The Silent Intruder

It is two o’clock when I make the boys lunch. Peanut butter sandwiches on white bread. I spread the peanut butter evenly across the bread’s softness to avoid clumping. Line up the crust. Place one slice on top. Swipe crumbs into the wastebasket. On ceramic plates, I carry the diagonally cut sandwiches up wooden stairs to the boys’ bedroom. They say thank you and take their lunch. In a few minutes I will be back here, collecting the plates, asking them to eat just one bite of the crust.

In the meantime, I wash the peanut butter from my fingers. And as the faucet streams warm water on my hands, I remember a time when peanut butter sandwiches were romantic. It began on a university campus. It was a Thursday night. Lightning bugs flew low on the pavement. My bike was chained to a bench outside his dorm. For a while that night, it was just him and I, slowly getting to know each other, drifting toward familiarity with slight caution in our speech. I remember standing, overwhelmed by the choice to make myself comfortable or not. He pointed to the new string lights hanging from the ceiling’s perimeter. He opened a tin container of tea bags, offered me a cup. I liked how unfazed he was to it being midnight. How normal it was to prepare tea at this hour. Why should we not? he might have said. Then, his cell phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He told me to answer the call because it would be funny. I did. The girl sounded confused, irritated perhaps. I handed the phone back to him immediately.

She arrived five minutes later, wearing wedge heels and tight jeans. A patterned blouse with tassels hanging from the neckline. We went back to his room. This time I lingered in the doorway, aware of the intruder I was about to become. I watched her relax onto the mattress as if it were her own. I watched her unstrap the Velcro on her heels. Her laugh made me envious. How pretty and strong. Its sound masking my presence even further.

Deciding to force myself into comfort, I sat down on the cold concrete floor. I felt small looking up at them, into the space between their eyes, into a private terrain. He straddled a wooden chair, sitting at eye level with her. It felt pathetic to watch them interact so carelessly as I sat like a stone beneath it all. I remember feeling rage build inside me. I was pissed at my inability to relax and be myself. Maybe I could have joined the camaraderie. Maybe I would have been welcomed into their world.

I seldom spoke, inserting a comment or scoff at random. I mostly listened to the fusion of their laughter. The way his eyes watched her body jolt and rock with ab-engaging laughter. The squint in his eyes.

“I haven’t had anything to eat all day,” she said.

“I’ll make you a peanut butter sandwich,” he said. “And how about some tea?”

He untwisted a plastic bag, removing two slices of bread. She began to tell him about a lecture in her literature class that day. In the palm of one hand, he held a slice of bread, spreading the peanut butter with the other and listening to her words with his lips pulled into a grin.

The cement was cold on my thighs. My neck was strained from observing. But before excusing myself, lying about an early morning exam or an assignment I had to finish, it occurred to me that this could be the moment he decides to love her. The sandwich and a cup of tea solidifying it all. A few years from now, when he is retelling this moment to friends or relatives, my name will not be spoken. I will have no role in the story besides the inessential onlooker, the extraneous person, the silent intruder.

That night, riding my bike across campus, I wondered how I became entangled in their night. I wondered how long she’ll stay. How long they will sit, laughing and talking. Will they steep more tea? Will they split another sandwich? I wonder if they’ll kiss, uniting the remnants of peanut butter in their mouths just like their laughter.

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