Counting soup cans
He opened a can of soup and fed it to his children. He split it between them. They ate it and afterwards he put the spoons and the bowls, the can opener and the dirty can in the sink. He let them sit in the cold water.
The trailer was dark. The winter was cold like a ringing in your ears, and Alan brooded. He was a burly man, with a beard and a face for a scowl. He said nothing for days. He watched his dump truck, idle outside, costing him money every day, money he couldn't pay until there was work.
He opened the soup and set the empty can on the counter, next to the others, the cans in a row. His wife bought the expensive soup, the good stuff with the famous name and the commercials where children all laugh and smile and the world is very warm. He didn't think they could afford the soup and wondered what it added up to, these cans, lined up empty, bright paper torn at the edge where the opener bit and ripped.
He couldn't say he couldn't afford the soup. Rent was due on the fifth.
He stayed in the trailer for days, in the dark of that winter. Inside, he felt clenched up. He felt like he was so cold inside he could take only shallow breaths. The silence rang like something dying in his ear. He cut open a can, another soup can, and divided it with a spoon.
The soup company said it was fraud that made the man poison his children. He lost his truck, while waiting for trial. The trailer was repossessed too. His wife went back to Ohio. Even if they'd considered giving him bail, he would have had nowhere to go.
When they sentenced him, on the 14th floor of the federal building, in a room of honey-colored wood and bold blue carpet, the verdict worked out to a hundred years for every can of soup.