There is a still life hidden beneath the hair net,
a life lived behind steam tables
of Creole spaghetti and sliced white bread
and trays of green apples
chilling in the cooler.
The steam from the spaghetti dampens her curls,
tightly bound by the fraying elastic
of the mandatory hair net
that clearly defines
the team on which she plays.
A bell rings and they appear,
haphazard lines of twelve-year-olds,
a cyclonic assemblage of giggles and hunger,
grabbing chocolate chip cookies like thieves
while the green apples chill on, unwanted.
The teachers come next,
choosing salads and Greek yogurt and bemoaning
the absence of quinoa and grains.
The teachers do not look at her as she slides styrofoam plates
Across the stainless steel divide.
The supervisor steps up to her station.
“Use the spoodle!” she commands. “Not the tongs.”
The supervisor is stout, with ruddy cheeks.
She wears a baseball cap, and a long black apron
that bespeaks authority, splattered with tomato sauce.
The lunch lady watches the teachers cash out
and seat themselves at the reserved tables.
She wanted to be a teacher, once.
She wanted to teach fifth grade.
A bead of sweat, perhaps a tear, falls onto the counter, and disappears.
©Sara Ito all rights reserved
Sarah Ito is a published novelist, essayist, poet, and actor. Her work has been published in PennReview, Scarlet Leaf Review, Piker Press, Tuck Magazine, and more. She is also an Army veteran.