Sima Mishra

She will eat only twenty rice grains this meal. She will not bite into the grain, nor crush it on the roof of her mouth, but let it sit, let it dissolve on its own on the cushion of her tongue. She will pretend to chew.

Diagonally across the table, she watches her brother rake his food with his fork. This is the first step in his eating process. Then he will pat down the mixture of rice, vegetables, and red lentils with the flat bottom of his fork. He is reading the back label of the one-kilogram Mega-man protein shake container he begged his mother to buy at the health food store when they were at the mall. He shifts the container to block her view of him. She studies the picture on the label of a bronzed man in a black tank t-shirt, his arm is flexed, and his biceps bulge like a balloon. The man has dark hair and his full attention is drawn to his bulging biceps. She cannot tell if he is handsome or kind.

She places the first grain of rice on her tongue.

Her mother is opening the refrigerator door. She is taking out a plate covered in Saran wrap, the food is flattened, her brother's dinner plate from yesterday. Her mother is scraping the food off the plate and it sizzles as it hits the heated pot on the stove. Once she'd asked her mother why she ate leftovers while she and her brother ate freshly made food. "When I was in India, I didn't have food to eat. My mother would send me to our relatives' house to ask for a fistful of rice and dal, but they shut the door on my face."

Her mother sits down and tells her brother that he has to eat his food before he can try the shake. "If I could cut off the fat on my arms," her mother says and squeezes the tender flesh on her upper arms, "and somehow mold it onto your body to fatten you up, I gladly would do it."

Looking at her mother, she chews, taking care not to bite into the single rice grain dissolving on her tongue. "There's a good girl," her mother says. "You've always eaten well."

She will leave her plate with only twenty grains missing so her mother will have more food to eat.

Sima Mishra is a student in the MFA program at Vermont College. She was born in India and grew up in northwestern Ohio. She graduated from Smith College. She lives in New York City with her husband.


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