I recently attended a really wonderful writing workshop hosted by a dear friend over Zoom. They shared a powerpoint slide with a list of titles and talked about Erik Satie and his bizarre naming convention. We had thirty minutes to let one of Satie’s title’s to inspire us into unedited train-of-thought style writing. I thought of free-writing, journal style, and then of poetry, but I ended up writing a short story based on the piece L’Enfance de Ko-Quo, roughly translated to “Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers.” I thought I would share it with you:
DO NOT DRINK YOUR CHOCOLATE WITH YOUR FINGERS
Erik has always known he is different from the other kids.
“Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers,” his mother always says, “You must fit in! They cannot know you are different.”
But part of Erik wants them to know he is different. He is in the sixth grade and by this time he has seen the other children and how they interact with one another. They kick balls with their feet and wield jump ropes with their hands. They use their voices to sing songs and, strangest of all, they drink their chocolate with their mouths. Erik has no desire to fit in with such strange creatures but he wants to please his mother more than anything and so he plays their odd games and uses his mouth for drinking and his fingers for typing and his feet for running.
Erik knows his mother only wants to keep him safe. He doesn’t remember much about his father because was so small when they came for him, leaving his sobbing mother clutching baby Erik tightly to her breast. When she tells him this story, which she is wont to do every now and then, particularly when the weather is bad or when she is feeling especially lonely, she tells him how he didn’t cry. Erik thinks he didn’t cry because he was too young to understand what was happening, too small for there to be anything left of his father for him to miss. But when his mother tells him this story, she calls him her brave boy. She tells him how strong he is and elaborates on the tribulations through which her brave strong boy can survive. Erik doesn’t feel brave or strong. He is weak and scared all the time and he doesn’t know what tribulations are, but he certainly doesn’t want to face any and he also, even so young, desires more for his life than to simply survive. But whether it is bravery or compliance, Erik does what his mother says. He uses his eyes for reading and he sings with his mouth, and he never ever ever drinks his chocolate with his fingers.
Erik knows he is different from the other kids because his mother always tells him he has to fit in, but his mother never told him that he isn’t just different. He is special. Despite the frequency of her reminders that he keep the other children from finding out that he’s different, Erik’s mother is surprisingly vague about the nature of his difference. He understands that the other children might not have the ability to drink their chocolate with their fingers, but beyond that specific activity, he isn’t sure what else he should or should not be doing. Do other children use their eyes to lace up their sneakers? Do other children use a remote control to turn on the TV and change the channels? Do other children eat their breakfast with their toes or use their lips to kiss their mothers’ cheeks as they tuck them into bed each night? Since Erik is not privy to these and other private moments in the other lives of any other children, he really has no way of knowing what specifically makes him different, and so has no choice but to watch. He studies the other children intently at every opportunity he gets. He watches them in classes. He sneaks peaks at them in the cafeteria line as the load their lunch trays with square slices of cheese pizza or lasagna or American chop suey and the little brown and white cartons of chocolate milk that Erik does not drink with his fingers. Outdoors at recess, he sits on the grass with his back against the ancient willow trees and watches the children play hop scotch and kickball and climb the jungle gym and any other of a variety of alien behaviors. He studies them and he pictures himself one day doing the things they do, of being not invisible, of fitting in like his mother always tells him he must do.
Despite his best efforts to keep the other children from realizing he is different, the kids at school know Erik is different and they generally avoided him. They do not know precisely how he is different but they know from his awkward staring and inappropriate responses and militant avoidance of eye contact and his curious inability to decide what to do with his hands that he is definitively unlike them and he does not fit in. Thus, Erik has plenty of time to watch undisturbed in this wide berth they give him, of which none of them is consciously aware.
One spring day when the weather is beginning to warm, when wildflowers are springing up in the grass around the willow tree and its long flexible branches have started flowering little lavender fuzzies, the kids’ lunch period is extended into recess and the children are allowed to take their lunches outdoors. Erik stands in line with the rest of his class for a dry slice of pizza and a small brown and white carton of chocolate milk, which he carries on the red tray to the trunk of the willow tree.
Erik sits cross-legged and settles the red tray on his lap and notices a mousy pale third-grader with long braids that has caught his attention before. He can tell from her furtive movements that she is unaware she’s being observed and as he watches, she pries open her brown and white cardboard carton of chocolate milk, slyly dips her finger into the mouth of the container, and takes a slow satisfying sip.