Plates

by Ricky Ginsburg


There was a soft click and the lights went out. Footsteps shuffled off towards the bedroom. Inside the kitchen cabinet the everyday dishes began to rustle and shake. Two bottom plates were getting restless again.

“That’s six days in a row they’ve gotten down to the last 3 plates. I’m really getting pissed. We haven’t been out of this cabinet for over a month,” moaned the bottom plate.

“It’s been longer than that,” chimed in his upper neighbor, “I haven’t seen the inside of the dishwasher since Thanksgiving in the old house.”

“Don’t remind me,” said bottom, “a salad plate kept smacking against me in the rinse cycle and I was sure I was going to chip.”

The upper plates jiggled a little. The top plate spoke for the stack, “You guys on the bottom are always moaning and groaning about not getting used. But look at your edges, smooth and unchipped like the day you came out of the kiln. Do you think it’s a pleasure getting scratched with a steak knife? Do you really think we like getting covered with greasy slices of undercooked meat and overcooked potatoes dripping with butter?”

“Yeah, but at least you get out of this cabinet and make yourself useful. The only place I’ve ever traveled is from a moving van to exactly where I am now.”

The retired electrician and his wife of over forty-two years were fast asleep in separate beds on the other side of the house and heard none of this bickering. They spent mornings in the kitchen sipping lukewarm coffee while reading the local paper. They used the same two matching coffee cups every day.

Lunch was always somewhere else, Chinese on Mondays, Burger King on Tuesdays, deli sandwiches in that little diner by the railroad station on Wednesdays but never at home. You eventually reach an age where you’ve got to get out of the house even if the excuse is just for lunch.

They entertained for dinner only when their grandchildren came to visit and then usually on paper plates to ease the cleanup. When they weren’t going out with friends and neighbors for dinner, the need for plates came down to just the two of them.

There was a clanking from the carving knives. The old, but still sharp bread knife growled at the dinnerware in typical Prussian fashion, “You loudmouths know dat der ist a whole cabinet full of disposable paper plates just vaiting to take your place, ja?”

Top plate shouted down through the cabinet to the comfortably reclining knives, “You think that’s a threat you useless hunk of cheap Bavarian steel? How long do you think those paper imitations will live here before they disappear into the bin below the sink? A bunch of one-use wonders. And when was the last time a loaf of bread came into this kitchen that needed your services anyhow?”

Ja, dat may be true, mine flat friend, but someday you’ll be replaced by a new pattern. Ve vill be watching as you get packed into a giveaway box and hauled out the door.”

A small paring knife came to the defense of his brother cutlery, “Der knives are forever; plates come and go mit der passage of time und der pleasures of redecorating.”

The silverware drawer was, by now, full of chirping and squeaking as dinner forks and butter knives shuffled around to get a better position in their trays. The soup spoons, being small in number but larger in volume, sat out this dance secure in the knowing that all of them would swim in a bowl of cereal or warm soup within a day or two.

The teaspoons, the largest of the clan, twittered and tinkled listening to the argument several cabinets above them, “It’s good to be used. It’s good to have purpose. We are the most important utensils in the kitchen.” It seemed that their space was either totally empty or completely full. The infinite cups of coffee that were filled daily required mixing that only a teaspoon could perform with any real dexterity. Bowls of Jell-O and chocolate pudding yielded their contents to no fork. As a matter of culinary fact few desserts traveled from either plate or bowl without their aid.

The cake forks satisfied themselves with the occasional cake or pie but were more than happy to substitute for their larger brothers to move a salad from plate to mouth. But that didn’t happen as often as they would have liked.

In the kitchen everyone wanted to be used. It was their mission, their joy, and the sole purpose for their existence. Pictures hung on the wall resolved to find acceptance in the occasional visitor’s gaze or the wipe of a duster.

Even the cabinets anxiously awaited the touch of a warm hand or a damp sponge. There was honor for the large plates in holding the juices of a medium-rare sirloin from staining the fine linen.

A sharp knife regaled in the glory of slicing easily through the warm cooked flesh. And the hot soapy bath that followed an elegant sauté was almost dreamy for the large aluminum fry pan.

To not be used, to live out one’s life at the bottom of the stack of dishes was enough to make even a Wedgwood pattern fade in dismay. The bottom plates would always be the last, if ever used. The only way up this corporate ladder was death by breakage for those near the top. Nightly they would bemoan their fate.

A large serving bowl in a neighboring cabinet bellowed down the line, “Don’t youse guys ever shut up? The friggin’ lights are out, nothin’s cooking, and some of us would enjoy a peaceful night for once.”

“Oh, is that Mr. I Can Hold My Food Better Than You Can, in the base cabinet?” asked the bottom plate with an obvious sneer, “I’ve seen that old wooden bowl out far more than your stainless steel ass in the past few months. He gets chopped with salad and tuna fish while you sit there collecting dust.”

“Yeah, but he’ll eventually crack like his old man and godfather before him,” bellowed the deep steel bowl, “and then it’s out the friggin’ door for him and back to work for me.”

“Sure, for a day or two until a new wooden bowl comes to live here,” piped in the bottom plate, “you can mix but you’re useless for chopping anything. When was the last time the old lady made a cake?”

A soup bowl that had rarely been out of the upper cabinet shouted down to the large bowl, “Listen, man, some of us cats haven’t been used in years and yet we live here safe in our communal cabinet knowing that we’ll never leave the house. I recall two mixing bowls that left one day filled with cole slaw and potato salad that never returned. We cried for them then and offer prayers for them now.”

A hush came over the cabinets as they all thought back to that day in July. The two brightly colored plastic bowls had been stored deep in the back of one of the base cabinets. One of them was filled with corn on the cob skewers the other held a collection of antique salt and pepper shakers that had not tasted seasoning for as long as anyone could remember.

It was a surprise when the other bowls were pulled from their depths and those two selected. They both squealed with delight as the cold food was pressed deep into their basins and their rims covered with Saran-wrap. They fully expected to return with marvelous tales of the world outside the kitchen.

When evening came that day and the elderly couple returned the two plastic bowls were no where to be found. The rest of the bowls, large and small, spent a night in mourning the loss of their two friends. No one even noticed the two new Tupperware bowls that moved into the cabinet the next afternoon.

“Soup bowls, cereal bowls, water bowls for the dog, you guys get out a lot more than some and you always come back. So I wouldn’t worry,” the salad plates sang out. “We’re the ones that spend too much time lying on our backs in this dark cabinet.”

“Yes, you certainly are the victims of paper plates these days,” agreed the top plate, “You need a large plate for a meal but small paper plates are just as good as you guys when it comes to dessert.”

The bottom plate stirred again, “Well either way I’m still pissed that I haven’t been out of this cabinet since we moved here. It’s not fair. This wouldn’t happen if we had a union rep to hear our complaints.”

“They just don’t need all of us,” explained a plate four up from him, “there’s only two living here now. A dozen plates are ten more than they need. You two guys at the top are just lucky to be there. I remember when the whole family lived here, no one sat idle for long.”

A fry pan from under the stove had had enough of this complaining. He sizzled, “Every night, night after night, you pile of porcelain platters moan and groan. Hear this now and heed my words. You are all expendable. You can all be replaced in a heartbeat. And I will go with you when it happens. Keep two words in your mind at all times and be happy for the lives you lead, knowing that these words signal an end to your usefulness.”

“So, what’re the friggin’ words?” asked the stainless steel mixing bowl with a smirk.

The fry pan smiled at the cabinets above him and whispered, “Dinner reservations.”


Copyright © 2006 by Ricky Ginsburg

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