Dinner Time at Arcadia

by: Cleo Mueller
&
Spencer Rundquist

The dinner bell rings throughout Arcadia. Near and far the twelve students dash to the kitchen. The smell of wild rice and curry billows through the windows and into the yurts. One Arcadian in particular, Matthew Boscow, can smell the good home cooking even from the Clive, our composting toilet. A faint “let’s go” (his trademark) drifts across Tenderfoot Cove.

Hogan and Caleb, the local cross-country team members, halt mid-workout. They sprint to the kitchen. Hogan is delayed for a moment, distracted by a patch of fern—the perfect specimen for his ongoing fern project. Caleb starts masticating mid-stride, a Pavlovian response to dinner time.

They are met by nine smiling faces. But one’s missing. Right before Spencer and Cleo, the night’s cooks, begin to describe their meal, Abigail runs in, out of breath, late as usual.

The dinner-time readings have ranged from Mary Oliver to Woody Allen. Tonight they recite some lines from Ed Abbey. Amanda chortles in agreement with a loud “buck buck,” this semester’s slang for “I agree.”

The dialogue is overwhelmed by requests and questions: “Pass the Honey.” “Where’s the Frank’s?” “May I have that salt after you, please?” “Does this cheese have lactose in it?” “Which noodles are gluten free?” “A Claire-sized portion, please.” Our resident Yogini, Claire Paccione, smiles at her Goldilocks plate—not too little, not too much. Ian grins and rolls his eyes. Celeste says, “Who wants my onions and tomatoes?” Matt bellows, “I’ll take ‘em on.” Isabel laughs, as usual when she’s sitting near Matt, a long-time friend from her FYP days. She’s clearly having type 3 fun (translation: fun overload, the inability to stop laughing when nothing funny at all is going on).

Real conversation takes a while to begin. Students usually arrive starving after long days of classes and rigorous afternoon activities. It’s rumored, via Cathy, that this semester’s group is a very active one. The effect is keenly felt at dinner time.

The clank of forks against plates eventually ceases.

“Oh, my God!” Celeste stares at the massive vat of rice that until now has passed unnoticed. Cleo confesses immediately: “I made too much.” Abigail chimes in, “How much?” After a silent pause, Cleo bashfully says, “Twenty-five cups.” After the initial amazement and laughter at Cleo’s lack of judgment, Spencer does the math: “That’s sixty servings.”

As talking rather than chewing fills the room, Amanda smiles at Hattie: “Is your seat getting hot?” She’s talking, of course, about “hot seat,” a two-minute recount of likes thus far, followed by a two-minute interrogation. Hattie begins, bringing the rest of Arcadia into her Midwestern upbringing. Then Abigail follows with questions: “If you were a cheetah girl, which one would you be, and why?” Questions are asked, and answered, and laughter ensues.

The dinner comes to a close once the Arcadians are lined up at the dish line, ready to clean their plates. When the floor is swept and the mouse traps set, the Arcadians venture off, sleepy and full, nestling into their favorite homework spots. Once the clock strikes ten, all are snuggled in their sleeping bags. Their gazes drift towards the open sky full of stars before their eyelids become heavy with sleep.