Sub Night

For the first year after my parents divorced, Sundays were submarine sandwich night. The corner liquor store, the kind with a cardboard St. Pauli Girl, had a deli counter tucked in the corner like a child on time-out. A scribbled sign advertised roast beef by the pound and a pickle jar sat on the glass counter; three pickles waterlogged like drown victims. Always three; the same three by the look of the milky brine. My sister and I never bought a pickle. Our assignment was the one dollar cold cut made-to-order submarine sandwich special.

Mom insisted both my sister and I go with her to pick up the subs. She’d give us single dollar bills and wait in the car while we rushed inside, embarrassed by our proximity to the forbidden amber bottles. Mother’s excuse for staying in the car was the baggy grey sweat pants she wouldn’t be caught dead in. She thought we didn’t notice her trembling hands. Mom never said why and we were too anxious to ask, but she hated Sundays.

Math homework, a spelling test, before-school appointment at the orthodontist; it never mattered what monumental event awaited Monday morning. On Sunday at 6:45pm, we piled into the car and drove down the hill to the store. Then we rushed home with our dinner, changed into PJs, poured sodas, and opened a fresh bag of chips. We spread our feast out on Mother’s king-sized bed in front of the T.V. just in time for Murder She Wrote.

Amid the chewing, we watched the predictable story of murder without comment. Speaking during the show was somehow taboo. So were napkins or T.V. trays. We perched our sandwiches on the wax paper they came in and knew to pass a soda from the nightstand by pointing. Shoulder to shoulder we ate our hoagies, getting crumbs everywhere. I once suggested watching our show on the sofa like a “normal” family, but Mother just shrugged and brushed the crumbs onto the floor.

After Jessica tricked the murderer into confessing, we turned off the T.V. and tossed our wrappers in the bedside trash. It never seemed odd that Mother kept an overflowing full-size kitchen trashcan by her bed. It was too early to go to sleep, but for some reason we were always tired. Maybe we were exhausted from solving crimes. Mom turned out the light without brushing her teeth or telling us to, and we all slept in her bed. I usually slept in the middle, like the cold cuts wrapped in a roll.

My aunt said that our sandwich ritual was odd, but if she worried, she never did anything. Back then, there weren’t reality show interventions or animated bouncing blue pills to fix Mom’s Bipolar Disorder. Tucked inside our small world, the three of us were like the pickles submerged in the jar, unaware of life beyond the cloudy glass.

As a longtime freelance writer, Gina Mulligan has written numerous articles for magazines such as Home and Garden, PC Computing, and AAA. Her short stories have appeared in Storyacious.com and performed at the Sacramento Stories on Stage. She won the 2004 & 2009 Abilene Writer’s Guild Contests and earned Third Prize in the 2013 Soul-Making Keats Novel Competition. Her debut novel, Remember the Ladies, will be published by Five Star, an imprint of Cengage Learning, in May 2016. www.ginamulligan.com