Cold Ramen by S. N. Rodriguez

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empty bowl with spoon in it

When I was younger, I’d cup my palms together to collect my father’s change. Before giving me the silver, he’d pluck out the pennies and claim, “Pennies are worthless,” as he tossed the copper pieces over his shoulder.

I got down on my knees to find them each time. “They add up,” I’d insist, as I slid them into my tiny pockets. “Besides, you’re littering.”

Now that I’m older, I imagine he was paying for his sins.

Sometime after he left, my mother and I caught a ride to the Houston Food Bank. I followed behind her with an armful of white labeled cans wearing shoes so worn and snug they left blisters. My stomach growled and I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.

You learn where to look for money when you don’t have any. I scavenged coins wherever I could. Picked parking lots clean around curbs and storefronts. Collected syrupy aluminum cans for recycling. Bartered with crows until they yielded their shiny treasures.

I harvested loose change from couches and cushions, beneath taqueria jukeboxes and arcade machines. I pushed coin return buttons and checked vending machine slots, scraped up sticky dimes left untouched on school bus floors with my fingernails. I pressed my face against washateria tiles and slid my hands beneath machines searching for abandoned coins amid mystery crumbs and dust bunnies. Wheat pennies, buffalo nickels, and silver quarters—I learned how to tell the difference by their sound. I stored them with my crisp two-dollar bills.

Slowly, my collection grew and so did my meager savings. I counted and rolled my coins tight. Kept my cache safe and sorted in a pickle jar. On tax-free weekend, my mother and I took the Metro to Payless, and I bought a new pair of plain white skippies that I could grow into for $9.99. Everyone watched and waited as the grumbling cashier counted each cent.

One day, I came home from my intermediate school with change jingling in my pocket. I crawled under my bed and retrieved my savings jar.


Shock and sadness filled me like the stagnant air trapped inside the glass. The hollow left by pilfered things taking up space once again: an assemblage of shiny Looney Tunes stickers that accompanied me along the East Coast to the South, the purple bike my father taught me to ride in Fayetteville, a trash bag filled with missing Lisa Frank beanies found guillotined by a mother’s rage. “Material things don’t matter,” she said. “You can’t take them with you when you’re gone.” After each loss, I felt like a foolish wish tossed into a sinking void.

When my mother returned to the mostly empty apartment, she held grocery bags in her arms. I cradled the vacant jar with tears in my eyes. “Someone stole all of my money,” I cried.

“We needed food, mija.”

Her words, the groceries. A realization.

I ran outside and buried my pink face between my knees on the balcony. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t eat any of it.

The first crow alighted and observed from the railing, its feathered arms behind its back. Then the second arrived, tilting its head. I wiped my tears on my sleeve and fished out four peanuts from a rusted tin beside me. I placed them at their clawed feet, and they gobbled the seeds.

“She took it, all of it. Every single cent.”

Their chestnut eyes dilated beneath the passing clouds.

My mother opened the front door and the crows scattered toward the great oaks, scolding her in their corvid tongue until they were out of view.

“I made you some sopita,” she said, holding a steaming ceramic bowl.

I didn’t respond.

“Okay, I’ll leave it here.” She placed it on the milk crate beside me. “Don’t let it get cold.”

I could smell the chicken ramen, but I resisted. I let it cool.

The crows returned like winged emissaries and shook their tails. They presented me with a dime and a foil gum wrapper.

“Thank you,” I smiled and fished out four peanuts again, my nails scraping the bottom of the tin.

As I watched them crack open the shells with their pebble-smooth beaks, I thought about buying a PayDay at the corner store to split with them as a treat once I collected seventy cents. I imagined the taste of the sweet caramel and salted peanut bar.

My stomach growled.


I remembered my father telling me, “Suck it up and drive on.”

Reluctantly, I squeezed the lime wedge over the poached egg. I ate the cold noodles and sipped until nothing was left.

Meet the Contributor

S. N. Rodriguez is a writer and photographer in Austin, Texas. She is a Writers’ League of Texas 2021 Fellow, and her work has appeared in The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism, Blue Mesa Review, River Teeth, and elsewhere.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/theilr

  1 comment for “Cold Ramen by S. N. Rodriguez

  1. Beautifully written. So much packed in this small story. I could relate even though I’ve never been hungry.

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