My boss, a great food chemist and inventor of tastes like Keurig’s Hot Apple Cider, had recently retired. Now he spent his days growing cacti in his basement and putting together a telescope that would eventually take crisp pictures of the less distant galaxies.
I was his handyman. I built him shelves, mopped his garage, and hung his Christmas lights. In the summer I’d tend to his small orchard. Sometimes he’d follow me around, reminiscing on his days in Laguna Beach. His convertibles and such.
He also liked to offer me advice. How to diversify my portfolio. How to keep my engine running clean. The best Italian food in Half Moon Bay. He thought he understood me.
One time he got all excited because he remembered something. He told me he was going to tell me the best advice he’d ever received. It was from his priest and it was this: If you are about to get into a fight with your wife, go eat a bowl of spaghetti, then see if you’re still up to it.
“Are you seeing anyone?” he asked.
I was not.
“Be patient,” he said. “Love finds you, not the other way around.”
One day he asked if I wanted some extra work, running some errands for his priest, who lived alone and had gotten himself in over his head.
“Is my pay the same?” I said.
“Of course,” he said.
“Then sure,” I said.
My boss smiled at me and I smiled back. A mistake.
I startled him and he quickly turned away. Then embarrassed, he apologized.
“It’s okay,” I said. “It always happens.”
I started assisting my boss’s priest from time to time. He had recently retired too. For his big retirement activity he’d chosen to breed corgis. My boss had me go to the priest’s house once a week to pick up the corgis’ poo, since the priest was eighty and could not do it himself. Both of these men must have sensed I was adrift somehow, for soon the priest was offering me advice as well.
I liked it when the priest gave me advice. He had no children, of course. Just the corgis. So, I felt like I was fulfilling a meaningful role by listening to his wisdom. I tried to surreptitiously steer our conversations towards spaghetti to see if I couldn’t get that same advice he’d given my boss. I wished to have it bestowed upon me too, like a blessing. But the priest never went there, avoided the realm of love all together.
The closest the priest ever came to giving me love advice was this: If you’re ever in a thrift store and see something you love, buy it. You will never get another chance.
One man says be patient with love; the other says pounce.
Anyways, I did eventually acquire something very important because of him.
In time the priest and I grew close. The priest opened up about priesthood, advised me not to become a priest. For a priest could give and give and give but was never allowed to take.
Becoming a priest had never been on my radar at all, but I said, “I promise I won’t. Thank you.” So that he knew I was taking him seriously. And then I said, “But don’t you literally eat the body of Christ?” For this seemed like a rather radical form of taking to me.
The priest laughed. “Yes. But he never eats me,” he said. “Not that I want him to. But a man has needs. That’s all I’m saying. Understand?”
I was young. I did not understand. But I was grateful for his honesty.
I always tried to be honest too. One time I confessed to the priest, who I guess was my priest by that point, that his charge, my boss, seemed frightened by my smile. Did he have any advice?
The priest said, “Don’t smile so much.”
I started stashing the corgi poop below his bedroom window after that.
In the end, the life of a handyman was not for me. It didn’t suit my composition. I wanted something more sui generis.
So, I moved east. I started walking dogs and selling used furniture. I met someone—the one, per se. She was studying to be an optometrist.
We got a corgi of our own. We wormed our way into fulfilling careers. Took joy in lives that intertwined more and more each day.
On one of those days of intertwining, we were walking our corgi through town, when we passed a thrift store. By that point I was rather religious about going into thrift stores.
Inside this thrift store a poster caught our attention. The figure on the poster is in one of those billowing, clown suits. His face is painted white. He has an almost creepy smile. In one hand he is holding a plate brimming with spaghetti. In the other, like Lady Liberty’s torch, he holds a fork from which a beautiful web of spaghetti twirls to the plate.
I feel strongly about spaghetti. Everyone comes to know this about me eventually. Of course, there is its taste, which is divine. But there’s also the wonderful sound of the word—spaghetti. The wriggling feel of the strands between my lips. The stretch. The sexual squash of the saucy mixing. And then there is one other thing, of course. The thing that I always tried to conceal. That I am, I dare say, spaghetti myself.
So, how lucky I was to meet the one, the one who knew all this about me and only loved me more for it. Who upon seeing the poster said: “My god! We need to get this now!”
How much I love that spaghetti woman. My spaghetti woman.
So, we bought the poster. I mean, it was framed and everything. And we do love it. Both of us. We will cherish it for the rest of our lives. Lives that I pray may never be untangled.
Years later. A Friday.
My wife spent the day gifting many children the power of sight. I sold a lovely oak kitchen hutch to a pair of retirees. Afterwards, I walked and drained every good girl and good boy under my charge.
Now, night has fallen. Here we are, together in the present. Home, hungry and tired.
We are going to go out to eat. But first, a glass of wine.
We drink one. Then another. And as we drink, my spaghetti woman and I, we stare at the poster of our saint in silence.
I am kneeling and she is in half lotus pose. Each minute that passes I feel more understood, by my spaghetti woman and our spaghetti saint alike.
This is our life, I think. This is our life.
Like our saint, I start to smile in the creepy way I do. I cannot help it.
From right here, in this moment, I can see how those laborious years, the fateful advice of the priest and the chemist, shaped me. And yet, it feels like the hard times were one long misunderstanding. For despite my being spaghetti, and despite my frightening smile—look. I have a spaghetti woman by my side.
And when I see my spaghetti woman smiling, sipping her wine, delighted by our happy saint I feel myself becoming even happier. I smile even more. And when she sees my smile grow, her smile grows too. And here is the miracle. Her smile keeps growing. Even when the teeth of my own big smile begin to elongate and stretch into a thick curtain of saucy spaghetti that dangles down to my chin.
Finally, I think, I don’t have to hide a thing.
We are laughing as my spaghetti woman leans forward. Gently, she starts to consume me strand by strand. When spaghetti starts to grow from her face too, we do not stop laughing. With searching lips, I do my best to track down the angelic strands of her spaghetti face. Many strands elude our clumsy mouths. But it is no matter. For we both know the key to love, it’s miracle, is that the two loving individuals each find a way to give a little bit more than they take. And we do. Somehow we do.
Sam Schieren grew up in Valley Cottage, New York, and received an MFA from UC Davis in 2020. He currently lives in a garden, two hours north of New York City, where he is working on my first novel and a collection of stories. His writing has been published in Bellevue Literary Review and is forthcoming from Gulf Coast. His work has received support from Vermont Studio Center and Writing by Writers.