the Man,” she said, but she could see he didn’t get the joke. “Anyway, I have a job waiting for me in Seattle.”
Puzzled, he said, “Then why are you working here?”
“Oh, just some family matters to take care of,” she said, and began stuffing quarters into the soda machine. Back at her desk she saw she’d bought Coke instead of diet. This was what happened when you didn’t pay attention. You screwed up. You drank a hundred and fifty calories of sugary caramel water and got fat.
For dinner, she toasted whole wheat tortillas with lowfat cheese and salsa. Molly ate the first quesadilla right out of the pan. “Oooh, hot! Keep ‘em coming,” she said gaily.
Marisa stared at the stove burners so she wouldn’t have to look at her thirty-six-year-old sister, her ample figure distributed across two sagging kitchen chairs, at this moment wiping salsa from her fingers onto her Pizza Pete’s uniform shirt. “How was work, Moll?”
“My pants don’t fit anymore. I asked Tom to order me a bigger size.”
“We just bought those pants–”
“Is there another quesadilla ready? Hurry up, I want to watch ‘Friends.’”
Marisa positioned herself between her sister and the television set flickering on a table in the corner. “I heard you throwing up last night—“
Molly avoided her eye. “Eat something. You look like Anne Frank on a diet.”
“You need to get better, Molly.”
“You need me to get better,” Molly shot back. “Just go already. I don’t need you here.”
Marisa went back to the stove. Fourteen months ago, the manager of the Woodview True Value, a friend of their mother’s, had called. “I’m calling you instead of the cops. It’s not just the shoplifting.” She’d sped up I-5 to find Molly’s door unlocked, her sister sprawled across her couch snoring, hand curled around a can of Krylon spray paint. She hadn’t seen Molly since their mother’s memorial service. Marisa guessed she had landed her Seattle job about the same time Molly was losing hers, her boyfriend, six years of sobriety.
Picking dried cheese off the spatula, Marisa nibbled it, calculated the calories, spit it out. “Will you please go see Dr. Shawn?”
“No. He always tells me I’m too fat. Duh,” Molly said, her eyes fixed on the beautiful, bantering television sitcom anorexics.
Marisa heard a gentle ahem and here was Sanjay standing in her cubicle. “Oh–hey. Congrats on your promotion. Assistant district manager, wow.”
“I’m the Man now,” he said, with the air of a kid who’d aced his homework. He grinned, and her libido tickled. His jaw was dark with stubble. He’d gotten up too late to shave, or discovered GQ. Either way, he looked delicious.
“Maybe we could have coffee and talk about outbound sometime?” she ventured.
“Yes. Absolutely.” His eye strayed to the queue light on her phone. “But—coffee.”
“Coffee,” she said, watching him go.
“What are you doing, Marisa?” Carole asked through the wall.
“It’s under control,” she said, unwrapping a stick of gum. Ten calories, but she’d skipped lunch. Logging into the phone, she watched the console light up as though it were Christmas.
“Where are you going? It’s movie night.” Molly glared at her from the couch.
“Out,” Marisa said. Sanjay had asked her to dinner. A step up, she thought, from coffee dates and lunchtime strolls around the business park.
Bernard waltzed in from the kitchen holding two glasses of bubbly liquid. “Who’s ready for a Shirley Temple?”
“Me, me!” Molly screamed. “You can go,” she added pointedly to Marisa. She and Bernard would drink sugary concoctions all night and watch Bette Davis vamp across the TV.
“Oh, and I brought snackeroos. Be right back.” Bernard headed back to the kitchen.
Marisa followed him, grabbed the crinkling bag before he could open it. “No.”
“Relax, they’re baked. A couple won’t kill her.”
“It won’t be a couple, it’ll be the whole bag. I happen to care about my sister.”
He gave her a look. “You care about bossing your sister.”
“Well, maybe I have the right.” She dumped wheat crackers into a bowl. “Here.”
“You know, I’m not just here to babysit.” Bernard stood close, too close. “Marisa.”
She closed the cupboard. His hands massaged the stiff muscles in her neck. It felt good. She felt like an instrument that hadn’t been played in a long time. “Bernard. Not now.”
“Later,” she said. It was her mother’s voice. It was what she’d said to them when they were kids, to get rid of them, to put them off. Later. Mostly, though, later never came.
