The Man in Love with a Spoon
He walks in with a spoon and the audience claps like a leaky spigot. It's a soup spoon, big and round, the kind that makes a fat ringing sound when you flick it. When the applause stops, this is exactly what he does. Flicks it. And wiggles it in the air to warp the pitch.
He's in the games room of an elder care facility located a few miles outside Boston. A woman not much younger than the youngest residents pointed to the open door and said, They're waiting for you. Go right on in. So he went right on in, into the room bathed in senile light. Little old things perched on chairs, staring with eyes more stye than eye. And here he is, listening to the dying hum of the flicked spoon and trying to decide whether it would be fair to call these people harpies. Someone coughs.
The sound chokes. Vibrationless spoon in vibrationless hand, he stands frozen until the silence becomes unbearable. (For whom?) Then he launches into the monologue he has practiced so many times in front of his studio's bathroom mirror. Good evening to all, he murmurs. Fuck. This he does not say. But fuck. It is eleven in the morning. Good evening. He says it once again, as if embracing the wrongness will make it right. I cannot express how honored I am to be performing for you today. I am, as you may or may not know, The Man in Love with a Spoon. I am what you might call an Experimental Performer, or an Experimenter, or a Practitioner of Theoretical Theatrics, or even a Practitioner of Theatrical Theoretics. No matter, no matter, no matter. No matter, no matter. Fades into a muttered mantra that he sustains for thirty-odd seconds before stopping abruptly and once again letting the silence thicken into molasses. And someone coughs.
This, he says, is the spoon with which I am in love. You may have guessed already that I am not actually in love with this spoon. But for our purposes, I am very much in love with this spoon. I am so desperately in love with this spoon that I would happily destroy the entire human race in order to guarantee myself another minute with it. That is how in love I am with this spoon. For our purposes. And if you find yourself struggling to ignore the fact that I am not actually in love with this spoon, I say to you: No matter, no matter, no matter, no matter. The man in the back left corner has fallen asleep. But the woman with the wispy braids in the front row is entranced. Sitting forward, pockmarked hands clenching knees, eyes sparkling through cataracts. No matter, her lips sketch with his. No matter, no matter.
Why a spoon? he asks. Why a spoon? Why not a spoon? There are few things more loveable than a spoon, more complex, more sensual. A triple cough, fast, like keys clacking. He looks at the spoon and smiles. I have eaten lentil soup with this spoon, he says. I love lentil soup, too. There are few things more loveable than lentil soup, more complex, more sensual. The sleeping man has woken up. When's lunch, he shouts to nobody, eyes crusted half shut. Then again: when's lunch. A statement, not a question.
He pauses. He thinks about those two words. When's lunch. When's lunch, he says quietly, and the just-awake man looks up with a jerk of the neck. When's lunch, he repeats. Lunch is when the spoon says it is lunch. There is no lunch without the spoon, and there is no spoon without lunch. Sweat tickles the inside of his collar. He promised himself he wouldn't improvise. This morning, in front of the mirror, nose pressed against nose. He said, I will stick to the script. And believed it. But improvisation can't be undone. Just like a soup can't be uncooked. You can't re-harden lentils. He eyes the audience. The woman in the front row hasn't lost interest. She stares up at him with piercing focus. He takes a breath, clutches the spoon tightly. Holds it in front of his face and examines the warped reflection that greets him. Bloated nose, shrunken eyes, mouth caving into itself, a blurry backdrop of gray world.
I see myself in the spoon, he says, and the woman nods vigorously. The spoon reflects me, deflects me, inflects me. (He thinks: What does that even mean? Then thinks: No matter, no matter.) The spoon, he says, is both a mirror and a map. But which am I? The man gazing into the spoon, or the man reflected in the spoon? Is reflection not reversible, bidirectional? Is the man gazing into the spoon not a reflection of the man painted on the spoon's metal face? Someone coughs once, a space bar. He coughs back. The woman giggles.
