Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole
You must login to vote
A small story by
The time is 7:36 a.m. It is Christmas Eve in Minnesota, and everywhere else, but mainly in Minnesota. It is snowing wildly. It won’t ever let up. Jack Frost is biting Chad’s cheeks to shreds.
Chadwick Chip Chandler is in a rocking chair going back-forward, forward-back. It’s the only thing he got when his grandmother passed away. His sister got a house. His brother got a yacht. His parents got rich. He got a rocking chair. Well, it was all he wanted anyway. He already had a house and a boat and while he wasn’t rich, he was certainly well off.
He became well off when he was twenty-two years old. He invented a chair with straps that forced the sitter into better posture. It worked like orthodontic braces for the back. He called it the Posturepolatic XL.
Chad is thirty-two now. He hates Christmas, always did. He feels too awkward around his family. They feel awkward around him too, but it doesn’t bother them much. They’re used to it. They only ask superficial questions and Chad can tell that it comes from politeness, not concern. Well, politeness should only be used for strangers. And this is so they don’t get offended, go crazy, and chop off your head. You never know these days. Right?
Chad is rocking back-forward, forward-back. He’s peeling his fingernails apart, piece by piece, layer by layer. He doesn’t know he’s doing it. He’s too caught up trying to decide whether he should go to his family’s for Christmas or hide in his house, and what excuse could he come up with for hiding. Last year it was the snow, too dangerous to drive in. The year before it was work, out of town promoting his chairs. The two years before that were both snow. Well, he’s burned the snow excuse to ash and he isn’t selling chairs anymore, since a company called Vertapro invented a better, more comfortable version in fifty different colors.
The phone ring-a-ling-lings. He knows its his mother calling to get an ETA on his showing up, or his father calling to ask him to pick up something from the store on his way over, or his sister or brother calling because they’d been coaxed by his mother, because she’s getting tired of calling. His sister and brother didn’t give a shit either way. They were used to not seeing him for Christmas. They were just going to call out of politeness, pretending to be so loving that they could annoy the piss out of him if they wanted and Chad couldn’t be mad at them for it. Well, what else could they do to show they were family?
Ring-a-ling-long, phone calls.
“Hi, son. Where are you now?” Mother asks.
“Home. You just called me here.” Chad says this to make his mother feel dumb. Now that’s family. That’s love. It can’t work though. No one can make her feel dumb, or at least she won’t allow anyone the pleasure of knowing it. She’s lived with the same man for thirty-nine years. He tried to make her feel dumb every single day. He only felt dumb for trying.
“Oh, that’s right. I wasn’t thinking. My mind is in these pies.” She was cooking enough pies to feed a small village. Usually one of the pies would be eaten and the rest would be hauled to the dump with the other food created for the sake of creation. Now that’s America, baby. Waste, waste, waste.
“So when are you coming,” his mother questioned again. “You are still coming, right? I cooked your favorite dish this year, just for you. You should leave soon before the snow gets too rough. Now come on. What are you doing?”
“Well, put your shoes and jacket on and get your skinny butt over here. I made your favorite.”
His favorite is Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole. He despises the stuff. He was just being polite one day when no one else would. Now she makes it every time he visits and he eats it with a big, dumb grin. See where politeness get you?
“So. . .” she trails off waiting for him to obey.
“I’m putting my shoes on now,” he tells her. His shoes were already on. He just wanted to shut her up. He was just obeying politely.
“Good. We’ll be here waiting for you. Diane and Lane are already here. They’re looking at your father’s record collection with him. And. . .”
“I’m walking out the door now,” he says. “Bye.” He hangs the phone up. She’s still on the other end saying her goodbyes to him. She knows he’s not there. She just didn’t want her husband and children to know she’d been hung up on by her own son. She didn’t want to feel dumb.
She sets the telephone into its cradle and goes into the kitchen. She has to begin making the Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole for Chad. She told him it was already made. She lied. She wanted him to think that she was counting on him showing up and was so excited about it that she cooked his favorite. Well, truthfully, she was expecting him to make an excuse and never show. It backfired on her. Now she has to spend another hour in the kitchen making that awful Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole gunk, that no one eats except for Chad and that no one likes, especially Chad. Even she doesn’t touch the stuff.
