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Jen Stein

Miss Maude serves a sainted meatloaf

For this week’s special, Maude felt called to serve
meatloaf. She crumbled saltines into Ziploc bags.
She added pepper and paprika, salt and garlic,
thyme and snips of patience - endless patience.

When she was little, her mama always said, “If you
can master your tongue, not only do you run less
risk of being beaten, but perhaps you may even,
one day, make your husband better.” Was that

her mama? Was that Saint Monica? Was it the card
that her mama kept in her wallet, a picture of a
thin-shouldered woman with her chin down, eyes
up heavenward, blue swaddling around her face

to hide the bruises marking her cheek, her neck?
Maude couldn’t remember. She laid out five pounds
of ground chuck. She pressed communion wafers
into the meat and poured on top of that the spices

and crackers, two eggs. Monica, the patron saint
of changing your man through submission. Maude
opened the pantry. She found hellfire pickles,
brined with jalapeno and chiles. She put rubber

gloves on, minced the pickles, threw them on top
of the meat. She found tabasco and ghost pepper
hot sauce her cousin bought her, and added
liberal amounts. She minced up two onions and

eight cloves of garlic, five fresh jalapenos with
seed and stem alike, minced and minced and then
pulped by the butt of her cleaver, into River Styx.
Her eyes were red-rimmed, stinging, lit with holy fire.

Cassie wrote “Saint Monica’s Meatloaf” on the
sandwich board, in script of green. She drew flames
around it, licking up over the letters. She drew an
asterisk. “*eat at your own risk.” she wrote below.

Miss Maude saves the last slice

Maude sets aside a portion of the food for the day
for the middle son of old Joe. She knows

he’ll stop by on his way home from school.
She’ll give him a brown paper bag

filled with a tin of hotdish. Some days it’s tater tots
with cheese and beef, some days

spaghetti and meatballs baked with vegetables
and cream, butter and salt. She knows

that old Joe doesn’t have plates, so these she sends
with them. She knows that this child

is partial to biscuits, the kind that drop from spoons
to swell and soak chicken and gravy, they

rebirth in golden flaking when they come in contact
with the boy’s hands and crumble as he

stuffs them into his mouth. He looks around with dark eyes.
He makes sure nobody is coming to take this from him

he needs to know that nobody will eat them before
he can eat them. It is what he calls his own –

Maude gives him extra. Some nights he will return
at the end of the night, if there is pie he

will ask Maude if he can wash the dishes or take out
the trash. Maude saves him pie, in case this

is a night he will stop by. Maude knows a time will
come where he will stop coming. She feeds

him for now and seasons each dish with oils and prayer
to anoint him against what is coming. She sets

her hands to working knowing he will never be full
but she has to try anyway, to believe that

maybe he will keep coming, after all. Maybe she will see
him until he is twenty five and he will marry.

Maybe she will see him in a wooden box, there is no real
way to tell. Maude fattens him up as best she can.

Miss Maude belongs among the wildflowers

Maude wiped down the counters – afternoon before evening rush
and she was dancing, her hips swaying back and forth as she listened
to Tom Petty. You belong among the wildflowers, you belong in a boat

out at sea. She closed her eyes. She felt the chord progression arcing
along her spine, small lightning bolts. The bell above the door jangled.
She looked up and saw Jack. “What’s good, Maude?” he asked. He was

creased at the eyes, the laugh lines grew deeper when he smiled at her.
“Hey Jack, you’re in late today.” She got him a cup and poured him coffee.
“Coming to see you.” He accepted the coffee and stopped her, a hand

on her arm. It was warm and rough-skinned – Maude could feel the heat
transfer, she wondered if he left an imprint, a B-minor chord strung in
her hair like apple blossoms – then the E and the A in her mouth, taking

the strength from her lip, her tongue. Run away, the music urged her.
Maude found her breath and moved his hand off her arm. She moved
around the counter to where he was sitting. She picked a leaf off his

work shirt. “What’s good, Jack?” she asked. His hand moved to her hip.
He stood up and moved her in an awkward circle, dancing, humming
off-key in her hair. She pressed her cheek to his shoulder, smelling

the day’s hot work – motor oil, sweat, an undercurrent of cut hay, sweet
after a spring rain, of ferment and fruit. He smelled like a haven, or a
Dionysian banquet – she wanted to bite his shoulder, to draw him into

her there, right there. One hand on her hip, one on the small of her back
pulling her against him – she wanted to grab his hair in both hands
and kiss that humming silent. The song ended and she pulled away.

“Let me get you some pie.” She went to the kitchen, left him there.
She hiked up her skirt, slid her hand into her panties. She prayed until
her cheeks glowed, breathless harlequin, she prayed until she was free.

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