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I sneeze and my head jerks forward violently when I do. You bring your left arm up to your face to shield yourself from my germs; your right arm goes down around a plastic bag you just carried in from our car. Your features curl into a face of distaste, but you know I can't help it. You know I've been sneezing all day. I rub my nose against my sweatshirt, but the fabric is rough against my sensitive, runny nose. I realize this a moment too late and I wince in pain. I pull back my sleeve and rub it against my skin; snot trails onto my arm like the slime from the underside of a snail. It is momentarily relieving, but, suddenly, more begins to flow out. Panicking, I search for a strip of flesh that isn't already covered in the shiny residue. And then, like a miracle, you hand me a tissue. I thank you graciously before jamming the fabric up my left nostril.
I ask you how you think a tissue feels when it is being used, before it is used, and after it is used. You look at me, clearly bewildered. But you expect this from me and laugh. I insist on an answer, though, and you succumb to my childish desires.
"I think," you begin, "that a tissue has a hard, but rewarding life." And then you are done explaining your thoughts.
"But that doesn't answer what I asked," I reply. I sneeze, again. The conversation is over.
You approach me with the large plastic bag. It is wrinkly and I make an instant comparison to the picture of my late grandmother in the living room on the table beside the bookshelf that nobody ever bothers to clean. A thick layer of dust has settled on it and the books that are its residents. Just the thought of dust makes me sneeze and I do so.
You grab the sides of the bags firmly and flip it over. Potatoes fall out. I hate potatoes. They are like small, dry, clumps of flesh. They have knobs that are rough and hard to cut off. Sometimes, they even have small little hairs. They look like a sad baby, but I would never say that out loud. People think that kind of stuff is weird. I look up to realize you have a peeler in your hand - two, actually.
"A peeler in each hand? Don't you think you're overestimating you abilities?" I say. You don't even crack a smile. You are like a wall of determination, and you know it will take persistence to get me to peel potatoes with you. You stretch your hand out, offering me the small device. There is a pause of silence before I sneeze. It catches both of us off guard. You jump in surprise and the peeler flies from your hand. It knocks me in the face as if destiny had planned this from the moment I was conceived. You pull out the chair adjacent to mine and begin peeling. I sit quietly beside you; a block of stubbornness myself. My peeler lays in front of me, a potato beside it.
The rivalry is no longer between me and you. Make no mistake: now the peeler is my foe. It fights me with sadness; it looks at your peeler, longing to be used. It envies your peeler. Soon enough, I begin to see the potato shake beneath its bumpy skin.
"Please! Release me from my confinement!" The idea of playing god appeals to me. I pick up the peeler and the potato; they cheer cries of joy. You sneak a glance at me and smirk.
"I'm not doing it for you," I say matter-of-factly, but then I realize you can't hear the cries of inanimate objects so it makes no sense to you. You lost your ability to hear them talk a long time ago. I told you that once. I also told you once that the sponge was crying when you were using it to wash the plates we had eaten off of after last year's Thanksgiving dinner. There were a lot of plates that day. The sponge would shout out pleas for help every time you lifted him out of the murky sink water. You asked me what I was talking about. When I tired to explain it you just smiled at me as if you knew more than me, but you thought my naivety was cute. I remember you words exactly.
"You have quite an imagination."
And another time you said, "You keep me young and on my toes." I don't quite know what any of that means, but you tell me I will when I become a parent like you.
The potatoes are dry, but not just in my hand. They smell dry, look dry, and sound dry. Their stale scent creeps up my congested nose and manages to squeeze itself in and around my nasal cavity. When I peel off their outer coating, there is a sound reminiscent of the ripping of old newspapers. Underneath the ugly exterior is a blank slate. Their innards are yellow and remind me of sand dunes. I feel my throat begin to parch. The light above me suddenly seems hotter. The sun, even the though window is across the kitchen, blares through and I feel myself begin to melt. You, on the other hand, are working hard, studiously. The heat will not hinder you. I admire your work ethic, but the possibility that I could ever emulate that same determination in my own potato peeling seems ridiculous. Instead, I sigh in defeat and come to terms with the fact that for every potato I peel, you will have peeled three in the same time.
Our kitchen is old. This is your mother's house, and by extension my grandmother's house. It reminds me of her, though I never knew her that well. You even keep her small candy bowl in the center of the table. It smells like old people; stale, like a pretzel, but welcoming and kind. I tell you that and you think it's funny. We share a laugh. Suddenly, the potatoes are less and less apparent; you have begun to tell me a story. You recall your mom making this same potato soup and that she passed the recipe onto you. Now the recipe is being passed onto me, but I have trouble remembering things.
"And we sat that day. We must have peeled a hundred potatoes. More probably," you quickly add for dramatic effect. I stare at you, mouth slightly ajar.
"Is that possible?" I question, still not entirely convinced.
"Oh, of course!" You put on a face of exaggerated hurt and you place your hand to your heart, offended.
"How long did it take?" I ask. I see that we are playing a game now, so I prepare myself for a number of astronomical proportions. Just then, you remember it wasn't one hundred potatoes, it must have been a thousand. Must have.
"And we peeled all day. It was tedious, and you know how easily distracted your grandmother used to get. The job was two-thirds effort from me and your grandma shelled out just as many potatoes as she had to." You keep on talking, but I'm more caught up in your eyes. Faces go through years of wear and tear. They brave the elements; they face blistering sun light, harsh winds, pouring rain, but not eyes. Eyes are funny in that way. They always look the same. No matter how a person ages, his eyes still have that crystalline and flawless look that they had the day he was born. I heard on the television that no two pairs of eyes are the same. We all have a distinct iris pattern that is even more complex than our finger prints. Your irises light up when you took about your childhood. There is youth in you, but not just because of me. Even though you say that I'm the reason your are still young, I disagree. I think you always had it in you, but when you grew up, you had to hide it away and replace it with an honest, hardworking, more responsible you. I don't like that you. I mean, I don't hate it, but I like this you better.
"But it was worth it because when she came out and put the soup on the table, it's smell was out of this world. We sat there and ate the whole pot together, just the two of us." You can miss grandma. I see it, hear it, and feel it. But this is good for you. You are having fun remembering the day you and grandma made the potato soup, and now you're sharing it with me. This is like the time you took me to the beach when it was raining. There was nobody else for as far as we could see, and the seagulls were our only company. We built sand castles and, only after you took a picture of me standing next to them, you let me stomp through them, sending sand flying all over our beach towels and food. I remember what you told me: "I want you to remember this day. Write it down in a notebook, because when you look back on these days, you're going to relive them and you will be a happy person." I think you mean my childhood when you say "these days."
I look away and focus on my peeling, but you keep talking.
My childhood is a long period of my life. I cock my head to the side and stare at the pictures on the wall. There are pictures of me when I was a baby. I'm wearing a stupid dress in the picture to the leftmost side. Then, going to the right, there is a picture of me riding a bicycle. I look so happy in that picture. It's strange because I am grinning like a five year old, but I have all my teeth. You say it's because I matured faster than all the other kids, which makes no sense because in the next picture where I am six, I have none of my front teeth.
What I do have is a notebook. I have one just liked you told me to have, but I don't tell you I have one. I don't want you to know. I'm going to show it to you when I leave for college. You're going to read it and remember all the days that you had forgotten. I'm going to write about today, but I think you'll remember this. Toady is special to you. I can see a glimmer of excitement in your eyes, so I smile and peel my potatoes. I still hate potatoes, but I'll make an exception for today. For you.