Helen Gallegos Evans has tutored Los Angeles students in English and college prep for over 19 years. Her stories appear in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, The Amaranth Review, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and elsewhere.
Your Mashed Potatoes
Look, I know you wanted to be there but you weren’t. I know you don’t do it on purpose, but it’s always the same thing. First, the phone rings. I answer and listen. I can tell it’s you. Your voice is whispery. You speak slowly as though you have the bubonic plague and mere hours to live. Hi, it’s me. Can’t come. Caught something. Don’t want you to get it. My, you’re so benevolent. You want to protect me. You go on, My co-worker came in sick. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Another pat on your back: You want me to thank you for reneging on our plans. Or you use the other excuse: My husband has a killer migraine. I better stay. You’re Florence Nightingale on duty.
I got your message. There is a problem – and it’s your flakiness.
Do you remember last Thanksgiving? You were supposed to bring the mashed potatoes, the dish you bragged about. I was at fault too. I accepted your offer. I stayed up for days cleaning, burning calories for the two servings of everything, including your mashed potatoes.
Thanksgiving morning, I rose before sunrise to put the 22-pound turkey, stuffed with cornbread dressing, in the oven. I made the pies. Do you know you can use soymilk to make a pumpkin pie? I double-checked my list until everything was ready. Everyone, all fifteen of us, would eat at 3:00pm sharp. I used the table runner we had crocheted in high school. I topped it with a cornucopia filled with real fruit and leaves. The red candles looked beautiful on the white linen tablecloth. Flawless.
Sweeping the kitchen floor of evidence of my preparations, I envisioned the perfect colors of my dinner plate: vibrant green from the lemony steamed broccoli. The orange of the maple-sweetened yams. The turkey’s caramelized brown next to the yams, and the fresh cranberry sauce, a dollop of red. The white from your mashed potatoes cradling my velvety brown gravy – a Bon Appetit cover photo.
I even remembered you making me hike Devil’s Punchbowl that Thanksgiving after my mother’s death. I was so mad, and we were so broke, crackers and cheese with a bottle of wine turned out pretty good. You cried recounting how Mom had slipped you 10 bucks here and there so you could buy groceries. It felt so good to laugh about my freshman orange hair fiasco, mom’s experiment gone wrong. And it meant a lot that you came to school the next day with orange hair too.
Then, the phone call. The memory causes my neck to tense up. My “Hello” followed by a moment of silence, and again saying, “Hello,” pushing the phone tightly against my ear. I can barely talk. My throat hurts, and my nose drips with greenish snot. Believe me. You don’t want this. I told you to get better.
I wanted to say: I knew you’d flake.
I had one hour. I checked my pantry. Seven potatoes. For thirteen people, you need 5 pounds of potatoes. I searched in vain for a box of instant. I made mashed potatoes with seven potatoes. They barely filled a cereal bowl. I figured, enough for two tablespoons each. I worried, though. Darlene was coming. You know how generously she serves herself. I decided to put her at the end of the serving line. Do you know what happened? Oh, of course, you don’t. You weren’t there.
I lined everyone up, with picky Linda first and Darlene last. Then Linda let Darlene and Meg in front of her. The mashed potatoes went down quickly. Yes, most of us went without mashed potatoes. And no, I couldn’t be a mashed potato sheriff – I thought it was evident that everyone should… never mind.
Am I bitter? Nah, you know me. I can shake things off. I’ve had plenty of practice. By the way, the soymilk pumpkin pie was delicious. You should’ve had a piece. Don’t worry. I still love you.
Just bring yourself.