After the How are yous and We are fines, Mrs. Pringle leads us into the dining room, where we are greeted with splendor. (S-p-l-e-n-d-O-r. Missed that one, too.) The table is set with a fancy lace cloth that you can see through to another one that is a turquoise blue. The silverware is shiny and has curly scrolls on it. The plates are big and colorless but they have a gold band around the edge that reminds me of a movie I saw with English castles in all their splendor, so I think these must be English dishes.
Mrs. Pringle tells me where to sit—next to my mom. Tommy and my dad take their seats across from us.
Mr. Pringle stands at one end of the table, and Mrs. Pringle brings in a plate with the biggest hunk of meat I’ve ever seen, and sets it down in front of him. “Roast beef,” my mom whispers to me. He takes this huge fork and stabs it into the beef, holding it down, like maybe he thinks it’s not all the way dead yet. Then he picks up a knife that looks like a small sword, and begins slicing. Mrs. Pringle goes back into the kitchen and brings out the rest of the food on a tray—bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, and peas.
When everyone has a plate full of the gorgeous food, Mrs. Pringle tells Tommy to say Grace. He says the quick “God is great” one, and then we all say “Amen.” Tommy looks over at me and grins.
The food is so full of majesty that I want to roll my eyes toward Heaven. I’m seeped in roast beef happiness when Mrs. Pringle tells Tommy to get to work on his peas. That’s how she puts it. “Tommy, you need to get to work on your peas.”
Tommy makes a face. “I don’t like peas.”
“There are boys and girls in China who are starving,” she says.
“Not any more,” I say. “They’ve got fast food now just like us.” This little tidbit, which I have to admit might not be a true fact, gets me a look from my dad that says, Stay out of it.
Tommy looks embarrassed, but an order is an order. He scoops up a mound of peas, opens his mouth, wide as a dump truck, and drops them in. Then he takes a big gulp of his milk, and down the hatch they go, with barely a chew.
The whole time Mr. Pringle is studying his plate like it’s a test he’s going to fail, while Mrs. Pringle watches Tommy like a warden. Once the pile of peas is all mowed down, Mrs. Pringle says, “Good job, Tommy.”
I go back to dipping into the mashed potatoes with its little shiny pool of gravy, and stabbing one pea after another with my fork. I think it should be said that I like peas. I continue to saw away at the beef, which is deliciously tender.
I hear a little hiccupping sound about then, followed by a groan, but bigger, with agony thrown in. It’s the unmistakable sound of upchucking.
Tommy is bent over, retching. On his plate is a mound of lumpish green vomit, some of it oozing into the mashed potatoes and the beef. My stomach does a little flip flop, but doesn’t let me down.
“Young man,” Mrs. Pringle says. “It looks to me like you haven’t finished your peas after all.” Tommy is white, nearly as white as the milk he drank. He looks scared, but he speaks up. “I did too,” he says, kind of cross. “I ate them all.”
Mrs. Pringle looks down to the other end of the table, where her husband cowers. (C-o-w-E r-s. Got that one right.) “Tom, she says, loudly, “Tom.”
“Go ahead, Tommy,” Mr. Pringle says. “Mind your mother.”
Tommy picks up his spoon. I close my eyes. This time I’m really praying. Scrape, goes his spoon against the plate. Scrape, scrape. It’s a high pitched, grating sound, like a tiny scream. When it stops, I open my eyes to see that all the green is gone. I want to say something to Tommy but he’s staring at his plate, and I can tell he’s working hard to keep from crying.
Did I mention the napkins? The Pringles use cloth ones that are the same color as the table cloth that’s under the lace one. My dad throws down his napkin, and scoots back his chair. Then my mother shoots up, folds her napkin, neat as you please, lays it on the table, and says to me, “Lollie, we’re going,” and we do.
Tonight my diary will overflow its banks when I pour into it this tale full of woe and wonder, of how I came to realize that I am madly in love with Tommy Pringle.
Linda Lowe received her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of California, Irvine. A chapbook of her poems, "Karmic Negotiations" was published by Sarasota Theatre Press, and several of her short plays have been informally staged in Hollywood. One of her stories appeared last year in The Pedestal Magazine. She lives with her husband in Southern California.