It’s 8:10 a.m. now. Jack Frost has eaten most of Chad’s face. He stand out of the rocker. It creaks back and forth a few times and settles still. The creaking reminds him of his grandmother.
He could picture her in that chair, rocking and rocking, knitting and talking, and never minding all politeness. She had a way with words and most were made of blunt honesty. Well, the truth hurts and also sets you free. Chad always felt free at his grandmother’s, listening to her rant about the neighbors, the celebrities, his parents, anyone, on and on, all day long.
“Look at that old bastard,” she said one day about Ronald Reagan. “He’s still a shitty actor. I bet that’s why that guy tried to kill him. You ever see one of Reagan’s movies?. . .No? Good. Every one of them: shit, shit, and more shit. You’d swear shit was gonna start squirting out the TV.”
Some days, when Chad’s house is silent and he’s in bed staring at the ceiling trying to sleep, he can hear the rocking chair creak like this: Ree-err. Ree-err. Ree-err. He sleeps the best on these nights. As far as he was concerned, the house, the boat, the money: They could shove it all up their big, polite assholes.
“I guess I better go,” he told himself in the mirror.
Ten minutes later Chad turns the key in the car’s ignition. He’d been sitting there staring at his house, hating it for being only forty-five miles from his parents’. Well, he made up his mind in that ten minutes that he’d sell his chair company while it was still worth a dime and he’d sell that house that’s so close to his parents. He’d take all that money and move far away, possibly overseas, possibly France. He heard they were rude. It would be perfect. Maybe he could even meet a pretty French girl who’d treat him like shit. They’d fall in love. It could happen.
Though the ride was only forty-five miles away, it’d take almost two hours to get there in the weather. Chad didn’t mind. He dreads arriving at his mother and father’s, having to be polite and looking at that same old Christmas record collection and requesting songs, and explaining what he does with all his spare time while the rest of the world bust their asses and give them more explanations about why he doesn’t have a wife yet and then hear the lectures against being a playboy. And then at the end of it all, he’d have to eat two plates of that damn Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole.
He dreads it. It makes his head hurt and eyes burn and stomach turn and his dreams of Paris feel impossible.
He switches the radio on, finds a station that isn’t playing pop music first, then country, then rap, and classical and rock or music all together. Frustrated, he finally settles for a morning show called Dizzy Jeff and Crazy Mike. They’re talking about kids and Christmas and kids’ Christmas presents and how rotten kids were these days because they never appreciated anything they got. Even if they got exactly what they wanted, they were ungrateful for it, since it was Christmas and they expected to get it, they deserved to get, they’d better get it or else all fits of Hell was going to break loose and before you know it the guilt-filled parents are driving like maniacs through the snow to find that special, overpriced gift their child needed so badly. And well, Santa never lifted a finger to help.
Chad pulls out of his driveway, conveniently located on an old highway. From here it is an easy ride to his parents’ with only two turns to make. The rest was listening to the radio and making sure the car didn’t slide off the road.
Today Chad isn’t too worried about sliding off the road. He’s going much too slow for that to happen. Car after car pass him angrily with horns blasting, flipping him the bird, the universal signal to say: Fuck you. Chad didn’t flip it back. He didn’t mind. Some part of him liked it and agreed completely.
“Yeah. Fuck me, ya pricks,” with a cheer.
Chad veered left and veered right and got passed car after car, while Dizzy Jeff and Crazy Mike went on to talk about how dumb Christmas was to celebrate these days, since most people didn’t actually worship Jesus. They just wanted an excuse to get drunk and get presents and get a day off of work. Chad agreed with them again. He didn’t believe in any kind of Christ. He didn’t believe so much that not even one little part of him could subconsciously consider the idea of a god of any shape, matter, form. Now this was confusing to him, since he also believe that his grandmother’s ghost would rock back-forward and forward-back in her favorite chair still to this day. Ghosts weren’t impossible. God was. So what now? All this drove Chad nuts.
As far as Chad was concerned, all holidays could go to Hell, right along with birthdays. Who in their right mind needed all that? What was the point? Why not celebrate meaningless existence instead? Now that was something to be excited and happy about - the luck of human evolution and the luck of being born one. Now this was something miraculous and worth getting drunk and fat over. And nothing else.
