“The fucking lunch thief is back,” Silvana says. “There were three meatballs in here, and now there’s only two.” A round depression where a third meatball had congealed in the marinara sauce: someone fished it out with their fingers and ate it cold from the plastic tub. Silvana shouldn’t store food in plastic, because plastic gives you cancer. I will remind her later. “I’m so hungry.” She says this thinking the person who violated her food will feel guilty, but in my experience, people do what they want and then sleep just fine. In my years at Waterbury Foot and Ankle Care, many things have gone missing: a jar of honey, half a birthday cake, Evelyn’s homemade moussaka in its Pyrex dish. (Pyrex is what everyone should be using, because we’re all filling up with plastic. My father, dying and greedy, stank of plastic, and still he would not stop reaching for my hand.) Tongues of parma ham vanish from sandwiches. The thief likes fat and sugar. The office staff uses the pronoun they for the thief, although there are no men in the office except the podiatrists, Dr. Banerjee and Dr. Veremakis, who have their own refrigerator and do not want to hear about stolen lunches.
The thief has to be one of the women who works here, but who? We celebrate one another’s birthdays and we take up collections for flowers when someone is sick. We know the names of each other’s pets and support the lie that we love all our children equally. If there were cleaning staff we could blame them, but there’s not. We take turns vacuuming crumbs off the carpet, cleaning the toilet.
I keep a spreadsheet, marking days when food goes missing and one of us is absent, but tracking alibis doesn’t help. We have no suspects. My aluminum bento box with its careful portions of chicken and quinoa goes missing, and I embarrass myself by crying, even as I’m telling people not to worry, that I could stand to miss a meal. Silvana announces that she will now be spitting in her own food. She runs her tongue along her sandwich so we can all see. “Delicious,” she says. It’s so obscene I have to leave work early.
I smell something terrible when I go out to my car, something that smells like death taking its belt off, and I find my lunch wedged under the seat, rotting. I wonder who put it there. I know I should lock my car. I know I should check the backseat before I pull out, and stubbornly, I do not. I try to decide—sitting at a red light that may or may not be holding me pinned here forever—if it will smell less like plastic in the car if I roll down the window. I sit very still and feel like something is in my stomach. And I think, I did not put that something there. But it is there, nonetheless.
Treena Thibodeau's work has appeared in The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Atticus Review, and Newtown Literary, and has received generous support from the Vermont Studio Center and the Tin House Summer Conference. She is the founder of the weekly online reading series TGI (www.tgicast.com), and she holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. You can find her on Twitter @TreenaThibs.