I haven't written in a couple of months. I mean, I have a little bit here and there but I didn't want to publish any of it. I am part of a writing group now and this was my first assignment. I'll explain some other time why I've been blocked, but I wanted to get this out here.
Dip Your Spoon
By Olga Naranjo
In those times when I’m feeling particularly shitty, and I happen to be outside at night – actually that combination is more common than particular - I find my eyes drifting upward looking for a cluster of stars called Omega Centauri. The best time of year to see it from the side of the earth’s hemisphere that I’m usually standing on is during May and June, but my emotions aren’t always in sync with the stars so I sometimes miss how this colossal wonder of the universe puts me in my place. Who am I in this great and vast collection of space and time and infinity to be morose?
That cloudy mass of dots in the sky is host to more than 10 million stars. That’s ten million stars shining for 12 million years, and before that and in the meantime and after it, other super nova’s will create more clusters of stars and more distant suns will burn out and become black holes and I will have ceased to have existed even as a species. All this I have known since I was ten years old. Back then I rode my bike to the library and looked at actual hard copies of encyclopedias and dictionaries and thick, practically unyielding tomes featuring the solar system and Einsteins physics. Everything was written in the language of mathematics which I still can’t understand but still, I looked anyway.
My brother Henry owns the Dip Your Spoon. I like to joke with him that the name sounds like one of the old massage parlors on 42nd street in New York. I mean the 42nd street of thirty years ago that our mother used to unsuccessfully try to shield our eyes from whenever we would drive through it on our way to our Uncle Pete’s house in Queens. The “Come on in, sir, dip your spoon, if you know what I mean” barking 42nd street, not the spectacularly neon, new one. Indeed, my brother’s place is a parlor of ice cream, not massage, located on the corner of Main Street, smack dab in the middle of Vanillaville, in Smalltown U.S.A. This is the same town that we grew up in and as you can imagine it is many, many miles from the Hudson River, literally and figuratively.
After Henry graduated high school, he got a job at the local canning factory and he stayed there saving his pennies until he’d collected enough of them that when combined with the small business loan my dad co-signed for, bought him the 1200 square foot piece of prime real estate on which is erected 900 square feet of squares. I mean it. The building is square. The floor inside is tiled with black and white linoleum squares. The tiles running up the walls are red and white ceramic squares. The stools are chrome with red nylon squares. Square white tables. Checkered black and white table cloths. Square scones - the kind that light up. If you can imagine it, even the handmade-fresh-everyday sugar cones are square. And this next might be even harder to imagine than the Doctor Seuss inspired creamery; all that my brother Henry ever wanted to do was serve ice cream.
For as long as I could remember all I wanted was to leave; a breach baby born with one foot reaching across the border of our town to the next just so that I could get a head start. I didn't even go to my high school graduation. The night before the ceremony, I filled a duffel bag with a couple of jeans, some t-shirts and packed the rest with underwear and socks figuring those were more important than outerwear. I walked out of the house I grew up in and out of the town I had spent eighteen years practicing my goodbye for. I know my parents applauded when the principal called my name and I can see them shaking their heads knowingly when I didn’t walk up to pick up my diploma. It’s not like it was a secret. I’m surprised they even went to the auditorium. I suppose hope is something divine sometimes, like stigmata.
The specialty at the Dip Your Spoon is Taylor's Famous Banana Split. Taylor is my ten year old niece. I've never eaten a banana split, not even Taylor's, so I couldn't tell you if there is anything special about it except, well, except that this one happens to be served by a very happy, talking banana.
I wonder sometimes, like I’m wondering now as I'm looking at my brother zipping up that yellow flannel costume, giggling like he does every time, sliding the coned yellow hoodie that tapers off to a green, stem point, adjusting it to be sure it has just the right arc; how are we so different? From a corner I watch this graying, 47 year old, overweight man dressed in this ridiculously absurd costume, turning red with laughter every time he looks in the full length mirror. He doesn't get tired of the joy. He doesn't get tired of how simple his life is, married to his chubby high school sweetheart Emma, who used to be ‘my bestest friend in the whole wide world’ when I was ten and who confessed that she would come with me when I left. But she fell in love with my brother instead. He has three amazing kids: Alice who got married to Burt last year and just found out she's pregnant; Elizabeth, who just started teaching first grade at the local elementary school; and Taylor of course. A surprise, he says. A gift in their later years. Taylor has Down’s syndrome, but there's no such thing as a handicap in my brothers family. I don't think he knows what that word means.
I do, though my handicap isn’t physical. It isn’t mental either. It’s much bigger and much smaller than those, respectively.
How are we so different? Why am I always looking up for Omega Centauri instead of sliding on a stupid banana suit? Why do I insist on searching for what he has always had to spare?
He glances at me, winks and says what he always says as he walks by me out towards the square ice cream tubs, “Dip your spoon, Charlie,” he giggles, laughter that rises up from deep in his belly where it’s perpetually being turned out, a spring as eternal as the night sky, “dip your spoon.” I smile and find myself inevitably thinking what I always think, 'Today, maybe I will.’ Maybe whatever I’m looking for is buried in Taylor's Famous Banana Split.