Mattias was something of a flake.
His favourite food was the burnt crusty bits of scalloped potatoes. At a church charity dinner, he’d horrified the parishioners by reaching across the table and plucking off the crust with his bare hands. He sucked the sauce from his fingers and, suddenly cognizant of his position at a church table, complimented God rather than the cook. At home, he’d never made potatoes from scratch, but instead relied completely upon the boxes and powders as available from the grocery section of the dollar store. Similarly, he was never taught to tie his shoes, so he simply went without. This lent his gait a particular wobble and his back a characteristic slouch.
“People look at me funny. I don’t think I’m weird, but by the way people ignore me, even though everybody knows everybody in this town, I think perhaps I am. At church last week Pastor Harris tried to get me to try on a new pair of shoes. I didn’t like them though. They were nice, and I said as much, but there’s nothing wrong with my old pair. I like those ones just fine. He said I needed to straighten my back and lift my chin and go back to school or else nobody would give me a job. But I have a job, I said, I take care of my papa and the girls he brings home. Pastor Harris’ shoulders sagged as if his arms were heavy. Dinner was good though; I liked the potatoes, they didn’t taste like the kind I make for papa and me. I noticed Mrs. Harris got upset when I ate the potatoes and forgot to pray first. So I said “it’s good, God,” and everybody laughed. Everybody except for Pastor Harris.”
“Leave the kid out of this,” Judith said. “He’s a little queer, sure, but he has a good heart. His mother left when he was ten or so. Too late to forget her and too early to understand why. His father won’t answer any questions, so he stopped asking them. His father scares me. I hate him for bringing me here, but now there’s nothing I can do. I wonder where I might be, who my baby might have grown up to be, if I weren’t stuck here now. If Mattias didn’t take care of me after that horrible man brought us here, I’d probably wind up a poltergeist or something. Angry and invisible. Now I’m just invisible. I can’t stand his cooking though. It just tastes like China-made boxed dollar store shit. Probably full of lead. But hey, anything is better than nothing.”
Mattias followed the lines of aluminum shelving. They were sparsely-stocked with sagging boxes of ready-made powder foodstuffs and dented cans of peas, beans, and grey-ish ravioli. His stomach churned in time to the flickering bare fluorescent bulb overhead. He looked at the crumbled bill in his palm: five dollars. He briefly considered a vegetable, a real vegetable, as Judith had requested something green. Mattias knocked five boxes of instant scalloped potatoes into the shopping basket. His total at the till came to $5.35, but the overweight cashier didn’t say anything after uncrumpling the lone fiver. Her eyes stayed low and her lips pursed.
“Thank-you Abigail,” he said. Weary distaste in her face. She did not acknowledge him. The voices in Mattias’ head chanted a familiar litany: I do not belong here.