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FOOD/James McKinley GRIST FOR THE MILL, he decided. Food for thought. Or maybe it aU was thought, meditation, the torturing examining-the-life process aU the wise ones prattled about. But why every midnight? Why did he awaken himself from the cobwebbed conversations and disconnected scenes of his anxious dreams to stide up on his elbows and stare at his sleeping, lovely wife and wonder how he had come to feel completely hollow? Or reaUy, sort of famished. For soul food, maybe. Gingerly he swung to put his feet on the number-one oak flooring, then into his Kmart slippers. When he stood, the old brass bed, its mattress resting on green-painted springs, groaned, creaked, bounced. His wife's breathing stayed steady. He moved through the doorway, then took a right into the bathroom. He urinated as quietly as possible , directing his stream to the sides of the bowl. Was the stream as powerful as in the past? Was his prostate going? He noted with disgust the swell of his belly. Hardly looked like he was starving. Then, reluctantly , as it had been for the past two decades, he looked at the mirror. That face! The droop ofjowls, the twenty tiny scars from various auto accidents, the lines coursing the dark sacs beneath his eyes, but at least those were still blue, still clear. Yet how could that be he, Paul Pastor, who in the full burst of youth had set out forty years ago to eat the world that was his oyster? He for whom opportunity had been merely a menu from which he would order what he would? Surely not, yet inevitably yes. Looking down at the sink, he brushed his capped teeth carefully, thoroughly, then padded out to the kitchen. Twelveforty-seven, theclocksaid. Paulremembered whenhis mother, now long dead, had told him that was the hour he was born, so here he was, seeking to feed the inner man with bread and milk, as he'd done when a child—and she was maggot food. The world worked mysteriously indeed, except at the simplest level, where everything became something else's meal sooner or later. The refrigerator's light comforted tum: so dependable, so neutral. So did the skim milk's light, thin taste, suffusing the coarse wheat bread he dipped into it. Must keep those arteries clear so the maggots must wait long for him. He carried his glass to the butcher-block table. WeU, itwasn't reaUy a butcherblock. No animals had been dismembered on it for consumption in elaborate sauces that tried to conceal the basic carnivore transaction between humans and other species. Not that vegetarians were any better. Who The Missouri Review · 51 was to say a rutabaga didn't feel, didn't have a soul? And in the end, the animal and the vegetable both wound up as sewage, so what was the point of discriminating? Paul finished his snack. He didn't feel soothed or drowsy. In fact, he felt jumpy, as if he were a plucked string. Jumpy and still hollow. Time again, he sighed, to review, to try to find cause and effect, to locate where, when and why he'd gone off the tracks, unloaded his inherent worth, become an unfilled boxcar on some lost siding. He knew from past reviews that he'd never find what he sought, and that the lifeexamining exercise went at the speed of light, little cuttings of memories flashing on his interior screen so quickly that when he tried to stop one and fathom, poke, explore it, the very process provoked another cutting. And so on. Nevertheless, Paul had an organizing method, and he knew he must persevere. At least he'd get sleepy doing this. First category: career. These snippets so familiar, so easy to examine. Middle. That was Paul Pastor. Middly. Middling. He saw himself in grade school. Well-scrubbed, frightened to politeness by loving, cold parents and parish priests. Always wanting to please. Trying not, in his father's phrase, to get his bowels in an uproar. Trying hard at his tasks, succeeding at the excellent but not the superior level. Patrol boy. Piano lessons. Organized baseball...


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