she had been awake since 9AM, which, on a sunday, hadn’t happened since she had been a christian and would go to services. in bed, she read a book and sat a few others near her pillow. she checked her e-mail and cell phone. there was a curious absence in her stomach where familiar growls and pangs of hunger would have been weeks ago, but illness took away her appetite most of the time. still, she knew, laying bored on top of her sheets, that she hadn’t eaten anything since a slice of french loaf the day before and that she needed to eat.
although her appetite was gone this afternoon and she was more tired today than yesterday, she knew by the way the hairs on her arms stood up when she looked at the bread cabinet that she needed something more substantial than her recent and mononucleosis-enforced diet of toast and Halls mentholated cough drops. friday, she’d eaten an extravagant meal, and nearly all of the giant sandwich and steak fries in the red kitschy basket, with a classmate she was sweet on. the thousands of calories and sudden onslaught of substance to her now-habitually empty stomach was why, she figured, she had been sicker to her stomach and less keen on even the driest toast.
in the refrigerator, there was a deli carton of potato salad. picnic salads, she learned at a young age, were notoriously bland, decidedly not delicious and generally unsatisfying, which is why she grabbed it and peered into it. it smelled overwhelmingly of mayonnaise and, despite its claim that it was a mustard potato salad, could not possibly have been that yellow naturally. she speared a cold piece of potato and tasted it. she took a few forkfuls upstairs with her in a little cup and retired back to bed.
the potato salad did have mustard in it. she felt it in the way her mouth watered at the saltiness, and the slight sourness that lingered on the sides of her tongue. her most recent ex-boyfriend, the one who attended a school for culinary arts, made a potato salad that was deceptively similar but ultimately superior. the potatoes he boiled were softer and the dressing much lighter, and he served it with a garnish of raw onions for her because she liked the bitterness. they used to eat it, she remembered, half-dressed and exhausted on nights where they had been too busy or delusional during the daylight hours to eat or drink anything beyond a hair of the dog that bit you. he served it still warm.
she closed her eyes after each bite and chewed very slowly. this potato salad had a pickled taste she recognized as sweet pickle relish, and red bits that, in their mayonnaise logged state, may have been either carrots or bell peppers. the potatoes did have a strange, grainy texture that made her appreciate and miss her boyfriend’s. they were peeled, like his were, but the crispness was awkward in her mouth.
the last time she asked him to fix her a potato salad, cross-legged on the couch in her favorite mens’ shirt, she’d asked him to leave the peels on. (they were, for one reason or another, her favorite part of the vegetable.) but he had smiled knowingly (and to her sensitive and perpetually indignant mind, perhaps condescendingly) at her and told her that he couldn’t make potato salad that way because it was silly, that the peels slipped off and made it messier and less presentable and tasted dirtier. she didn’t really mind. she only managed a few mouthfuls that night, anyway, before she had to go to bed and get ready for a real-world morning.
she hadn’t brought much with her but already her stomach felt heavy and her mouth tired. even eating exhausted her, made her feel more physically and mentally out of shape that she’d imagined. she licked around the inside of her mouth and flushed the mustard and relish taste from it with a swallow of tepid water. she put the cup of salad on the bedside table and laid down again.