As a child, Madonna’s mother only bought plain Cheerios, plain corn flakes. She remembers spooning sugar into her bowl and her mother’s hand darting, out of nowhere, to slap the utensil from her grip. Granules scattered across the table, her lap, her feet. They caught the sunlight and winked at her as mom shrieked about a ballerina’s body. It had come as a surprise, her mother’s presence. She’d been in one of her depressive periods. Madonna had been given peaceful mornings to eat alone, one bright spot while her mother was bedridden.
As an adult, Madonna has a pantry as large as her childhood bedroom, the shelves lined with Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs. The rest of the kitchen, though, has no traces of anything chemical or inorganic. She’s made lists for her head assistant, Opal, who delegates the organizing and shopping to other assistants. She tells Opal not to ask her again how she wants it, to just keep following the initial lists until she decides she wants a change. Opal knows what Madonna likes, so she asks her to direct the chef. “Macrobiotic this month” is the only specification. There are so many, more important questions to answer every day. They emanate constantly from both of her cell phones. She desires control but she doesn’t know what to do with it.
In high school, her first boyfriend had a sick sense of humor—or that’s what she thought it to be, at the time, a sense of humor. He’d throw her against lockers, kick her in the back of her thighs. His giggle trailing the reliable phrase, “I’m only kidding.” Sometimes followed by, “You’re so sensitive.” The bruises didn’t kid, though, and she’d have to hand wash her only opaque tights every night so her evening practices wouldn’t reveal the new marks. When she thinks of him now, she remembers the orange-streaked carnations he brought to her spring recital. Afterward, she hung them upside down above her bed where they dried all brown.
Damon, Madonna’s new assistant, doesn’t yet know about the pantry door rule. She hears Opal tell him in a low voice, from the living room, “When you see the pantry door open just a crack, that’s when she’s inside. Don’t disturb her. Absolute emergencies only.”
Madonna pulls her meditation pillow off its place above the food processor and sets it on the floor. Her sit bones find their grooves in the worn burgundy cushion. When she takes to the pantry, she calls it meditation. There’s a mini-fridge where she keeps milk—real milk—and bowls sit atop it. Madonna mixes Rice Krispies with Lucky Charms. She holds the bowl in her palms, porcelain cooling the sweat there. She breathes deeply and listens to the crackling, watches food coloring bleed from marshmallows into milk. Madonna doesn’t give orders. They make their random and reliable sounds.
Shannon McLeod is the author of the essay chapbook PATHETIC (Etchings Press). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House Online, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Joyland, Wigleaf, and Prairie Schooner, among other publications. She is seeking a home for her manuscript, WHIMSY, which won the Wild Onion Novella Contest. Born in Detroit, she now teaches high school English in Virginia. You can find Shannon on Twitter @OcqueocSAM or on her website.