Chad was thinking this when another car passed him on the shoulder, honking its horn obnoxiously with a bird finger waving out of the window understandably.
He drove passed a billboard that read: MONEY PROBLEMS? GOD CAN HELP! He thought it fitting of this particular holiday, since everyone went broke buying gifts, all over God’s birthday. Chad laughed and drove on slowly.
Another billboard came rolling by. It said: HAPPINESS IS SUBMISSION TO GOD. Happiness, he thought. Now that is funny.
Along the way he saw two things that really got him thinking and had him worked up. Neither one did he laugh about.
The first was a dog lying on the shoulder of the road. It’s insides were hanging from it’s belly. It’s head was flattened into the grooves that were etched into the cement to wake sleeping drivers.
It seemed the dog had been run over purposely with the simple idea of killing a dog, a stranger dog, as if the world wasn’t becoming harsh enough on it already.
This got Chad thinking about how bad off dogs had it. They weren’t lucky enough have evolved into anything similar to humans. They were stuck being tormented by higher species. And the humans, the humans being so lucky, who were also gifted and doomed with free will and complex thoughts had killed this dog and countless others, for no reason at all, except that they wanted to kill something. They wanted to feel powerful as the car went blump-blump over the dog and the dog went squish-squish into the pavement. And it wasn’t just dogs. No animals were excluded from human harshness and control.
Chad hated being human, hated being born the lucky one.
The next thing Chad came across was a human, an old man. The man was sitting in a pile of crisp, white snow. He was frozen there. He was stiff as a board and as dead as the dog. Chad was driving slow enough o see the man quite clearly. He could guess the man was homeless by the rags he wore and the grocery cart behind him full of falling snow. The man’s eyes were wide open, frozen that way. Chad also saw that the man was smiling. It was as if the moment before his body gave, the old man felt it, and was happy about it, about leaving the world for good.
Chat thought, maybe he wasn’t so thrilled about being lucky either.
And Chad felt sick again, for being human and allowing this sort of thing to happen. What if he hadn’t been so lucky to be born human and then so lucky to have invented the Posturepolatic Chair? He could be that man now, frozen to death, in death, in a pile of growing snow, hidden from all until spring, on an old highway, his only possession a stolen grocery cart full of snow.
Chad felt dumb for hating politeness and Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole. This man in the snow, that’s all he needed. Well, it was for the best anyway. The man never liked being alive. He didn’t feel lucky at all and never did. Nothing could have changed that.
A quarter mile up the road Dizzy Jeff and Crazy Mike announced the end of their program. They were off to spend Christmas with their big, dumb, polite families. They ended saying, “We’ll see ya next week. Merry Christmas.”
Well, Chad finally disagreed with them. He wasn’t going to see them next week. He wasn’t going to see anyone ever again. He was going to drive his car right into the first tree he saw and put an end to all this foolish human participation.
There weren’t many trees on the old highway. Most of it was barren land once used as a hayfarm.
It took more than twenty minutes for the first tree to appear and it came directly after a curve. Chad couldn’t risk missing it. He didn’t want to be stuck in a hill of snow on a hay farm, alive. He wanted to be dead, dead.
So on he drove. Finally after another twenty minutes of scanning the road, he saw it, a giant oak. It was tall and gave him an easy location to follow. And it was wide, too. It was an easy target to hit.
Chad pushed his foot into the pedal, pressed it all the way down. The engine roared. It was the first time he’d ever done that. It felt exhilarating. The tree was coming closer and closer. Before long he’d be closer than humanly possibly to a tree. He’d be part tree.
And the tires clung to the road like glue. They didn’t slide one bit. They seemed happy too, to be ending it all like this. They were tired of rolling and rolling around for nothing.
Before he could think about changing his mind, Chad closed in on the tree.
“Merry Christmas!” he howled and closed his eyes.
Chad opens his eyes again. It’s the first time he’s done that since Christmas Eve. Now it is November of the following year. A nurse is there. She sees it happen, the very instant. She was giving him a bath with a sponge. His body is still raw from the casts he was covered in until just last month.