“Pleased to meet you.” One after another, Sanjay’s housemates shook her hand. The table was set with stoneware dishes and a yellow cloth. “Be right there,” Sanjay called from the kitchen.
“Okay,” she called. The housemates, in long-sleeve shirts and mustaches, arranged themselves along the wall, as though for a police lineup. “You’re all from Goa?” she asked.
“Only Sanjay Patel Hashmi,” Prakash said. He had long curling dark eyelashes.
Later, as they lingered over shrimp curry and glasses of mango juice, Sanjay said, “Please have more, Marisa. You’re–you’ve hardly eaten.”
“I’m fine. But it’s delicious,” she said, sipping her drink.
After dinner, he refused to let her help wash up. Exiting the bathroom—the scale showed her two pounds lighter than the one at home—she met Prakash, cradling a Tupperware. “Marisa. I proposed to Sanjay that we send food with you for your family, but he’s arguing the point.”
“I would, but my sister–” She hesitated. Molly was drinking a bottle of antacid a day, spent long periods in the bathroom with the door locked. “She’s–on a restricted diet.”
“As I said, Prakash,” Sanjay said, over clattering pans.
“Actually, maybe I could take home a little?” she said. “Some for me?”
Prakash grinned and even though she knew the leftovers would die a slimy, moldy death in her refrigerator, it felt like they had accomplished something.
Two nurses piloted Molly away to her CT scan, guiding the bed like tugs with a barge. Sitting in the empty room, Marisa dialed Carole. Sunlight leaked in through the blinds. “Hey.”
“Sweetie! Man, the plum is really kicking today.” Since her OB-GYN visit, Carole now referred to her fetus with fruit nicknames that supposedly corresponded with its development.
“How is the tumor?” Marisa said. She was already sick of hearing about it.
“Oh, you’re funny. The tumor is fine. How’s Molly? How the bejeebus did you get her into the hospital?”
“It took some doing,” she said, ashamed to admit that Bernard had talked her into it. “Listen, about Friday. Can you come? I need to run to Seattle and sign FMLA paperwork.”
Carole hesitated. “I have a doctor’s appointment. Can we go next week?”
“Never mind,” she said. Her call waiting hiccupped: Bernard. He’d called a half dozen times already today. She pinched the roll of fat on her belly. “I gotta go.”
“The plum says, ‘Bye,’ Marisa,”
“Oh my God, Carole.” She hung up, not bothering to click over to Bernard.
“Dude, wrong room,” Bernard’s voice barked.
Marisa opened her eyes. Sanjay stood in the doorway holding a potted violet. He wore sneakers with his work slacks. “Hello. I’ve come to wish Marisa’s sister a speedy recovery.”
Molly looked at him with interest, her blond hair fanned out on the pillow, chin swimming in the rolls of her neck. “Are you a doctor?”
“I’m Sanjay. Marisa’s friend.” He shook her hand, then Bernard’s.
Bernard said, with a snotty smile, “Nice to meet you, Marisa’s friend.”
Sanjay set the plant on Molly’s bedside table. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh fine. This is kind of like fat camp.” Molly touched the velvety green leaves.
“Have you been sick long?” he asked solicitously.
Bernard said, “What is this, twenty questions?”
To Sanjay, Molly said. “I get a sick stomach sometimes–Marisa does too though. From work. And not eating.”
Marisa said, defensive, “Sometimes. I mean, only when I’m–“ Only when she was working outbound. Or when she found out her FMLA-protected job no longer was. Then she didn’t eat. It was her balance, her control. Her sweet lovely control.
“If I’m sick, Marisa’s sick.” Molly’s face turned ruddy and dark.
Bernard said gently, “Molly, my darling Clementine. Listen to me: you’re getting better. We’re here for you.”
Molly’s gaze flicked to Marisa for confirmation but Marisa looked away. Why was she so callous? Why couldn’t she lend her sister a sliver of comfort, that it wasn’t her fault (but it was), that things would be okay (they might not). And why didn’t Bernard or Sanjay look at her so and say everything would be all right? She stood up. “I’ll walk you to the elevator, Sanjay.”
In the hall, he said, “You know, I’m not understanding Molly’s illness.”
“It’s hard to explain.” The doctors still didn’t know if her sick stomach was a result of her years of addiction, or something more immediate. They would keep running tests, at least until the Pizza Pete’s insurance started declining coverage.
