The yellowed plastic tray arrives and the process begins like so many times before as his clear blue eyes scan the week’s offerings with urgent anticipation. I hold it perfectly still as he considers his many options. With robotic precision, he examines each little cup and its contents, more discerning than the haughtiest of connoisseurs. The very slightest difference in water level is known to him, each transparent milliliter matters. His baby fat hand hovers, but first he must think, he must analyze.
He has decided, and his hand moves toward the one perfect cup. His soft finger pads, sticky with stolen treats and wiped away tears, the congenital grime of childhood, grip the rim of the little cup. But no, he has sensed something, some imperceptible flaw. This is not the one. He leaves a filmy signature of bacteria and dirt for some unknowing future drinker to touch to his lips and moves on.
This. This is the one. He picks it up and moves it tortuously toward his lips with all the care of a miner moving nitroglycerin; a single spilled drop is a disaster. It does not spill and observers whisper a silent thanks to a watching God. The cup is at his lips, now.
He slurps. Like a Frenchman sucking loosened snail meat from a greasy brown shell, he slurps and the purposefully quiet room is filled with the sound of his slurping. He pulls the cup away to examine his work and sees that a couple of tiny droplets have escaped the wet vacuum of his slack mouth. This is not acceptable. This cannot be.
The cup is back at his lips and with the efficiency of a desert animal he flicks a soft pink tongue into the recesses of the cup and gathers the liquid. It is done, and now it is time to cast away the leavings, a bandit racoon tossing empty clam shells into a riverside pile. In the tray there are three openings for the used cups and each has its merits. Each is considered in turn.
The mechanical claw of his little hand hangs over the middle opening for several seconds as an audience of two holds its breath. But this is not where his cup goes. The first choice is, by rule, never the correct one. One little last drop, somehow missed, more saliva than water, surely, drips from the inverted cup to land in an untouched compatriot.
Finally, it is decided and with Caligula logic the cup is dropped with a quiet clatter onto the bone pile pit with its dead fellows. Now, it is done and the tray moves on until next Sunday, when he will take the Sacrament again and the ritual will be repeated.