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Chapter 11: Scene 38: Back in the dayroom


ThinkLink: If you had to live away from your home, what foods would you miss the most?

        Back in the dayroom , I stay clear of Randy and his bunch. They're teasing a wimpy kid over by the TV. I drop down next to Pat.

       "Bad news?"

       "Same old stuff. I'm worried about my Mom, though. She's seeing too much of a guy who's got a ranch in the next county ."

       "So what's wrong with that?"

       "I don't know exactly, but it just makes me mad is all."

       Before dinner Tony pulls Pat off into a corner and it looks like they're talking serious stuff. I can't hear what they're saying, but Tony waves his hands around like he's excited. He's been so down lately, it must be big to jack him up like that. It's probably the same old stuff, telling Pat how he's going to be a famous burglar .

       I sink back on the old vinyl couch and think about the ranch . Even the air smells different there, and it's not overcast and gray all the time like it is here. Sometimes, when I walk up on the hill back of the barn , it's so clear I can see all the way over into the state of Washington. And the sky's so blue and the wheat fields are so yellow, it looks like it could be a painting.

       "Time to eat." Davis calls to Mr. Ferguson. "Line 'em up."

       Inside, B-wing guys unload the carts and put trays of food out on the counter. I bet to myself Tony's going to say: "If this is Saturday, it must be hamburgers."

       "If it's hamburgers, this must be Saturday," Tony says, sliding into a chair. He moves smooth and lazy like Lori's cat. I sit down next to Tony, making sure he's between me and Randy at the next table. Since I've been back, I stick close to Tony. Randy doesn't act like he even sees me. Breaks my heart.

       Pat drowns his meat in a red pool of ketchup. "The only thing that makes this -- this gray turd -- like a hamburger is it's in a bun."

       "Not much like McDonald's," Randy agrees. "Here they boil 'em in soapy water."

       "Shit!" Pat gags. "You're gonna make me puke ." He takes another big bite and talks with his mouth full. "Can't wait to have some of that good home cooking. Only two things my Mom can cook. Best is hamburgers. Next best is canned spaghetti."

       Tony changes the subject , like he usually does when we talk about moms or home. "Now me," he says, "I gotta learn to eat with the high rollers , have steak and that kinda grub. And after dinner I get the good looking babe ."

       We snort at that and then go back to eating. The meals at home I remember best are ones Mom fixed for the crew at harvest time. We'd set up tables out under the trees next to the house. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob I'd picked for her that morning, tossed salad right out of the garden, then apple pie with lots of cinnamon . I flop a limp fry over the edge of my tray.

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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