Mother only packed us Lunchables on special occasions; when my class went to Greenfield village in second grade, the Air and Space Museum in fourth, and the last day before summer. That’s why it was so surprising when I peeked into my brown sack and saw that fluorescent yellow packaging on Tuesday, March 15th—it was a nacho one, my favorite kind. I tore back the plastic and plunged a tortilla chip into the fake, school-bus yellow cheese, followed by a delicate, nearly transparent layer of salsa.
“Aww… no fair, Jane’s got a Lunchable!” I was the talk of the cafeteria for the rest of the period. Kids I barely knew coming out of the woodwork to offer up trades. Except for Brad Meyer’s, he just plunged his fist into my chips, grabbed a handful, and marched away to sit on the window ledge. There was a rumor that Brad’s parents had gotten divorced, but no one was brave enough to ask.
As fantastic as it was, I had all but forgotten about the Lunchable by the time I got home from school. Our history teacher, Ms. Clydestine, aka the Dragon Lady, had piled on the homework. We had to read the whole chapter on World War I and write a draft of our first essay of the year, mine was supposed to be on the Great Depression. From what I’d read, it was basically like the 14th of the month, every day.
Dad got paid on the fifteenth. He worked construction, and by the time the fourteenth rolled around we were always scraping for pennies. I always knew because I’d catch Mother searching for loose change as she did laundry, going through the couch cushions, and keeping the portions light when she made dinner. Then the fifteenth would roll around and life would resume as usual. It’s hard to imagine living like the fourteenth every day because that’s when Mother would fight with dad the most. I’d hide in my room and bury my head under the covers to avoid their screams, but I could still hear their muffled voices and it made me cry.
As I walked into our cramped living room that afternoon, I began to wonder if Lunchable day had anything to do with it being the fifteenth. But then I noticed Mother slumped on the couch with a box of Kleenex in her lap, her mascara leaking all over her face, her hair all over the place. Usually, she was all neat and fancy, but today she had on a faded pair of ripped jeans and an old t-shirt. From the next room, I could hear dad arguing with someone on his cell phone, but the words were unrecognizable. “What’s going on?” I asked.
She looked up at me blankly and muttered, “ask your dad,” then grabbed a tissue and tried to blow her brains out.
I spent the next five hours sitting cross-legged with my back pressed against the thin wall that separated my room from my dad’s office. He talked first to someone he kept calling Marty, his voice filled with urgency as he politely asked about available positions. After some pleading, he hung up all flustered, took several deep breaths, and I was worried he might accidentally swallow himself, but then he dialed another number. This call was to Mr. Livingston, his boss, whom he’d worked for longer than I’d been alive. I met him a few times at Christmas parties. Each time, he’d call me ‘munchkin’ which made me want to vomit, and then he’d pat me on the head like an animal. “Please, sir… I have a family. I’ll take a lower wage. I’ll work more hours. Anything, please,” he begged. But by the time he hung up he was just as upset as when the call began. He made several more calls, each more depressing than the last. Finally, I heard him throw down his phone and sink into his old armchair.
Gathering my courage, I peeked around the corner and watched him pulling on his thick black hair. I just stood there until he noticed my little face, “Hey, what are you still doing up, kiddo?” He asked calmly like everything was okay.
“Are you okay?” I asked, my lips tripping all over the words.
He sighed and came forward to kneel before me and took my tiny hands in his strong, rough ones. “Listen to me,” he said softly, “I don’t want you to worry about stuff like this.”
“No buts! Let me worry about this. You just focus on school, and being my sweet, brave little girl.” He paused for a moment waiting for the Earth to steady him. “Okay?” I nodded because what else could I do. Then he kissed my forehead and sent me off to bed.
I laid awake for hours that night unable to quiet my mind. Shortly after midnight, just as I had begun to fall asleep, I heard my door squeak open. My Mother slid inside and sat on the edge of my bed stroking my hair. I kept my eyes mostly closed, worried I’d get in trouble for not being asleep. She’d changed out of her ripped blue jeans to a fresh pair with her knee-length black peacoat wrapping her uptight. “I love you, little girl. Be good.”
She stood slowly, but on her way out the door, I stopped her. “Mom?”
Her shoulders jolted a little, “Yeah?”
“Why did you pack me a Lunchable today?”
“What?” she asked, wrinkling her brow.
“You packed me a Lunchable, you only do that on special occasions.”
She sighed, “Oh, I didn’t pack your lunch today, your father did. You’ll have to ask him.”
She said, smiling as she closed the door. I made a mental note to ask him, but by morning I’d completely forgotten about the Lunchable, and Mother wasn’t there to remind me.
Tenley Sablatzky grew up just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in English and creative writing and went on to complete a masters of library science at Wayne State University focusing on health informatics and data management. Since early 2020 she has worked as the medical librarian for the Undergraduate Medical Academy at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. In 2022, she will earn her MFA in fiction from Arcadia University.