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Chicken Chow Mein

"I drew O’s in corners and prayed..."

Published onNov 23, 2023
Chicken Chow Mein

Photo by Pixabay:

A little girl sat at my table,
surprising me, opened a pad 
of paper and packet of markers. 
She drew a tic-tac-toe board 
with assorted colors like a rainbow
flattened into bold straight lines.
She made a black X in the center,
tore it from the pad then pivoted
it to me. Your turn, Mister.
Could this be more awkward?
A grown man playing a game
with a girl of 7 or 8 who wasn’t
his daughter? I don’t have time,
I said, glancing at my watch, but
she seemed cheerfully aware 
my Chow mein had not been 
prepared, as if savory aromas
from her mother’s kitchen were
clues. I had been waiting alone
for my take-out, morbidly 
absorbed in a problem at work,
gazing at a Chinese wall calendar
in the year of the Sheep. It was
a problem that robbed me of joy,
the same dread I recognize
now on the subway in the faces
of younger men going places
I’ve no desire to go, their
self-worth reduced to a failure
or screw up or missed opportunity
that has at least ruined their day,
or year, ability to laugh, to love,
to kick a ball with their son.
I lost $3.4 million in a verdict
in Rhode Island, got drunk and
drove the company car into a curb,
destroyed a tire and rim, made up
some story about horrible drivers
in Providence…If you’re still
here you’re either a close friend
or my mother, so I won’t bore
you with further details except
to say I dwelt on this til
the moment I sat there waiting
for my lunch, playing tic-tac-toe
with a girl who must be an
adult now. It was that long ago.
Maybe she has her own restaurant,
bought King’s Garden from
her mother or became a lawyer.
Her persistence impressed me.
I drew O’s in corners and prayed
no one from the office popped in. 
For a few minutes I forgot
all about work. Not even her
mother’s assurance from behind
the counter that it wouldn’t
be much longer distracted me.
The girl won every game
while idly sketching in her pad
and then, pleased with herself,
hurried to the kitchen where
I imagined some small,  
neglected chore awaited. Within
minutes she returned with my
Chow mein in a brown bag
stapled to the receipt which
I carried for two blocks and
up four flights to my desk.
Between boxes of take-out
I found a sheet of paper folded
in quarters which I opened
first despite my hunger, then
stared hard at the portrait
she had drawn of me.

Bill Garvey's poetry has been published in several journals across North America. His poetry collection, The basement on Biella, will be published in fall of 2023 by DarkWinter Press. He grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and currently lives in Canada with his wife, Jean. He enjoys riding the streetcars of Toronto. 


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