‘Why aren’t you a spoon?’
‘Excuse me?’ I asked.
He gestured to my striped t-shirt, my jeans.
‘You’re not a spoon,’ he said.
There was a cardboard oval behind his head. The oval was spray-painted silver and held in place with an elastic band that stretched across his forehead. It made him look oddly like an angel or a saint. His entire outfit was silver too: silver button-up shirt, silver bowtie and shoes.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m not a spoon.’
Everybody else in the room was similarly dressed, with huge ovals behind their heads. One girl had an oval made of what looked like tin foil. A guy near me playing the piano wore a white plastic one.
‘You made it!’ Someone behind me called.
I turned. There was Jay. The guy I had met yesterday at a bar and the only person I knew at the party. He was taller than I remembered, sporting a wooden oval. It looked heavy. I wondered if it was an old toilet lid.
‘Welcome, welcome,’ he said, gesturing to the leather couches, the shining hardwood floors. There was a single spindly plant in the corner. A glass table with clear bottles of vodka and gin. It looked more like the waiting room of an expensive office than somebody’s actual house. Did Jay really live here?
He hugged me and my head fell just below the wooden oval. When we pulled away, he smiled at me like we had known each other for years and this was the moment of our glorious reunion. It was one of the warmest smiles I’d ever seen. I remembered it from the bar and felt a little better.
But it was one of those smiles that was so wide, so welcoming, it made you question for a moment if it was fake. Like when you run the bathwater really hot, then you place your hand under it and, for a second, it feels cold.
‘Nice place,’ I said, unsure of where to start with my questions.
‘Is your costume in your bag?’ he asked, gesturing to my beat-up brown backpack.
‘I didn’t know about … this,’ I said.
Jay stepped back, grimacing. He ran his fingers through his hair. He had a swoop of thick brown hair like a Kennedy. I liked it. It was one of the first things I noticed when we’d met yesterday.
‘It was on the Facebook event,’ he said.
‘We’re not friends on Facebook.’
He paused. ‘And I didn’t mention it when I invited you?’
I shook my head.
He was exuberantly drunk when I’d met him and he’d told me a lot of things. I wasn’t sure if he had been flirting with me or if he was just a friendly, open book kind of guy. He had told me how he was about to start law school but he wanted to be an artist (he didn’t say what kind), how he had a pet gecko called Franz Kafka, how he bulk ordered coffee from Sweden because the Swedes knew how to properly roast coffee.
But he hadn’t mentioned that this was a costume party.
And everybody was meant to dress as a spoon.
‘That’s my bad,’ he said, shaking his head. The wooden oval tilted in the air. ‘It was pretty last minute anyway.’
When he had invited me to a party, I figured: Why not? What’s the worst thing that could happen? If it’s boring, I stay for one beer and then I leave.
The chance to make some friends in Cambridge was too appealing to turn down. And he was nice. A little wacky, sure, but nice.
I hadn’t expected — whatever this was.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, slapping me on the back. ‘I feel like an idiot.’
I looked at the wooden circle attached to his head and his pinstripe suit.
‘Yeah,’ I said, quietly.
‘Well, as you can see, tonight we’re all spoons. I’m a wooden spoon,’ he said.
‘But we’ve got silver spoons, plastic spoons. It was actually Peter’s idea. Peter!’ He gestured to the all-silver man who had accosted me earlier.
‘Peter, I’d like to introduce you to …’ Jay paused, trying to remember my name. He knocked a fist against his forehead and the oval teetered a little. ‘It’s right on the tip of my tongue.’
‘Emily,’ I said.
‘Of course. Emily,’ said Jay. ‘And Emily is from …’
‘Michigan,’ I supplied.
‘Michigan!’ he snapped his fingers. ‘Of course, of course. We met at the bar last week.’
‘Well, if you’ll excuse me for a just a sec,’ said Jay, flashing that same smile. ‘Sam is mixing the cocktails and I have to make sure that she doesn’t try to dump twice the amount of gin into them.’
He smiled at Peter and patted him on the shoulder. Peter grinned to himself. I looked down at my tennis shoes, which stood out bright white against the hardwood floor. When I looked back up, Peter was examining me, still evidently displeased that I wasn’t dressed as a piece of cutlery. That I hadn’t managed to transform myself into a spoon in the last minute or so.
‘I didn’t know about the theme,’ I said, taking off my backpack and sticking it near a leather armchair.
He sipped his martini. ‘It’s not a theme,’ he said.
An awkward silence followed. It seemed like he hadn’t heard my question. Piano notes punctured the air between us. The music was slow, jazzy.
‘Isn’t that thing uncomfortable?’ I asked, breaking the silence, gesturing to the headband that his silver oval was attached to.
‘Yes,’ said Peter.
I looked around desperately for someone else, anyone else, to talk to.
Ordinarily, if I showed up to a party dressed how I was, I would be the most unnoticeable person in the room. But here, I stood out. If we were actually utensils in a drawer, I would be the cheese grater. It was strange, but I almost wished for a stupid oval to stick behind my head, just so people would stop casting sidelong glances at me, pursing their lips in judgment that I didn’t adhere to the party theme.