Sanjay pushed the elevator button. “My mother suffered from leukemia. At the end, she weighed less than one hundred pounds.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. It felt so unfair. Other people got sick in sympathetic ways, ways that had nothing to do with their choices or their shitty lives. “Okay listen. Molly used to sniff paint. She has hypertension and heart problems and pukes every night and no one knows why and I don’t want to be here or even care, but she doesn’t have anyone else. She’s all I have.”
“Are you all right?” he said, reaching for her arm.
She drew back. “What do you think?”
He entered the elevator and stood against the wall. Marisa felt bad–he couldn’t have meant the question as existentially as she’d taken it. She resented Molly, but not for being a fuck-up. For not having anyone else to turn to. For every failure and setback that implicated and delayed her. The doors closed.
Bernard had his feet on the bed. Her sister was giggling. Marisa’s heart warmed a little. Good old Bernard. “Thank you, come again,” he said, in a sing-song Indian accent.
She picked up the TV remote from the bedside table. “That’s not nice.”
Molly giggled, “Do his farts smell like curry?”
Turning off the TV, she strode back out to the hall. But she only made it a few feet before she hit the end of the remote’s tether, and was jerked back in the direction of her sister’s room.
“Hurry, Marisa. I can’t be late today. I’m working front counter.” Seated on a bench in the Dixon/Marstellar lobby, Molly twisted her hands, fretful.
“Five minutes, okay? I just need to pick up my checks.” Marisa took the elevator to the sixth floor. The office felt familiar, overheated, small. How could she have spent nine hours a day inside such a stale canister?
“Marisa?” Sanjay’s gaze took in her visitor’s badge, the accordioned paychecks.
He’d called her a few times. She’d listened to his messages, saved them, replayed them. She smiled. “Didn’t you hear? I quit.”
“I heard,” he said, glowering and sexy with disapproval.
The payroll clerk handed her a receipt. “I’ll call security to escort you out.”
“I’ll escort her,” Sanjay said. “I saw Molly downstairs. How is she?”
She shrugged. The doctors had finally figured it out: an ectopic pregnancy, sparked by dark fumbles in the supply room with Tom from Pizza Pete’s. In the ensuing month, Molly had kept off the ten pounds shed in hospital, and was now dating Tom, who lived with his aunt and raced dirt bikes.
Not looking at her, Sanjay said, “So why are you still here?”
“I’m here for my paychecks,” she said.
Suddenly he was guiding her into his office. He motioned her to a chair. “Stay awhile, Marisa. I can order food–we’ll talk, have lunch.”
“Lunch?” She smiled. Lunch was for people with jobs, with amenable stomachs. Lunch was heavy. It weighed you down. She reached over, picked up Sanjay’s phone, punched in Carole’s extension. “Hey. Stop calling your fetus fruit names. It’s annoying.”
A long moment, and then Carole said, “Sanjay?”
Now she dialed Bernard. “Yello? Hello? Who is this?” His voice echoed as though he were someplace quiet, and alone.
Leaning away from Sanjay’s arm, Marisa pinched her lip. There was so much she wanted to say to Bernard, but she had no script for it. If she didn’t like what they had—more than friendship, somehow less—it was her own fault. “Oh, Jesus,” she said, and hung up.
A call came in from Carole’s extension. Sanjay grabbed the phone, murmured into it.
She slipped into the corridor. Passing the lunch room, she smelled the hot tang of soup. The elevator doors whooshed open into the lobby. She returned her badge, heart throbbing. Was this what it felt like to let go? She’d wondered how it started. The slide, the turning loose.
Molly got up. Her smile and soft bulges were a welcome sight. “Did you see Sanjay?”
“Yeah. He tried to talk me into staying.”
“What’d you tell him?”
She hesitated, trying to catch her breath. “Oh–I’ll tell you later.”
“Later,” Molly said. “That’s what Mom always said. Later means never, Marisa.”
They had chanted this every time their mother put them off. Later, later means never. Marisa pushed open the door. “Let’s go. You can buy me lunch before you clock in.” She was hungry, she realized. Famished. They exited into the cool, blustery afternoon.
“That’ll be the day,” Molly was saying, when Marisa’s vision cartwheeled and her chest burst into bloom and everywhere she looked it was raining Shirley Temples.
—refers from the words “food experiences” in Elizabeth Stelling’s poem Check Please