You are old, he says to the sea of carpet and wrinkles. A few people nod. You are old, and one day I will be old. I wonder, sometimes, what I will look like when I am old like you. And I wonder what the spoon will show me, of myself, of the world, when I am old like you. Because the spoon will never be old. The spoon is eternal. The Eternal Spoon. The spoon came from metal, will return to metal. Metal, metal, metal. I will age, and the spoon will sit, loved and glinting and ageless, on my bedside table. Metal, metal, metal.
He's surprised to notice a few people swaying, among them the wispy-haired woman. They stare, and sway, and smile little smiles that send shock waves rippling up their cheeks though time-carved skin-canyons. He holds the spoon out at arm's length and begins to sway with them. Metal, metal, metal, he murmurs. Metal, metal, metal. He has abandoned the rehearsed script so violently, so absolutely, that there is no hope of return. So he just sways, imagines the spoon as a dance partner, twisting, spinning, metal melting into something supple and slimy.
When he tires of swaying and turns to face the audience, when he cradles the spoon like a baby, when he says, I am The Man in Love with a Spoon, when he whispers, goodbye — they sway, and they sway, and still they sway. The younger people come in and wheel them away, over the carpet and into the sagging halls, which wind lazily past silent, spoonless rooms. And still they sway.
The car is bathed in sun. He burns the flesh of his hand on the metal seat belt buckle. In his lap: the spoon. Metal, like the buckle, but cold.
The parking lot stretches out to infinity. He wonders how many parking spaces an elder care facility in suburban Massachusetts really needs. Maybe three. The spoon stares at him, spoon-like and concave. The warped reflection of his chin.
He doesn't love the spoon. Not really. This is what he tells himself. He tells himself that he pretends to love the spoon. He tells himself that it's all an act. Maybe he loves the Spoon, the idea of the spoon, the archetype of the spoon. But he doesn't love the spoon, this spoon, the spoon that sits in his lap and looks up at him with an eyeless, concave face, a face that is his face, a pimpled, stubbly, worry-lined face.
This is what he tells himself.
It certainly feels real. Feels like love, or about as close as he's ever managed to get to it. He can imagine himself, really imagine himself, spending the rest of his life with this spoon. Eating soup from it; washing it by hand in cold, soapy water; setting it out to dry on folded paper towels. Reading books with it; watching television with it on the couch, snuggled under a wool blanket; sleeping with it in a queen bed. The spoon, of course, is a spoon. The spoon is not a person. He hears himself say, no matter. Hears himself think, the spoon deserves soapy water and wool blankets and queen beds.
He picks up the spoon and clutches it to his chest. The metal is warmer now, hot with sun and what's beginning to feel like lust. Spoonlust. A strange, unwanted feeling. Disgusting. He throws the spoon into the backseat of the car with an impulsive twitch of the wrist, hears it strike leather with a dull thwack. It sits nestled in the crease of the rightmost seat, like a lurking insect.
His skin itches. It's a gross, lascivious spoon, a spoon so impossibly concave that it's almost convex, a spoon that bends everything around it. He wants to wash his hands, wants to take a shower in cold, soapy water. Wants to wash himself of himself, of everything that is remotely spoon-like or spoon-loving.
He puts the car in reverse and pulls out of the parking spot. Drives through the infinite lot as the car fills with the smell of exhaust and macadam and guilt. He feels the spoon pulling at him, willing him to turn around. He doesn't turn around. He keeps his eyes fixed on the windshield. Not on what lies through the windshield, but on the windshield itself, on the grimy glass. He lets the pavement become a blur.
The woman who swayed with him, who whispered again and again the words: no matter, no matter, no matter. The woman with the mouth like dough. Is she, too, feeling this love, this lust? This pull? Somebody will read to her, or set her in front of the TV, while she rocks back and forth, waiting for the spoon.
As he drives, he tries to decide what happened during the routine. Something incantatory, hypnotic. Something very slightly poisonous. Something reprehensible. Something repulsive. Something magical. Something important, vigorous, everything-changing.
And he thinks to himself, I am The Man in Love with a Spoon. The man in love with a spoon. And look at the power I can hold.
Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind studies comparative literature at Yale and edits for the Yale Literary Magazine. A violist and amateur birder, he is from West Hartford, CT.