Just Desserts

Just Desserts

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Just Desserts

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Golden Rule

“Great dinner, Hon,” said Dad, kissing Mom good-bye, then giving a kiss to Sherre, Lizzy and me. “Don’t wait up, I won’t be home ’til after three.”

I was disappointed to see him go. I missed not having dinner together as a family now that Dad had to work nights. He and Mom ate early, leaving the three of us to eat alone.

“Come on and eat, kids,” Mom said after homework was done. “It’s hamburgers tonight.”

We slid into the diner-style booth Dad had made last year before he lost his job as an upholsterer. Little Lizzy was squashed between Sherre and me. The booster seat she had given up since becoming a “big four-year-old” had been replaced with the hips Sherre, now a teen, seemed to have sprouted overnight.

Mom slid a thin hamburger, one by one, onto each bun then—plop, plop, plop—three thick spoonfuls of her tasteless, lumpy mashed potatoes followed.

Our barely audible “Uhhh,” was stopped short by a sharp look from Mom.

“Eat all those potatoes, girls,” she said. “They’re filling and they’re good for you.” We nodded. Times were tough and potatoes were cheap.

As soon as she left, I took a bite of the hamburger. The smell of heavenly garlic hit my nose. The taste was sheer bliss, juicy and full of flavor. I gobbled it down in four bites.

I risked a forkful of the potatoes, chewed as little as possible and struggled hard to swallow. Mom must have been absent the day they taught potatoes in her Home Ec class, I thought.

Sherre and Lizzy were having their share of trouble, too. Sherre gagged and Lizzy looked like she was going to throw up.

I smooshed the potatoes around on my plate trying to make them look less massive. I could dump them in the trash. A pang of guilt shot through me at the thought, knowing how hard Dad worked to put food on the table. Anyway, it’d mean having to pass Lizzy to get to the garbage can, and the little tattletale would tell on me for sure.

Then the idea came to me.

“Look, Lizzy!” I pointed up. “There are footprints on the ceiling!”

“Footprints?” said Lizzy. “Where?” Her gaze followed my finger.

“Up there.” I scooped up a spoonful of mashed potatoes.

Plop.

“I don’t see anything,” she said.

“I see them,” said Sherre, picking up my lead and a spoonful of her own. “Look, Liz, over the sink!” Plop.

“I don’t see them,” Lizzy whined.

“Aw, you missed it,” I said. “They’re gone.”

“I hear too much talking and not enough eating,” Mom called from the living room. “No dessert till those plates are clean.”

Lizzy turned back to her meal. A puzzled look spread across her face. She took her fork and cautiously poked at the huge heap of potatoes now on her plate. Sherre and I snickered quietly, but Lizzy was silent, unable to take her eyes off the swollen blob.

“I’ll be in there in two minutes,” Mom said in a loud voice. “You girls had better be through.”

Sighing, we re-attacked the potatoes again. Lizzy stuffed her mouth full and managed to get them down with a gulp of water. I choked. Sherre chewed and chewed. Gagging, she spit the whole mess into her napkin.

“Look, Liz,” she said. “Those footprints are back!” She pointed to the ceiling. Lizzy snapped her head up. Plop . . . plop. Lizzy was still looking up when Mom reached the doorway.

“Elizabeth Ellen Mandell!” she said. “What have you been doing all this time? Your sisters are almost done with their potatoes. Yours have grown!”

Lizzy looked at her plate and gasped. Her lower lip quivered and she began to whimper.

“Never mind the waterworks, Lizzy,” said Mom. “There are starving people who would love those potatoes. Eat.”

Obediently, Lizzy scooped up another lumpy forkful and tried to eat it. Her face turned red. She sputtered. She tried to swallow. I watched with a lump in my throat as she fought to force them down.

Suddenly I felt clammy and sick to my stomach—and it wasn’t because of the potatoes. I opened my mouth to speak, to admit to Mom what was really going on. But remembering the torture Sherre had put me through the last time I confessed for both of us silenced my tongue.

Sherre didn’t seem to notice my guilt. As soon as Mom left the room, she was back at Lizzy like a hawk on a chicken.

“Lizzy!” She said pointing to a spot behind Lizzy’s head. “There they are again!” Lizzy turned around in her seat. Plop.

I picked up my spoon and filled it up with the last of my potatoes, then stopped. No, I told myself. I’d rather eat Mom’s mashed potatoes the rest of my life than to watch my baby sister suffer like this.

I shoveled the potatoes into my mouth and dropped the spoon. It clattered onto my plate. At the sound, Lizzy looked down at her mashed potato mountain. She turned around again to try to find the imaginary footprints, then looked from Sherre to me, a light of understanding in her eyes.

Grasping a spoon in her pudgy little fist, Lizzy began plopping potatoes onto our empty plates.

“Lizzy, are your potatoes gone yet?” called Mom.

“Almost!” said Lizzy cheerfully, loading on some more. “Better eat ’em all up,” she whispered to us with a grin. “Or I’ll tell!”

Beverly Spooner

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