It isn’t my fault. I didn’t know! I wanted to shout. And if I had, I wouldn’t have come to this damn party in the first place.
Maybe it wasn’t too late to bail. Jay could barely remember my name so it seemed unlikely he would miss me if I just walked right back out the door. Peter would probably be pleased.
‘Well, I just remembered that I actually have to –’ I started to say, but then I heard the clinking of silver on glass. I looked over at the drink area, where Jay was standing and holding aloft a martini with a fat olive floating in it.
‘Can I have your attention, please. We’re going to start the games shortly, but in the meantime, please grab a drink and form a circle.’
They all started tittering with excitement, grabbing more of the elegant martinis that were laid out on the edge of the table. One guy knocked the top his cardboard oval against the doorframe as he came in from another room. He had to duck to come in. I felt like laughing, but everyone else was taking it all so seriously, it didn’t seem appropriate.
Jay handed me a martini and indicated for me to sit down. I held its thin stem and looked down at the olive that had sunk to the bottom. It was too late to bail now. If anything, this would be a weird story to recount later to my friends back home. You wouldn’t believe what kind of stuff they get up to on the East Coast . . .
I sat down in the armchair. The leather was firm and didn’t seem to bend at all under my weight. There were about eight of us in total. Everyone kept looking over at me, then whispering to one another and giggling.
‘Welcome to the Annual General Meeting of the Silverware Club. Thank you for travelling here from your various destinations. I am Wooden Spoon. I will be in charge of this meeting for today. First on the agenda, introductions.’
He gestured to the girl next to him who was dressed in all silver like Peter. A silver strapless dress and silvery eye shadow. She was hot in the way that 1960’s film stars are hot: languid, dewy-eyed and a little absent.
‘What spoon are you?’ Jay asked.
She pulled up her silvery gloves that stood out against her tan skin. ‘I’m a silver tea spoon,’ she said. ‘I’m used primarily to stir the coffee of a very wealthy woman who lives on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. I only get used once a day and then I’m immediately washed, by somebody else.’
The others nodded and we began going around the circle, everyone inventing a story to go alongside their spoon outfits. No hesitation. No laughter. One girl dressed in green said that she was the plastic spoon that was part of a child’s tea set and that she was used to stir imaginary tea. The guy who was playing the piano earlier was a plastic spoon that a family kept in a crowded bottom drawer, alongside the spare light bulbs and underused tablecloths, and only brought out for picnics in the summer. He was used to spoon egg salad onto bread.
I guzzled my cocktail like it was water until, eventually, it was my turn.
‘Hi there,’ I said, waving awkwardly. ‘Sorry I’m not a …’ I trailed off. The whole room stared at me. Some looked a little sad for me, others amused. Some seemed too preoccupied with their own costumes to care. Peter grinned at Jay.
‘I can tell you a little bit about myself though. My, actual self,’ I said. ‘I’m 22. I graduated from college last year. Computer programming. I just moved here from Michigan to start a job –’
Jay held up a hand and gave me that smile again. ‘It’s okay. You don’t need to tell us about that. Just tell us, what kind of spoon would you be?’
‘What kind of spoon?’ I repeated.
He nodded, smiling encouragingly.
I tried to think of all the spoons that I’d seen in my life. The thing is: spoons are not the type of thing I’d ever really noticed. My mom had spoons in her kitchen drawer with dark blue, plastic handles, I remembered those. I once went to an antique store with my ex-boyfriend back in Michigan and we saw spoons lined up on a silver tray with pictures of a forest carved into them. Woods and creeks, all in miniature, scraped into the silver. They were dusty and we got dust on the pads of our fingers when we touched them.
A few days ago, as I sat alone in a café, I had stirred my iced tea with a long, thin spoon. I watched some people outside playing a pick up game of soccer in a park, calling out to one another and kicking up dirt as they ran. I’d played soccer for years back home and as the ball rolled towards the café, I had the urge to rush outside and kick it hard. To feel that knock of pressure as the ball hits your foot and the burn in your lungs as you run through grass. I liked the camaraderie of it, too. How we all huddled around the cooler after games, sweaty, exhausted, drinking blue Gatorade from paper cups and dissecting what we did right and wrong.
As I watched their game, I knocked my iced-tea spoon against the ice chunks and when I pulled it out the body was freezing. You don’t use iced-tea spoons very often. It’s the type of spoon you would only really need one of.
But I didn’t identify with any of these spoons. I didn’t identify with any type of spoon at all.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. Peter smiled smugly.
‘Because you’re not a spoon,’ he muttered.
‘No,’ I said loudly. ‘I’m not a spoon.’
The others stared at me with pitying looks and I almost wished I had an oval strapped to my head. I wished that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a costume, who didn’t have a story. I wished, most of all, that I hadn’t been so excited for this goddamn party. At the prospect of making more friends in the city. People that I could meet for a cold beer after work. Who would find the Midwest things that I said charming, like ‘pop’ instead of ‘soda’. Who would come over to my apartment so the space wouldn’t feel so blank.
‘It’s just going to be a little gathering with some close friends,’ Jay had said at the bar, buying another round of cider and cheers-ing with me. The cold liquid sloshing on to our fingers. ‘Why don’t you come by? It would be great to have you.’ When he had invited me, I felt flattered, chosen.
Now I stared at the group of spoons. ‘I’m not sure I understand what we’re doing.’ I looked over helplessly at Jay. There was pity in his eyes. I wished that he was annoyed with me. Pity was worse. Pity made me feel naked and helpless, all those eyes staring at me, faces made larger by the ovals of plastic and wood behind them, expressions amplified. I felt dizzy. When I stared down at the polished floorboards, not looking at anyone straight on, it seemed like their faces were flat. Flat, smooth and spoonlike.
I felt flabby, three-dimensional. As if my nose and forehead jutted out into the center of the room and my face was all waxy, fleshy. My cheeks burned. This cocktail was really starting to go to my head.
I didn’t want it to be my turn anymore, so I just said something, anything, to get them to stop looking at me.
‘I’m a spoon you eat breakfast cereal with. A silver spoon with a blue plastic handle and I belong to a little girl who lives in Michigan and who eats Coco Pops with me every day while her mom listens to local news on the radio. I sit on a red and white checkered table cloth.’
The group smiled. Jay beamed with pride and raised his martini glass to me and took a sip. My body began to cool down. Peter was grinning at me, looking pleased with himself. Then I saw him take out a black moleskin notebook and begin to write something. He looked up at me periodically, then down at the paper again. It was almost like he was trying to sketch a portrait of me.
People shared a few more stories and then we all stood up again for a break. I moved to the window. There was a little balcony and I stepped out onto it, looking down at the street below.
Jay came and stood next to me. The air suddenly felt warmer, boozier and he leaned down and patted my shoulders.
‘Sorry about all this. I wasn’t very nice,’ he said.
‘It’s okay,’ I said, looking out at the house opposite. They were having some sort of dinner party. Candles twisted at the center of the table. All of it framed in red curtains like they were actors in a play. Like, if you got close, all of the fruit would really be made of wax.
‘I really am sorry,’ he said, slumping against the railing.
‘It’s alright. You forgot to tell me. It happens. I think I might head off now though –’
‘I didn’t forget,’ murmured Jay and at first I thought I didn’t hear him properly. He wiped his mouth and looked down at me. Again, those watery, pitying eyes.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
He leaned towards me, like we were co-conspirators. I felt my cheeks burn a little as our faces got closer. ‘It’s kind of funny really. Peter told me that I should invite one person to the party who didn’t know what it was going to be and then we’d see how they reacted. To see how far you’d go along with it. I’d be like . . . performance art, you know? He’s writing about it for his blog.’
‘Performance art?’ I repeated. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but I hadn’t come to see some sort of art. I had come to meet people.
And it seemed they had all lied to me.
‘All that stuff about forgetting to tell me?’ I asked.
He just smiled weakly at me and waited, as if he expected me to smile back. As if he was waiting for me to let him off the hook, waiting for me to say, ‘Oh Jay, it’s okay. You lured a complete stranger here under false pretenses so that you could make a fool out of them for some sort of fucked up art thing.’
‘This is messed up!’ I gestured indiscriminately to the whole city street. I thought of the girl who had walked up the street earlier that evening, nervously ringing the doorbell, adjusting her shirt, hoping that she’d make a new friend, or at least acquaintance, tonight. I felt sorry for that girl.
Jay’s expression darkened. His head was sagging onto his chest, like his neck could no longer hold it up. ‘Seemed like a fun idea at the time. We were going to tell you the truth, eventually.’
I didn’t say anything else, but just walked off the patio, crashed through two spoons who were talking and sent some gin and tonic splashing to the floorboards. I grabbed my backpack and hoisted it on. The music stopped abruptly, but maybe I was imagining that.
I walked straight downstairs and out the front door, back into the night air.
A fucking spoon. I told them that I was a spoon that a girl used to eat cereal.
There were no sounds as I walked down the street towards the subway station. No cars, no wind, and the quiet seemed to stretch out forever on all sides. Row after row of houses where people didn’t know me. And I didn’t know them.
I knew everyone on my block back home, but nobody inside these houses would recognize my face if they peered out the window. They wouldn’t know that I’d fallen out of a tree when I was five and broken my knee. That I still had a white, comma-shaped scar on my kneecap. Nobody knew that. To them, I was just a narrow shape running through the autumn dark.
My lungs were burning by the time I got to the subway station. I gripped the cold metal railing outside the subway entrance, trying to catch my breath. I glanced over at the empty park nearby, where I’d seen people playing soccer a few days ago. Even in the dark, the open field looked inviting. I remembered the shouts of the players, red faced, hair flying, high-fiving each other as someone kicked the ball through the gap between two trees.
Originally from Austin, Texas, CARLY BROWN is a writer, performer and PhD student based in Scotland. She is the author of a children’s picture book, I Love St Andrews, and a poetry chapbook, Grown Up Poetry Needs to Leave Me Alone. In 2013, she was Scotland’s National Champion of Slam Poetry and 4th at the World Series of Slam Poetry in Paris. Her website is: carlyjbrown.com