No Problem With Spoons

Lots of things have been preventing me from getting around to posting here recently. Excuses, yes, but pretty pressing ones mostly.
I have been writing but this isn’t what was occupying most of my time.
This is the result of a workshop somebody ran and I am afraid I took the idea and ran off in another direction with it. So thanks and sorry at the same time. No idea what it is but it popped up and escaped – so here it is.

 

NO PROBLEM WITH SPOONS

Spoons held no terror for Swanson. Why should they? Knives on the other hand held the potential for slashing cuts, flashing attacks, rending of flesh, dismemberment, spilling of blood, evisceration, plunging penetration of stabbing steel. He toyed with the steak knife by the side of his plate. Knives too left him singularly unperturbed.

He let the knife alone and smiled across the table at Catherine. He wondered if it looked as forced on her side of the experience as it felt from his position. He desperately wanted it to look sincere. It was sincere. He was, at the very least, infatuated with her. He thought… he stopped and chided himself…he knew, whatever anyone else may think, that he was in love. It had been such a short time but he knew she was the one. He wanted her to know how he felt but he knew it was too soon to tell her. He didn’t want to appear too needy, to scare her away. He just wished there had been more time for her to get to know him before he had to face this hurdle.

The waiter appeared with their food. It looked perfect. She had chosen a salmon mousse terrine with salad and vinaigrette. He had the soup. No problem there. Catherine thanked the waiter and shot Swanson a delighted and delightful glance. Ordinarily he would have melted with joy and desire. He felt queasy. He looked down at his cutlery. He picked up the spoon but there, on the left of everything, was the fork. Each tiny spear point of a tine winked in the candlelight. Mocking. Threatening.

***

Some people, uncouth, unmannered people, tapped a rhythm with their knives. A tattoo of metallic vibrato. His father had never espoused that particular habit. For him mealtimes were enlivened with the tapping of a fork. On glasses, or the side plate for attention, on the edge of his main platter with annoyance, occasionally on the table for emphasis, the latter with the handle to counterpoint the tine tapping of the former. The slivers of metal scraped along the plate surface with the force of his eating, the eldritch screech setting Swanson’s youthful, impressionable, nerves aquiver.

So much for the routine horror of mealtimes chez Swanson. Gesticulating, tapping screeching, implement of low key irritation, there on the left, a stick insect of metallic personification of his father and his attitudes and his demeanour and his vulgarity. Swanson began to shun the object where he could. Soups, stews, sandwiches, pizza slices, finger food of all kinds offered salvation, while traditional three course meals stalked the horizons of his day. As soon as he could, and whenever he could, he avoided family mealtimes. That wasn’t difficult during the week. Cereal for breakfast, sandwiches at school and snacks on the way home, snatched meals before ‘homework’ sessions. But weekends were different and Sundays unavoidably awful.

Saturdays could be worked round. Early or late rising avoided his father’s cooked breakfast fetish. Rugby and cricket at school and later at the local clubs meant he could avoid mealtimes with the family. But Sunday was a ‘family time’. A roast dinner time. Knife and fork time. It wasn’t just seeing and hearing his father’s fork wielding displays any more. The implement itself was taking on a symbolism of its own. His father’s ‘if it were good enough for me and your mother…’ line about what to do after school. His sneering approach to ‘book learning’. His contempt for music. ‘Why aren’t you listening to rock and roll like the other lads?’  Everything that Swanson could feel dragging him back, holding him in this God forsaken wasteland of a town. All was becoming embodied in those four thin prongs of steel that scraped across the plates, dripped egg yolk and spittle, sprayed flecks of cabbage and serrated burnt animal across the tablecoth.

His mother was not completely unaware of his problems around the use of forks. She claimed to have seen it coming when he was little and had as a result tried to make his cutlery special and fun. He had had knives, forks and spoons in the shape of childhood characters from nursery rhymes, from blockbuster films and cartoons. Her latest attempt, in keeping she said with him growing up, was a set of cutlery engraved with his initials. These she hoped would give him “ownership” of the situation.

Worse was yet to come. At 15 years old Swanson had returned from after school rugby practice. His mother was out at her sister’s and Swanson returned home to find his father back from the office early and in DIY mood. Swanson found him, sleeves rolled up engaged in his latest obsession. The presence, real or imagined Swanson was uncertain, of a mouse in the kitchen was exercising his father greatly. The proddings of the fork towards his face , the agitated tapping on the plate edges and the punctuating bangs on the tabletop, accompanied a litany of threats towards and speculation concerning the whereabouts of the alleged mouse. The time apparently had come for the end of theorising. Action was at hand. As Swanson entered, his father nodded vigorously at him to close the door behind him. Swanson did as he was bid and as the door shut, his father ripped away the fascia beneath the under sink cupboards. A grey ball of something hurtled towards Swanson from under the cupboard. He blinked and as he did, he missed his father, already on his knees, dropping the fascia board, and diving at the mouse. When he had finished blinking, he saw his father at his feet clutching his hands together as if in supplication or prayer.

‘Got it!’ his father cried, and then his exultation turned to a note of pain. ‘The little buggers biting me!’ His father rose to his feet and dashed the contents of his clenched hands into the sink. With remarkable speed, he picked up his favourite instrument from the draining board, and with a gladiatorial gleam in his eye drove the fork into the arena of stainless steel and the sacrificial animal within. Swanson heard two things. A distinct squelching, and a shriek. His father, a grin of triumph fixed across his face, lifted his still wriggling opponent aloft and turned holding the impaled animal on high for Swanson’s approbation. Wriggling, bleeding, run through on the tines of a fork, the mouse seemed to implore Swanson for mercy. All Swanson could see was the blood trickling down over the initials on the handle of his, Swanson’s fork.

***

Catherine said something about the food looking good and he nodded. Her hand reached out and the fingers curled around the shaft of the fork. Perspiration burst on his brow and his throat constricted. He wanted to concentrate on her face, the sweep of her eyebrows the delicate bow of her lips. His soup, the spoon. Anything but the reminder of the multi-pronged symbol of his father’s triumph and death in the afternoon long ago and far away.

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