By Melody Murray
Melody Murray is currently a Financial Analyst for the Navy but would prefer to think of herself as a writer of short stories and personal essays. She received a BA in biology and creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, then joined the Peace Corps. After two years in southern Africa and two years in DC, she is looking forward to staying put in San Diego. Her first act after moving across the country was to join a local writing group. They’re glad she did. You can find out more about Melody on her website and Twitter. Today is World Food Day, and this piece is in observance of the global movement to end hunger.
I always thought leaky roofs existed in dark and damp rooms illuminated by one flickering candle or a feeble fire peeking every so often from red coals. I imagined the roofs leaked in the cold lower quarters of Dickens’ London, in the Marmeladov apartments, and in the Puritan bedrooms of the Lowood School for Girls. I thought poverty came with patches on worn-out clothing, shoes with soles that flapped open like mouths, and pots and pans scattered on the floor to catch the water seeping through the roof.
The roof never leaked when we were poor. Our basement flooded when we forgot to clear the leaves from the sump pump before it rained, and I was hungry a lot, but my arms and legs never looked gaunt like on the charity infomercial for Africa, just gangly.
On Meals on Wheels night, I would walk holding one of my mother’s hands and one of my brother’s down to Green Valley, where I was never to walk alone. Too young to be embarrassed, I skipped between them, singing “Rivers of Food”—my version of a gospel my mother would sing some Sundays at church.
In line, my brother and I would bet each other and other kids whether it would be bologna and cheese sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly. I hated PB&J. By the time we got the sandwiches, they were always slightly squished, which was okay for bologna and cheese because the cheese flattened out and spilled over the bread crusts. With PB&J, the jelly soaked into the bread and made everything soggy til it wasn’t even a sandwich anymore, just a slimy sponge with peanut butter in the middle.
Rivers of food
Down in my tummy,
Rivers of food
That taste really yummy.
Rivers of food
Make me so happy.
I cannot explain
These rivers of food.
I sang my song quietly in my brother’s ear as he tried to sleep on the pew. He hadn’t succeeded yet because the wood was hard and the congregation hadn’t saved up enough money for cushions. He’d gotten into a fight with Mom that morning and missed his PB&J breakfast. So when the service started, he yanked me down next to him, and as soon as praise and worship was over, he slumped down in his seat, and put his head in my lap.
I had tried all the usual songs first—“Fat Guy in a Little Coat” and waggish variations of “Joy to the World,” but he didn’t move. Two lines into “Rivers of Food” and his cheek trembled and one of his dimples emerged.
I cannot recall a single face or name from the nights in line now—now that my mother is dead and it has been years since I have lived in the same house as my brother and longer still since I have sat on a pew. I wonder if we were ever truly so close and so low. Isn’t poverty starving brown children, no more than skin-covered bones and swollen bellies? That wasn’t us.
But I remember my song. And when I can, I gorge, eating so much that I can do nothing but lie on my back for fear of vomiting it all back up. I still keep bits of snack bars and seeds in my purse and in the pockets of my jackets. And I plan my days around food—what I will eat and how I will get it.