Ceci n’est pas une nappe

There is a loaf of white bread on the table, its shadow radiating lilac across the gingham. Adjacent to it, but not too close, is a nearly-full jar of Skippy smooth peanut butter; its aquamarine lid is a hockey puck of joy.

I’d been writing about silence for a long time now. Being an English teacher, of course this silence rested between the lines of most of my blogs. I had been saying things to really say nothing; I had been hankering for the cleanliness of nothing – a spotless tablecloth, free of crumbs and softly curious for its next setting.

And so I find myself sat at this table across from my two children, contemplating a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. Not contemplating as such, just resting upon the solidity of the plastic jar and allowing my thoughts to plunge into the soft bread and stay – half in, half out.

With deliberateness I lean forward and take these objects, one in each hand, and raise them off the table.

“I used to think that my mind was comprised only of these two things,” I said.

“What, peanut butter and bread?” my youngest asks.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” I reply, “Only the peanut butter is thought and the bread is feeling.”

My children look at each other. To see them transact in this way remains nothing short of miraculous.

“I used to think that if I stopped thinking and if I didn’t feel anything, I’d probably not exist.” The gingham pattern unsettles me at this point, recalling a long forgotten childhood nightmare. I had dreamt that I was part of a kaleidoscopic pattern and that, as the pattern rotated and evolved, it became gradually clear to me that the part of the pattern that was me was heading for non-existence. My parents found me, in my brown pyjamas, standing in the bathroom, looking sightless at the toilet.

“Definitely smooth?” asks my eldest, “Not crunchy?” I return the peanut butter and the loaf of bread to the table.

“I guess that’s not relevant,” I say, refusing to catch her mischief, “The peanut butter could be chutney or ketchup.”

“Or pesto,” offers my youngest.

“Pesto, yes,” I reply.

My eldest looks at the loaf of bread and shifts from one buttock to the other on her seat. My youngest looks intently at the peanut butter as if to make it levitate. I raise both jar and loaf again, slowly as if to grant her telekinesis, but this time I remove them entirely and place them down on the floor out of sight.

“What do you see now?” I ask.

“The table,” says my eldest.

“The tablecloth,” says my youngest.

“Precisely,” I reply, “And the point I want to make is this: up until very, very recently, I had no idea that this table existed.”

“We’ve had it since August,” says my youngest, looking at the peanut butter under the table.

“Are you going to say that you are the table?” asks my eldest.

“You could say that,” I say, reaching under the table and returning the loaf of bread and the peanut butter to the tablecloth.

There is silence for a time.

We look at the peanut butter and imagine it pesto.

Was it something I said?

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