Friday, July 13, 2012

Mystery Meal

“It’s all very well filling your cupboards with cans,” Mabel complained, “but they all look exactly the same when the labels come off.”

Mabel and Dorothy were standing in the kitchen contemplating a table piled high with silver cans, all pulled from Mabel’s shelves after the flood. The colorful paper descriptions of what had been inside were reduced to mush and swept out with the last of the water, and Mabel, in her hurry to rescue everything she could save from her pantry, had pushed the cans hither and thither, so that now she was at a loss.

Dorothy picked one up and held it to her ear, shaking it slightly. “Sounds like it could be peaches,” she said. “Or maybe peas.” She put it down. “Or spaghetti.”

Mabel leaned against the counter and sighed. All the advertising she’d seen in the woman’s magazines had made much of the indestructibility of cans, and how they could bring endless variety to your diet. They were a boon for women like her. She’d never been much of a cook, and relished the chance to do away with the “bothersome preparation” that took up so much of her time. She liked to think she was being modern.

“It’ll have to be mystery meals from now on,” she said. “Bob won’t like it one bit.”

“How about we open a can and see?” suggested Dorothy. “I’m famished after all that cleaning.”

“You pick,” said Mabel. “Pick something good. Pick something tasty.”

Dorothy looked at the cans, stacked like a gleaming metal sandcastle, and reached out for one on the second layer. She withdrew it carefully, and replaced it with one from the top. “Here,” she said. “Please let it be fruit salad.”

Mabel opened the can and tipped its contents out onto a plate. It made a sucking sound. A cylindrical golden blob sat there, shapes buried within its mysterious jelly. She leaned forward to sniff it. It wobbled slightly. “Chicken,” she said.

The two women stood there and looked at it mournfully in the waning light. What was there to say? Mabel pulled the two handles of the can opener open and shut, open and shut, then placed it on the counter next to the jellified poultry.

Dorothy pursed her lips and lifted her eyebrows. Time passed. No words were necessary. They just knew.

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