A glimpse into the whimsical, weird and compelling debut collection of crafted and surreal stories by Meredith Alling.
Boil water. Remember when you thought it would be funny to take a tour at the Scientology Museum? They showed you a video of a pregnant woman carrying a large pot of boiling water and then spilling it on her egg-shaped belly. She screamed and dropped the pot on the floor and the image froze, then a voiceover came in: A child can remember things from before birth. What can parents do to protect and benefit their child most?
Don’t fill the pot to the point that things can get out of control, but not too low either or else you’ll have pasta stuck to the sides and a white residue that will remind you of your elbows at their worst—chalky and cracked. You never learned that you should put lotion on after the shower or before bed. When you found out that this was common practice, you felt like you’d missed something fundamental about being a woman, like you hadn’t been adequately prepared, and that lotion was just the tip of the iceberg.
Add salt if you want but it isn’t necessary. It might make you feel good though, like you’re in control of something. You might notice your shoulders go back like they never have before as you sprinkle the salt with your fingers, making loose salt circles in the air.
Cover the pot with a lid to speed up the boil. Turn up the radio. There’s an interview with a prison guard who became the star of a low-budget documentary series after taking it upon himself to prove the innocence of a man on death row, resulting in the loss of his job. “I never got married,” the guard says. “And I never had kids. Sometimes I think of the guys like my kids. They can drive you crazy, but you want the best for them.”
You’ll hear the clatter of the lid once the boil is on. Grab a handful of spaghetti from the box and drop a few pieces on the floor, drop one on the hot burner, drop one between the chopping block and the stove. Get the rest into the pot if you can manage that. Use a slotted spoon to coax the spaghetti down, to move it under the water level. Some is going to stick to the sides; it’s OK. Use the spoon.
Once all of the spaghetti is submerged, it’s time to start paying attention to the time. Don’t put the lid back on the pot. Stir occasionally for six to seven minutes. Listen to the prison guard describe shank types. Look at the squash next to the sink and imagine stabbing it with a straightened mattress spring. Look back at the pot and imagine pissing in front of someone else forever.
Once it’s been six minutes, check the spaghetti. Use a fork and taste it. You have the power to decide how you want it to be. If too crunchy, boil for another two to three minutes. Listen to the prison guard say that he’s looking for a job. “If anyone is hiring!” He says with a laugh. “Have you given any thought to another career? Maybe law?” The interviewer asks. “Oh no, not that, no,” the prison guard says. “Advocacy?” The interviewer asks. “Sure, maybe.”
Once you’ve reached your desired consistency, drain the water then return the pasta to the pot on the stove. Add a block of butter. Add salt and pepper. Open a jar of marinara and pour it in. The sound as you stir will be unpleasant. Lotion squished between fingers.
Taste the spaghetti. If it’s bland, add more butter, salt, and pepper. Give it another stir. Once you’re satisfied, get a bowl from the cupboard and use the slotted spoon to serve. Take your bowl and a fork to the kitchen table. Sit down. Hear the ding of the fork in the bowl. Take a bite. Hear your own chewing. Hear the prison guard say, “So much harm is foreseeable.”
Meredith Alling is a writer based in Los Angeles. Her acclaimed debut collection of short stories, SING THE SONG, was published by Future Tense Books. Her website is meredithalling.com.