As directed, I shake out the school’s neatly folded tablecloths and spread them over the formica tabletops. I place tea-cup sized ceramic plates in front of small wooden chairs. Alongside the plates, I arrange unmatched drinking glasses and cloth napkins made from scraps of floral fabric. I dot the tables with bowls of freshly sliced apples that Henry and I picked at a local orchard.
The tuneless notes of a cow bell starts the stampede. Sixteen children busily hang their coats, wash their hands and find their seats. I help distribute the individually portioned yogurt cups that I brought for group snack despite their bad-for-the-earth rap. (Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to wash sixteen more dishes. Besides, those containers are recyclable!)
The hard seat of the tiny wooden chair I am perched on is anesthetizing my rear-end. The room fills with a chorus of: “I don’t like this kind! I want what she’s having!” I swap yogurts between kids like a carney playing a cup game —Where’d the strawberry go? Is it this one? That one? Now you see it; now you don’t. Eventually, the kids settle down and start slurping.
A small voice announces: “These apples taste like poison.”
“Really?” I ask. “Have you been eating a lot of poison, lately?” Oops. I said that out-loud. I hurry to clarify, “Nobody should eat poison. Poison is very, very bad for you.”
The eight owners of the sixteen eyes at my table consider this statement. I raise my eyebrows and nod my head vigorously. “I promise you. I did not put any poison on these apples.”
Then, gathering my tattered rags around me, I cackle and put on my pointy hat.