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Sense Memory (so bitter and so sweet)

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Even when his dad was okay with him waiting up alone for him after fights, Matt wasn’t really supposed to use the stove without supervision. So he ate a lot of sandwiches as a kid. Nothing fancy—white bread, peanut butter with too much jelly, sucking the extra off his fingers so it wouldn’t get on his book.

After, he would come across books with the pages sticky and grin even though it hurt. He couldn’t really bring himself to eat jelly, it was just one in a long list of things that didn’t taste right anymore. Jelly was too sweet, too thickly cloying in a way that reminded him of how the world felt—too big, too loud, too much--after. How it got too big again for a while when his dad died.

Regular berries were less overwhelming, but too often he could only smell the sour death of overripeness on them, a whiff of impending decay even before he touched it.

It made farmers markets kind of taxing.

After, all people wanted to do was feed him, deciding that the his lanky arms and legs were even more pitiable when labeled orphan. That was when he discovered that vegetables were the worst. First there was the texture: gritty and green in all the wrong ways, sometimes soft (if it’d been sitting in the fridge too long) or too crisp (Stick taught him later how to tell if something was picked too soon, but until then it just tasted wrong). Then there was the taste: bitter, rough on his tongue when raw and heavy and limp in his mouth when cooked.

He ate it anyways, learning quickly that complaining didn’t go over well at Saint Agnes.

He rediscovered vinegar and finally there was a sharp bite that could cover most wrong tastes. Ketchup would do, in a pinch. Eventually, Matt could eat pickles without taste bringing tears to his eyes.

Meat was usually all right, though he preferred barbeque for the way the spices blanketed everything. The first time he tried fish, after, all he could taste was the sea.

Eventually, he found that the only strong flavor he really liked, not simply tolerated but liked, was black coffee. It reminded him of early mornings getting ready for school while his dad whistled in the kitchen, always up even after a late night fight. It was the background to every lazy Saturday at the grimy diner down the block. Black coffee was cheaper, his dad would remind him when Matt made a face at a stolen sip. Wakes you up.

Foggy had given him such grief in the college dining hall, the blind guy with the beige food. But he knew to keep a jar of peanut butter in the office for late night planning sessions and never complained when Matt detoured them around one of the city’s many farmers markets.