The Fork

This takes place one radiant Sunday in April, in a restaurant in a town at the foot of a mountain on which there is still snow at the peak. At lunchtime, when the majority of tables are still empty, two couples, nearer to sixty than to fifty, arrive. One of the men walks into the dining room engrossed in a sports paper. It’s clear that they come to this restaurant a lot, because they greet the owner informally, kiss cheeks and talk about how long it’s been since they’ve seen one another. “Not since before Holy Week!” one of the women exclaims with feigned surprise. Then they talk about their children. Apparently they’re all doing fine. After concluding the conversation, the owner (all smiles) indicates the table she’s reserved for them. It’s rectangular, off to one side of the room. One of the women chooses a seat against the wall, and the other takes the one opposite her. The husbands, therefore, will also be face to face, but on the hall side.

And then, while they’re still standing, taking off their jackets, one of the women accidentally knocks a fork—her own—with her sleeve, causing it to fall to the ground in silence, because although there are few people in the dining room, the piped music covers up the noise, plus there’s the sound of voices coming from the kitchen. The fork’s fall has gone undetected by the other three. The other couple is now turned toward the wall, looking at a painting of a cypress-lined road on a yellowy morning, and the husband of the woman who dropped the fork is still absorbed in his sports paper.

Moving quickly, then, the woman bends and scoops up the fork. But, instead of putting it on one side of the table for the waiter to bring her a clean replacement, she takes her husband’s fork, places it where hers had been, and the one she picked up off the ground she puts to the left of his plate, where the one she has appropriated was. Then she sits. Then her husband sits, finishes reading, and folds the paper.

I look on, fascinated. Why didn’t she ask the waiter to bring a new fork? If she doesn’t mind that it fell, if she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with using it even if it’s dirty, why didn’t she leave it where it was, by her own plate? There are people who don’t care if a piece of silverware, or food, falls on the ground. In the US, young people heed an imaginary Five Second Rule, which states that, if something (a sandwich, a piece of silverware) falls on the ground, it really doesn’t matter as long as you pick it up before five seconds have passed, because—they say—it takes longer than that for dirt, microbes, whatever, to affect the thing that fell. But this woman must not believe in this rule, because after she picked up the fork, she decided it wasn’t clean enough for her. But it was for him. Is he less scrupulous? Is it years of cohabitation, which wears away everything, even stone? Is it just one of many tiny acts of revenge that she takes? Does she spit in his coffee every morning, too, when he’s distracted?

I glance over at the few other occupied tables. No diners have noticed. Neither have the owner or the waiter, an efficient, very young kid who at this moment is bringing them a basket of bread, some olives, and the menus. The other couple finally stops examining the painting and sits. They pick up the menus, open them, and begin to read.

Translation of “La forquilla.” From Mil cretins. © 2007 by Joaquim Monzó. © 2007 by Quaderns Crema, S.A.U. By arrangement with the publisher. Translation © 2010 by Lisa M. Dillman. All rights reserved.