Saturday, April 14, 2012

La Cucharita

a small fiction from Santiago de Chile

I never steal anything. I stole this spoon. Just walked away with it. At the airport in Santiago – where it turns out to be almost impossible to buy a cup of coffee after eleven o’clock at night. At last I found one place. Slammed, of course. I was handed a paper cup, a plastic lid, instant coffee and this spoon. I found a seat by my gate, sat down and found this spoon still in my hand. It was the only real thing I’d been given. I kept it.

It’s a stainless steel spoon. The simplest possible spoon. Which is already excellent. It does nothing to invite desire. Almost nothing can be said of it. It cannot be praised enough.

This was not the spoon I wanted. Of course not. I know the spoons I was aiming for. The tiny spoons in G’s kitchen that I used to make instant coffee every morning. In his apartment on Santa Maria, just beside the river, with a view of the trees flowering on the cerro. Every day, three tiny spoonfuls of sugar and three of Nescafe. Plus milk.

Despite its proximity to some of the best coffee in the world, Chile runs on Nescafe. Something about taxes. It’s the same reason books are so exorbitant. I would have thought it was impossible to create a decent society without filter coffee and cheap paperbacks – but Santiago does it. At its center at least, Santiago is faultlessly clean and secure. And Pio Nono is part of that, where the students go to drink and carouse. Or the park, where couples remain lip-locked for hours, unable to move until the automatic sprinklers turn on. Of course it is still possible to get mugged late at night in the park, if you really insist on it.

I kept the spoon. I walked away without thinking. During my last hour in Santiago, where I lived once upon a time. And was happy. It’s too terrible to think about. I kept the spoon. Only the spoon was real. The coffee was fake.

But even as cheap wine produces drunkenness, powered coffee may result in euphoria. As it did sometimes for me, as I sat drinking Nescafe and looking out the enormous window at the jacaranda blooming on the side of Cerro San Christobal. The jacaranda bloomed the whole three months I lived in G’s apartment. It faded only at the very end.

And I am not opposed either to the Virgin Mary standing atop the cero with her arms outstretched. I just think the jacaranda says it better.

I liked to look out the window as I drank Nescafe and studied irregular verbs. (I prefer projects that have no end and no chance of success.) I studied every morning until euphoria gave way to nerves, until G came down the hall – sleepy eyed, completely naked – and stood talking to me from the far corner of the room so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him.

“Come here,” I said.

He smiled at me, a wicked imp beneath his tangled long gray hair.


Give the neighbors something to live for. Just as the sun clears the roof – a bare naked man! Don’t leave exhibitionism to porn stars. Porn stars are beautiful certainly. Whether they are naked is debatable.

But you just stood there, naked at the end of the hall, and talked to me. At least I got to see.

Those mornings began with a very small spoon. Spoon, jacaranda, irregular verbs, naked man. I coveted those little spoons. I wanted to steal them, to take them with me when I had no choice but to leave Santiago. Perhaps I hoped to grow a jacaranda.

But I absolutely never steal anything. So I didn’t steal the spoon from G. I stole a spoon from the airport instead. I seriously doubt that I can grow a naked man from this particular spoon. Maybe I can grow an airplane.

From G I stole a dictionary. A compact Spanish-English dictionary with an orange plastic cover. I did not intend to steal the dictionary, though I found it very convenient. I carried it with me everywhere. I forgot it wasn’t mine.

G will miss his dictionary. He has very few possessions. Not like an airport has spoons. He keeps only exactly what he needs. And now I have stolen his dictionary.

I will tell him that I’ll send it back. I’ll promise. I won’t send it back.

It’s true I wanted the dictionary. It’s a very convenient and also very pleasant object. Orange, soft plastic, fits nicely in the hand. I wanted it before I forgot it wasn’t mine.

If you look up the small spoon in the dictionary, what you get is la cucharita.

G won’t blame or demand. He will give his small dictionary up for lost. Anyway he gives everything to his friends. Bring it with you when you come back, he’ll say. Knowing that I may never.

The important things in my life, I am careful to never think about. Instead I have a compact Spanish-English dictionary and a small spoon.

A flowering tree, a naked man, a city in midsummer.

I found it in my hand. I walked away with it.

It cannot be praised enough.

I forgot it wasn’t mine.

No comments: