“Give me just a spoonful,” said Nana, who having had diabetes for ten years was not allowed even a whiff of double-chocolate cake, let alone a spoonful. “Just the tip of a spoonful.”
This would have been less of a problem if she’d done portion control on the rest of the meal. But as most holiday meals, this had begun with large platters of fatty hors d’oeuvres and continued with meatball soup, broiled cabbage, pork ribs and mashed potatoes accompanied by five different kinds of pickles. Nana’s household was a nice mix of Catholic and Jewish, and this was never better represented than at dinner time. Nana never skimped on either preparing or consuming.
“Just a crumb.” Nana waved the hand over her plate, “Come on, give it. Just on the tip of the spoon. I’m telling you it’s fine, I’m a doctor.”
Anna sighed and picked up a teaspoon. She shaved off a bit of cake about the size of a thumb nail, and put it on Nana’s plate.
Nana had been busy pouring herself some Diet Pepsi. (They were strictly a Pepsi household, except when Mom visited when they allowed in heretic Coke.) When she was done with the Pepsi she turned and spotted the crumb of cake on the plate, and her eyes got round. “What the hell is this?”
“The tip of a spoonful,” said Anna.
She didn’t understand why everyone was laughing.
In seventh grade Lit class they were going over figures of speech. Anna had repetition and alliteration down, and she loved similes. Hyperbole took a little to get the hang of, but in the end that clicked, too, the thought of taking something small and making it big.
Metaphors were the death of all good things.
Back then teachers loved cold-calling. They’d flip open the roll and pick a name. Everyone in class had memorized which page of the roll their name was on. They could tell from fifty feet out whether they were on the open page.
“Anna. Read the excerpt out loud, and then analyze it.”
Anna read. That was easy. She’d read at eighth-grade level since elementary school. Critical reading was easy, too. “The protagonist is visiting this old family for the first time. The description shows just how old their house is and how this is a weird family”
The teacher frowned. “Why is the family weird?”
“Because their kids are made out of wood.”
“Read that sentence again,” said the teacher.
Anna read. “And in the middle of the art salon stood the old prefect and his wife, lone flesh-and-bone intruders surrounded by their oak and oil children…”
Anna didn’t understand why everyone was laughing.
Metaphors were too much like lies, and Anna didn’t understand lies.
But Mom said you couldn’t just tell people the truth all the time, especially when you didn’t like them. She said it was rude, the way Anna said things sometimes. To be polite you had to dissimulate – which was another word for lie.
Anna didn’t know how to explain the way lies just snagged on something inside her head and she couldn’t make them fall into place no matter how much she tugged. So she just tried to do what Mom said. She learned that you weren’t supposed to say things like ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘don’t’ or just ‘no’. You had to lie to be polite.
“Try it, it’s fresh made! It’s like caviar – you want some bread? Try the rye.”
Anna hated being dragged along to Mom’s friends’ houses. But Mom said she couldn’t be a savage. Mom said that a lot. ‘You’re too savage. Don’t be a savage.’ Anna didn’t want to be a savage, so she went with Mom and she didn’t say ‘no’ even though she hated rye and the mushy concoction in the bowl looked like vomit.
“Have some!” Mom’s friend shoved the bowl under her nose. It smelled like the river docks. “They have a new section at the grocery, just for fish roe salad. This is mixed carp and trout, with onions. You want some on your plate? Here, I’ll scoop some on for you…”
Anna leaned as far back from the table as she could without tipping the chair. She looked to Mom for help, but Mom was busy smearing the vomit-paste on a piece of bread.
She said the first thing she could think of that wasn’t ‘I don’t like’ or ‘I don’t want’ or ‘don’t’.
“At my house we only eat black caviar.”
Anna didn’t understand why they were laughing. She thought it had been a very polite lie.
“I’m like that,” Anna said, casually. They’d been watching the same sitcom every night for months, but she’d felt the kinship with the quirky protagonist from the first week.
“Yeah, right.” Her roommate laughed.
“I’m serious. That’s me. I’m exactly like him, only I do a better job pretending I’m a real person.”
“You’re nothing like that,” said Anna’s roommate. “You’re nice and your social skills are great.”
“I think our crumble’s done.” Anna’s roommate paused Netflix to go get dessert out of the oven. “You left room for it, right? Where’s your plate?”
Anna grabbed the plate from the arm of the sofa. “Just a little for me,” she said. “Just a spoonful. The tip of a spoonful.”