One summer, not too long ago, I met up with Joseph, one of my out-of-town college friends. We decided it would be nice to update each other on summer, the semester ahead, and life in general before school started and chaos set in.
It was a Tuesday evening and we sat outside since a cool breeze was blowing. The campus bells had just finished ringing out five o’clock, but neither of us had mentioned dinner. I was planning on watching, waiting, and seeing how things turned out.
We had been talking for about half-an-hour when Joseph asked, “Do you mind if I eat? My stomach is talking to me! Are you hungry?” I told him he could eat and that I was hungry. I had not even finished replying, when he grabbed his duffle bag off the floor and dropped it atop the wooden table at which we were sitting. Silently, he proceeded to take out a loaf of store-bought, pre-sliced, brown bread, a white plastic spoon, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of grape jelly.
With seemingly practiced ease, he twisted open the bread bag and pulled out a slice. He generously smeared on the peanut butter and then topped it with generous blobs of jelly. The bread was then folded in half and placed on the table while he made a sandwich for me and another for himself. Not a word was said while I watched his hands fly from bag, to jar, to bread, to table. Yet, despite his speed, there was a certain delicacy and care that went into the preparation.
Our meal was silent, except for his sporadic comments about how delicious the jelly tasted and how nice the weather was. I was far too focused on trying to keep the jelly inside the sandwich to say anything. Despite my efforts, large, gooey blobs oozed out from between the bread and stained my side of the table purple.
After we both finished eating, Joseph began absentmindedly playing with the dirty spoon. He twirled it between his fingers. He stuck it in his mouth and cleaned off the traces of jelly clinging to the plastic. Then the spoon was dipped into the peanut butter, licked clean, and re-dipped in the jelly. This procedure was repeated several times and I could only watch as the white spoon was covered in brown, purple, and purple once again. I listened and observed as he casually spoke of school, abroad, and as he licked and re-licked the spoon.
Then, as if to close some unique ritual, he suddenly twisted the lids onto the jars, closed up the bread bag, and the condiments and bread were returned to his duffle bag…as was the plastic spoon. After he had removed all traces of our meager meal with the skill and speed of a magician, he closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and sighed. The silence was comfortable as we both sat at the table, breathing in the evening air.
Encouraged by the silence, I began to replay the image of the spoon. In my mind I could see it clearly dancing in and out of Joseph’s long, pale fingers – in, out, in, out…. I saw it dip into the peanut butter and glide into his mouth. I saw it dip into the jelly and glide once again. It was a unique pattern consisting of: in, out, in, out, dip, glide, and repeat. Slowly a smile came to my face….
Just then, Joseph opened his eyes and my face regained its serious expression as quickly as it could.
Breaking the silence he asked, “What are you thinking about?” For a moment, I hesitated...and then replied, “Nothing.” I then proceeded to try to justify my answer with several other false statements.
His dark eyes penetrated mine, and I wanted to satisfy my curiosity, swallow my pride and embarrassment, and tell him the truth. The only problem was: I really had no idea how I would explain to him, that, for the past two minutes, my mind had been contemplating what the spoon had just been through. More than that, however, I had been thinking about whether the spoon had been through those antics before. How many times had it dipped and glided before it made its way onto my piece of bread? How many times had the spoon been washed at a sink not made by human hands? How could I explain all this to him without sounding absolutely ridiculous? I really did not want to lie to him, but at least at the present moment, lying seemed better than the embarrassment that would have accompanied the truth.
Sometimes, though, I do regret not telling him. I wish I had not lied. I wish I had quelled my fear and answered truthfully. Since I did lie, I am forever doomed to wonder how skilled the spoon actually was at dipping and diving…in and out, in and out…in and out…between those long, slender fingers….
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.