Meal Worm

An eight year old tow-headed boy was sitting at an old sun-grayed picnic table, flanked by two brothers with hair like wavy chestnut-brown mops. A mother was present, standing on the opposite side of the table. Her face made her seem to think every moment in life was amusing. She was always laughing at something, or if not laughing, then displaying a smirk and a half-winking-eye that communicated omniscient anticipation, and that she found the world to be delightfully quaint and ironically amusing. They were all eating pizza from a pizza-box on the table, which the mother had bought and picked up at the market (that is the pizza, not the table, although she may have gotten the table at the same market. It was that type of small town where you could get every type of useful thing at the market, from VHS movies to fried chicken to lawn chairs.) a twenty minute drive from the camp.

The boys ate furiously. They had the appetite of young wild children full sun-up to noon mornings of running, jumping, swimming, and fighting. Their bare, calloused feet pawed the twigs, rocks and prickly grass on the rough ground. A warm breeze blew across the pond and was sifted to goose feather softness by the wall of thin trees that separated the camp from the water. A few black flies were buzzing around their knees and ankles, but it was late in the summer, so the worst of the swarms had already fed, laid eggs and died, and the boys hardly notice these few desperate hangers-on. Each boy finished his first slice before the mother had finished half of hers. The tow-headed boy finished first. The mother wasn’t his mother. He was slightly shorter than the two other boys, being younger, so he had to stand, propping the back of his knee against the edge of the picnic table’s bench to reach into the pizza box to retrieve his next slice.

Suddenly an uncontrollable itching sensation began to build up high in his nostrils, where the two cavities join to form a single tunnel beneath the nose’s bridge. The sneeze came before he could register its coming, and he sprayed a mixture of pond water, dried blood and boogers all over the pizza. Everyone leapt to their feet as if a king cobra had appeared at the center of the table. Their expressions were not of fear, but disgust and a deep, resentful, disappointment. Their gazes alternated between him, the devastated pizza and each other. He could only identify one actual booger on the pizza, which he announced to them, but his efforts were useless. He knew the meal was ruined. There was no difference between one booger and a thousand. Who could tell the difference between a tiny ball of dehydrated hamburger and a snot meteorite; between mucous and melted cheese; flakes of dried blood and red pepper; or would want to. Not to mention the residual spray that most likely reached beyond the pizza and into the box, the table itself, maybe even the crust that the mother had held in her hand.

He had seen this look on their faces before.

They told him it was all his as they walked up the hill toward the camp. He sat there staring at the pizza, four slices gone, knowing that even though the boogers were his he couldn’t take another bite.