Simon hated the coleslaw job. Each order at the Blue Fish Inn came with an order of the slaw. People could choose from either the thick slaw or the runny slaw. Both were gross to Simon. All day long, he was putting a scoop of the gross cabbage stuff on a lettuce leaf that was supposed to be some kind of symbol of life or something. He didn’t know for sure, all he knew was to scoop and deliver. Soon he would have his license and the money to buy his first car.

Occasionally, the thick coleslaw got too think. Simon would mix a little of the runny slaw into the white vat of grossness and all would be well. On this Sunday at brunch, the thick stuff was proving to be too think. So as he often did, Simon poured some runny in and got a long handled spoon to mix it up.

As he began to stir the yuck, the normally smooth consistency of the Blue Fish Inn’s coleslaw was not right. Simon felt like there was something in the slaw. Maybe a spoon or a fork from the kitchen dropped in. He got out his long, black rubber gloves, put them on, and began fishing around in the coleslaw which now held the consistency of the high standards set by the owner, Manny and the chef, Felipe.

Feeling something in the tub, Simon grabbed ahold and lifted the object out. He was shocked to find that he was holding a human arm, elbow to wrist, with no hand. He stepped back in shock. Felipe, the chef, noticed Simon’s reaction and asked him what was wrong.

“There’s an arm in this coleslaw,” he said.

“Oh, that, there’s always one in there. Manny, saw Motel Hell and thought the idea of putting body parts in the slaw would be funny. I guess we missed taking that one out. Don’t worry about it.”

Simon was a bit confused. He ran through as many thoughts as he had at such a young age. None of them brought any danger to him and all of them interfered with his ability to save for a new car, so he threw the handless arm back in the vat of thick coleslaw and went back upon his business of loading up the lettuce.

***I’ve been taking MasterClasses for the last few weeks. Often, there are assignments given out. This one was to write about the saddest moment in your life. One other note, I allowed ten minutes for writing, so the essay might seem short for such a heavy prompt. Here it is…

The Rental

Honesty in sadness is a tough one to write about. Trying to find the saddest moment of a life seems so disrespectful to all of the sad moments a person experiences. For me, the end of February 1998 had to be about the worst. There was a confluence of events that took me away from being happy and culminated in somber dash to get rid of a rental car.

My grandfather died that month in Texas. We were all together for his funeral. We learned things about him that are only things you learn when someone dies. That weekend was tough because of my grandfather’s passing, but it was not unexpected. He had been sick for a long time.

Two weeks later the shock hit. My brother was gone. We had just been together for my grandfather’s funeral and everything seemed fine with my brother. It wasn’t and I had missed whatever clues he was giving out.

Before I had gone to Texas, I was renting a car because mine had been smashed by a kid driving on ice. His car had gone full on bobsled and crashed into mine. The rental had some problems and when I returned from Texas, I made arrangements to exchange the car.

Then the phone call came that my brother had ended his life.

I felt a shock that I cannot explain. By nature, I am a problem solver. In stressful moments, I just get on with the business of moving through the situation. I rarely take time to grieve and if I do, I’d prefer to be alone. The morning after the phone call, I had to drive across our county, about an hour long drive, to change the car. While I was driving, I had to fight back the tears, but somewhere over on Route 100, I lost it at a stoplight. I cried about as hard as I could. When I looked to my left, there were kids in their car laughing at me as I wailed.

I felt nothing for them. My brother was gone.

Twenty or so minutes later, I had changed out the car. The new car smell of the next rental was more of a cherry bomb scent, cheap and hurried. The rest of the drive home was a blur.