The nurse’s heart feels faint. She’s so happy and excited and thrilled. She thanks God in the back of her head. She had been caring for Chad since last Christmas Eve. She had prayed hundred of times for him to wake from the coma.
She laughs and cries and squeezed and kisses his hand. She rubs his forehead and thanks God again. She isn’t being professional for certain. She had fantasies of Chad coming out of the coma and making love to her right there in the hospital bed. It seemed to her a dream come true when his eyes finally flipped open. But then, by chance, the doctor came in to remind her that the patient in 424 needed a bath too. The patient in 424 was an old, fat man with blisters covering his skin.
The doctor immediately calls Chad’s parents who cry and cry and thank God over and over again, all the way to the hospital from Paris where they were vacationing for their fortieth anniversary.
The rush into Chad’s room with tears still streaming down their cheeks. His mother covers him with sloppy kisses. Her tears and spit wet his face. Chad isn’t at all comfortable with this, since he’s having problems working his muscles and can’t wipe his face, or push his mother off of him.
And he would push her off too, if he could, since he had no clue who the hell this hysterical, crazy lady was.
He doesn’t even know who he himself is. He doesn’t know he has a brother or sister who don’t care much or a Dad who likes collecting old, crappy records. And he never heard of a Posturepolatic Chair. He doesn’t know that he’d been in a very serious car accident and had been in a coma for nearly a year.
He has amnesia and doesn’t know a damn thing.
They’d try to tell him things and help him remember, but it was no use. He didn’t recall a thing and a lot of times he didn’t believe a word the strangers named Mom and Dad told him.
It began with this:
“Tell me again what happened to me,” he said to his mother.
“Well, it was all my fault,” and tears swelled in her eyes. “I should have never rushed you into driving in that weather. It was all my fault.”
And he’d get tired of her acting this way and he went, “Yes, but what the hell happened to me? Not you! Me!” He wasn’t worried the least bit about being polite.
And she told him like she’d tell him every time after that he asked. “You were driving your little blue grand prix. Remember that car?” He’d tell her no, to keep going. “It was snowing hard and your car slipped off the road and you ran into a tree.”
“It’s all my fault. You were in a hurry, because of. . .” Sob, sob, sob.
And Chad didn’t know why, but the story she kept telling him didn’t quite fit together right in his mind. There was something wrong about it. He didn’t know what, but he knew there was.
The truth was, of course, that he had tried to kill himself. He was the only on who knew that and he didn’t know that anymore. He didn’t know jackshit anymore.
And he would be dead now if he had kept his eyes open. That little blue grand prix veered to the left easily. The right end of it is what caught the tree. That was it. The car spun a few times and flipped on its back. That was it.
If he had kept his eyes open he would’ve placed the tree right in the center of the hood and wrapped that grand prix all the way around it, turning his body into a soup on the floorboard.
Well, he closed his eyes and now he lives with his parents, trying to remember things and get his life together.
Sometimes he has strange dreams he thinks are memories. The dreams place him in Paris going forward-back, back-forward in an old, rocking chair while a pretty girl with a foreign accent curses him from a different room.
His mother assures him it never happened, but like her version of the car accident, he doesn’t believe a word she says. Some days he doesn’t believe his real name is Chadwick Chip Chandler. He doesn’t believe it because its such an awful name. Who would do that to their child?
And he doesn’t have to believe anything, since he doesn’t know jackshit.
Well, he knows that he can’t stand Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole. Besides that, he doesn’t know jackshit.
His mother made it for him the first day he came home from the hospital.
“This is your favorite, Chip,” she said.
Phew! he spit the green slop out. “You trying to fucking kill me, woman?”
“This is your favorite!” she gasped.
“Well, I must’ve been nuts before the accident. I’m not nuts now.”
She never cooked it again for as long as any of them ever lived. Eventually they all learned to live together in harmony, without politeness, and without Green Bean Sweet Pea Tuna Noodle Casserole.
After all was done, things were not so bad.
jesuschriss; aka jimmy condomhead (of jimmy condomhead and the rubberband peanut stand, featured on myspace music); aka cgstarling; aka johnny longhead; aka lib raulphf; aka jc bibble; aka jc; aka christof gee starling; aka (jcgs); aka