How I learned to Use Chopsticks


Sometimes I’ll look out of the window of a house in a movie and feel homesick. It will bring back memories that have nothing to do with the window. It brings back smells and muffled voices that become sharp and whole, and suddenly, I’m there, again.

Eric is over. He knows how to use chopsticks.

My father gives up first, forking chow-mein passed an outflow of grumbles and groans. I don’t give up; I like Eric. He has big hands and a lot of hair. He is fond of saying “whatever keeps them out of church,” and I don’t like church very much. He says it all the time, like later in the night when my mother talks about me getting detention he says “whatever keeps him out of church.”

My mother laughs every time, even though she’s the reason we go to church.

I don’t get it but I eventually get the hang of the chopsticks as Eric is telling a story about his time in Namibia where he was in a bus accident.

I ask my father, quietly, where Namibia is. He shrugs.

“Africa,” Eric tells me. He must have big ears under all that hair. He smiles, “I was in the Peace Corps,”

“What’s the Peace Corps?” My sister asks.

My mother smiles, “they go to other countries and help people.”

“Like Dad,” my sister says.

At this, Eric laughs, “not exactly,” he says.

“What does that mean?” My father frowns across at him, fork down.

Eric chop-sticks a piece of broccoli with an adroit flick of the wrist. “Nothing–no, it’s just, does the military really help people?”

My father takes a breath the way he does when he is about to yell. Instead, he looks to my mother. He looks back to Eric.

“Hm,” is all he says. He picks his fork back up and continues eating. I realize my mother and sister aren’t eating, neither am I. A moment later, we’re all fumbling with our chopsticks again. I manage to get some pork. Chewing, I look up, out the window. I can hear Eric telling another story. I hear him say something about being trapped at some airport. I hear my mother say that I want to be a pilot. I look back to the table and smile. I open my mouth to tell her that I’ve changed my mind but Eric is already chuckling as he says, “whatever keeps him out of church.”

My mother laughs.

My father clears his throat as he pushes away from the table. Then, without a word he walks off.

I can hear a door, somewhere, slam. I look at my sister, she shrugs. My mother pats one of Eric’s large hands and says, “oh, it’s alright.”

She pats his hand again, softly.

“It’s just fine,” she says.

But, I’m watching his other hand as it uses the chopsticks to create a graspable pile of noodles. It really is quite impressive.


12 replies to “How I learned to Use Chopsticks

      1. ohhh, you do not like him….but in fact he is the only one who tells some stories while having dinner, no? And everybody seems to love him ( except the father) I did not really get the sentence “whatever keeps them out of church”…what does this mean? That he tells and do everything just to not contact with god, not having faith?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yeah, he doesn’t approve of church basically, but it is just kind of a joke he says. The father doesn’t like him because there is something weird between Eric and the mother. Maybe something obvious but the narrator isn’t paying attention to that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. hmm I´m not able to figure Eric out. The Kids and Mum like him, he tells beautiful stories, but he denies the church, although it is only in fun. The mother tolerates this as a regular churchgoer and the father tolerates a love affair? Who is he?

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      4. He is the mothers friend. And you don’t really know if the father tolerates it or suspects it because the narrator doesn’t really know or understand what is going on

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thanks Flash, it took me a long time until I understood. Hmm, in fact, an extremely bizarre scene. Eric seems to “make a good face to the evil game” (a german expression to “to put up a brave front”) , or he is completely obtuse/ numb (the mother by the way, also). He ignores that he provokes. The fun about the church is also strange when the mother believes. Or does he believe in god, but prefer to supplant it?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. she seems to have two big fat red hearts on her eyes! Isn´t love beautiful? Well they will be normal conversations by time…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. “It really is quite impressive” The story, Eric and the narrator! Eric, because he is a great enrichment for the family, the narrator, because he can see with his heart. He does not pay attention to negative signs, but pines afterwards to discover beautiful things. And the story, because it does not run after the negative moments either. The picture is also quite excellent … a small test? What do I see? A funny “Punch and Judy show” performance, or two hands that hide desperately the face? A wonderful flash story!

    Liked by 1 person

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