When Richard ate a pickled red pepper on a dare, it did not invoke a similar degree of risk had he agreed to bungee jump off a cliff, nor did it presage a significant moment of personal growth leading to an uptick in self esteem. Of course peril of some sort must have been part of the pickle incident or it would not have provoked a dare. Without context it is impossible to appreciate the nerve Richard relied on to prevail or the disgust that affair left in my gut.
Easter had brought the expected suffocating heat. A crowd of the faithful faced La Catedral de La Virgen del Milagro anticipating the procession that would appear at the front entrance. We decided to wait in in the plaza at one of the makeshift restaurants set up for Holy Week. One of the children pointed out that flies were struggling in the thick stickiness of the table tops, evident by how difficult it was for them to move after landing. Richard observed that our table had most likely been wiped down with a Coca Cola saturated rag.
We looked at a stained menu and discussed what would give us amoebas, salmonella or worse and decided adults would have a beer but the most sanitary thing for the children was a bottle of possibly warm Sprite or Fanta with a straw. It was not a good idea to have it poured over dirty ice in a glass hastily rinsed in a bucket of gray water.
In the aftermath of settling down, we noticed the oversized glass containers of pickled vegetables, two per table. First I thought how old fashioned the pot-bellied jars were with their rusty screw-on tops the size of an open hand. They were filled with gorgeous color, orange carrots spit lengthwise, long red peppers and smaller hot chilis, whole green beans, impossibly yellow pieces of cauliflower, the octopus-like arms of tender green pacayas and whole stems of herbs – all well covered with vinegar. We agreed the display was beautiful, quite magnificent. It was difficult to look away.
Richard commented he had never seen pickled raisins with veggies. Those are capers I said almost at the same moment the children identified them as flies. In multiple numbers, they populated all the containers not just the pair on our table. A conversation ensued about whether being pickled in vinegar would disinfect their feet from whatever fecal matter was stuck to them. We decided that particular filth, and much more, would just be floating around suspended in the liquid with the spices. Certain parasites were likely thriving, alive, multiplying, nourished by the acidity. We stared at the jars which looked decidedly more sinister than before. The children assured us that several of the flies were twitching their wings while others were attempting to swim. They speculated it was the dead ones that were sinking.
In jest, adding to the yuck-factor of the conversation, I dared Richard to eat a whole pickle from the very jar the children were inspecting. Without hesitating, he reached into it with his grimy fingers and lifted a dripping red pepper into his mouth and chewed it with relish. Before I could react, he gave me a wet kiss on the mouth with the intense and enduring taste of vinegar.