Word Count 495
By Terry Rainey
I spent most of my eighth grade lunches watching Susan Timberlake eat hers. We kept our meals in cubicles under our desks and we ate at our places. Surrounded by my pals Walter, Johnny, and Herman, I’d nod at their silliness, but I furtively glanced across the classroom, where Susan ate with Kathryn Moore, the class Brainiac. In my eyes, everything Susan did was perfect. Walking down the hallway, getting off the bus, writing on the chalkboard, collecting her books from under her desk, eating. All angelic.
She ate with such pure devotion and concentration that it was thrilling. Lunchtime was a relaxed half hour, as Sister Xavier absented herself, bustling down to the convent to fortify herself for the afternoon fray. Susan never noticed me, lunchtime or otherwise.
My sandwich was pedestrian, peanut butter and jelly Monday through Thursday. My mother prepared it in surgical fashion, applying the thinnest coating of peanut butter, barely visible when looked at from the side. Jelly was one prudent dollop. Smushing was supposed to spread its strawberry flavor across the thin veneer of peanut butter. Friday’s sandwich was tuna, with the cellophane wrapping expected to last from Monday’s PBJ to Friday’s fish.
Susan Timberlake took out a crisp brown paper bag and rested it on her desk. Every day, seemingly, she had a new bag, unrumpled and pristine. She pulled back her long, lovely black hair with one hand and plunged her other into the bag. She fished out a sandwich in a baggie, a piece of ham or turkey or chicken resting on a crisp bed of lettuce and a whisper of real mayonnaise. Delicious. She raised it to her mouth like a goddess, her chewing impeccable and efficient.
After she took 12 bites of equal size and finished her sandwich, she reached into the bag for carrot sticks. She ate each one deliberately, crunching neatly with her ideally spaced teeth. And then the trifecta finale. A Nestle bar!
I spotted the familiar logo from across class, its promise of a bit of heaven, with the accent above the second E giving it a bit of international flair. Susan’s father was a diplomat, and she’d moved to Arlington only last year, having lived abroad.
Susan broke off the “LE” part and gave that square segment to Kathryn. Susan’s hands were magic, like a Swiss army knife with a convenient pair of scissors. Her generosity and grace helped give order to the universe.
From the remaining “NEST,” she only ate the ST part. She saved the NE for when the bell rang at 3, ending our day at OLPS. As my friends bolted out of their desks as if electrocuted, I contemplated Susan nibble that yummy NE, our mutual patience rewarded.
I envisioned a distant future when she and I would lunch at Lake Geneva, popping Swiss chocolates into each other’s mouth while we laughed about Walter, Johnny and Herman and wondered how Kathryn Moore had turned out.