For a week, the whole house feels pain of one kind or another. Delma’s in one bed crying, Dad’s moaning and cussing in his. But the only sickness Mother and I feel is a mean rumbling in our bellies from lack of food. Since Dad’s been bedridden, we don’t have any gambling money to spend on groceries.
Mother walks over to the kitchen cabinets and looks inside. No salt, no pepper, not even a lousy piece of stale bread is sitting in there. No sir, there isn’t a dang thing to eat. She goes to the last cabinet. There, all by itself, sits a medium-sized onion. She takes it out, holds it in both her hands and stares at it like she’s thinking a roast was fixing to pop out of it. At least that’s what I’m thinking, when my mouth gets all watery.
She peels that onion real slow, like it’s a prized Hereford being slaughtered for steak. She slices it up just as slowly as she’d peeled it. She puts it in a skillet and adds a little water, looks at it and adds more water.
The onion soup doesn’t taste like onion or even warm water. It tastes like cold hunger seasoned with poverty and sprinkled with fear. And the stuff that settled on the bottom of the cup? That’s anger. I drink it anyway. I feel like a Devil’s Claw, stacked up and falling back down on my own self. It’s like being slapped without even having a hand laid on me. Maybe it’s because the slap I feel is on the inside instead of the outside, a slap like a burning face just as uninvited.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, a story about my father.