That was the morning when he couldn’t find his favorite spoon. That upset him more than it should, as he well knew. It was the same as the other seven spoons that matched it, except that it bore a small scratch in the handle from when it had fallen into the garbage disposal. Since it had been his own clumsiness that had caused the fall, he had adopted the spoon.
The silverware had been a wedding gift from his wife’s beloved aunt, now long dead. Damaging the spoon had been a grave transgression in his wife’s mind, as if he had desecrated her aunt’s corpse. So he had assigned the spoon to himself, as a sort of penance—not that he took it seriously at first. It was just a way to avoid stirring up the pot of stale emotions. Over time, it had become his favorite. And why not? He had suffered for it, though not in any grave way, and he could say that he had re-designed it, in the manner of Appropriationist artists. And now he couldn’t find it, and his coffee and toast were ready, hot on the table in the little dining nook at one end of the kitchen.
It wasn’t in the drying rack nor in the sink, nor was it farther down in the nested stack of spoons in the silverware drawer. He reluctantly took one of its siblings from the drawer and sat in his customary chair at the teakwood table. Aside from the missing spoon, the morning was properly serene and invigorating: the morning light sieved through the delicate white cotton curtains that his wife favored for the kitchen, and which he found agreeable, and from his post at the table he could enjoy the play of light on yellow tile, white stove, and polished metal faucets. The cabinets, however, were, he felt, dull, painted in the usual off-white, but then they did not detract from the play of light, and perhaps enhanced it. His wife had made the decision on the cabinet paint, and she was usually right in such matters. He scooped a measure of sugar with the adulterous spoon and stirred it into his coffee. The perfume of coffee and toast calmed him: life could be much worse.
He heard the toilet flush in a far corner of the house, and then his wife shuffling into her robe. These were sounds he knew well, and which followed a sequence as particular as his coffee sequence in the morning. She would come out wearing a red plaid robe and fuzzy slippers and pour out her own coffee from the carafe still warm on the stove, then toast and butter her own bread so that it would be hot. These were habitudes they clung to with an almost religious fervor, except when out of town, but they had most reasonably laughed at themselves over the years for their exactitude in matters essentially meaningless. On Sundays they broke the pattern and ate fried potatoes, yet the universe continued as before. They did not hold any formal religious ceremonies; both could be considered apostates; neither felt that eating potatoes one day a week would do anything to appease the comprehensive indifference of the universe, nor stave off medical or social disasters. Breakfast rituals comprised a form of psychological music for them, a deeply physical pleasure with no more meaning than they conspired to give it over the years. Nevertheless, they had become important.
His wife came into the room in the red plaid robe, kissed him on the top of the head, and sauntered to the coffeepot on the stove. He sipped and nibbled at his own breakfast while listening to the clink of her cup and the metallic latching of the toaster as she pushed the lever.
When she brought her plate and cup to the table and sat leaning over them in the wash of morning light, he knew she would ask the ritual question: “How are you this morning, honey?” To which she added, this time, squinting at him through her sleepiness, “You look a little stern?”
I seem,” he said carefully, “to have lost my spoon. You know the one.”
“Ah, yes. The one you ruined. Your orphan. Yes?”
“That’s the one. You didn’t take it, did you? For some nefarious purpose?”
“I did take it, I did. But not with malevolent intent. I finally took it to that silversmith we looked up last year. He said he can remove the scratch, and it won’t even be noticeable. So, you will be pardoned, though not forgiven.”
He was not sure he needed to be forgiven for a moment of clumsiness, but he kept that sentiment to himself. He had advanced it as an argument several times before he accepted that it inspired not softness but obduracy in his wife. Nevertheless he would miss his spoon
. “I wish you hadn’t done that. That spoon had become a sort of pet of mine. Like the spider in the isolation cell.”
His wife glanced at him over the rim of her coffee cup; this was a gesture he knew she had assumed after seeing it in a movie years ago. “It may have been your pet, but it was my spoon.”
“How so? It was given to us for our wedding.”
“Yes, but by my aunt Lisa. I have greater claim on it. Besides, you have no social graces. I figure I’m lucky you don’t eat with your hands like an ape.”
He knew better than to argue this point. She ate her pizza with a knife and fork, and disdained sandwiches. He tried another tack:
“But was not the assignment of that spoon to me a sort of penance? How, oh how, will I expiate my sin now?” He turned his eyes towards the ceiling, then glanced sideways at her and said, “Or am I really pardoned?”
“Of course not. Dropping the spoon in the garbage disposal was unforgivable. Let us say that, now that you’ve taken a liking to the spoon, your new penance will be to miss it.”
“Are you serious? I know you could be, being the way you are.”
“No. I just wanted to get it fixed and make the set complete again, but forgot about it for a while. But you know me: little heirlooms like that matter to me, even if they’re just tools to you.”
“Obviously if it became my favorite spoon, it was more than a tool to me.”
She put the coffee cup down and stared at him, almost gently.
“Good point. But it’s too late. He said it would be done by the time he closed up last night, but I didn’t get off work in time to pick it up. Your little cripple will have been miraculously cured by now.”
She lifted her cup and sipped from it with her pinky raised.
“Hey,” he said. “Isn’t the pinky lift for teacups only? You are drinking coffee, a far more proletarian beverage in our culture.”
“Yes,” she said. “But, I’m drinking it in a teacup.”
He nodded in silent concession, and their game was over for the morning, as work loomed over the day.
Richard Risemberg was born to a Jewish-Italian family in Argentina, and dragged to LA as a child, where he’s spent decades exploring the quirkier corners of the America Dream, writing essays, poems, and stories about it all.