Fingerless Fruit Salad

The Cast: Debbie (concerned), Leroy (cut), Myself (culpable).

The three of us watched as the blood dribbled into the bowl. This was going to get messy.

If you are unfamiliar with what a Job Corps is, count yourself fortunate. They’re not terrible, but they aren’t a first-choice location. They are more of a last-resort location. A last resort for individuals (under a certain age) who have no job skills, little (or no) high school education, and no future (as a result). Don’t get me wrong, I think that those who are lacking in skills, money, education, or any combination of the three should have access to help in those areas, but not everything there comes up roses.

My senior year of high school looked questionable as to whether or not I would graduate. Now, it needs to be understood that not all of that was due to my actions. My parents had enrolled me into an early college program to help me with my academics. That didn’t go so well and only made the situation much worse than it already was (real quick, it needs to be noted that I would have graduated high school without the college-thing, it’s just that my grades weren’t in great shape). So, out of fear, my mother signed me up for Job Corps—and sent me away. Yippee…

I had to smile and say it was great. I couldn’t say anything about how much I hated it, or how much I didn’t want to be there. I just had to go. So, I went. I was one of the few that arrived by ‘choice’. Pretty much everyone else that was there was there because it was either Job Corps or a cardboard box under a bridge—or jail. And, well, some of them had come from jail. Yeah… Anyway, I was a novelty for everyone: No drinking, no drugs, no smoking, no pregnant girlfriend waiting to pop out ‘our kid’. No criminal record—well, not a long one, anyway. Yup, I was entertaining—because I was ‘boring’. I was fine with that.

All I wanted to do was get outta there. I followed the program, completed my G.E.D., and got my high school diploma. I also started my training in their culinary program (it was either that or the secretary pool, or construction—some Job Corps centers had more options for trades, mine did not). As I worked, and trained, I quickly gained the trust of the cooking staff and my fellow trainees. One particular weekend, one particularly fun-loving fellow (Leroy) and myself decided to be very helpful, and make the fruit salad.

See, when you were a Culinary Arts student, your training was first-hand. It was our role to feed the residents of the Job Corps—three times a day, seven days a week—yeah, weekends included (think of it as a ‘high class’ juvenile detention center. most of us were there until our sentence was up.). While during the weekdays there were normally multiple kitchen staff at any given time, the weekends had minimal staff at dinner time (only one). This weekend, it was Debbie’s turn. Debbie was a sweet lady—kind of grandmotherly. She was friendly and pleasant, smiley and kindly. And most importantly: She was trusting.

One of the items on the menu for the evening was a simple fruit salad—you know those lovely ambrosia kinds with the cream and tiny marshmallows. It was tasked to Leroy and myself to mix it up. As we were a little ahead of schedule, Debbie left Leroy, myself, and the other two students, to our meal preparations, and went into her office to get caught up on her paperwork. It was now that the accident occurred.

“Debbie!” Cried out Leroy.

I raced over to the office and threw open the door, “Debbie! Leroy cut his finger! It’s bad!”

Debbie, as a responsible adult, dropped what she was doing (papers went everywhere), and dashed out to see what the situation was all about. And what it was all about was that Leroy’s finger was sliced open, and he was bleeding—severely.

In a speedy surveillance of the scene, it was clear to anyone that saw it, what had occurred: Leroy, as he was chopping up the fruit into some smaller bits, somehow missed the fruit and sliced his index finger instead. The blood was all over the knife, puddled on the table, running down his hands, onto his arms, and dripping off his elbow—into the bowl of fruit salad. It looked like a crime scene.

Leroy was turning pale and starting to freak out. I was trying to find out what I should do about all the blood. Debbie was attempting to see just how bad the injury was—it appeared to be horrific (the blood was all over Leroy’s hands). Yeah, I said ‘hands’, as in plural. While only Leroy’s left index finger was sliced open, in an attempt to stay the bleeding, he had been holding the injury with his right hand. The result was a lot of blood all over both his hands. It was a horrifically-bloody mess.

Debbie had grabbed a roll of paper towels to help staunch the blood flow. I had begun to use that same roll of paper towels to mop up the blood that had contaminated our food preparation area. Sure, Leroy was in bad shape, but dinner still had to be made. And you can’t do that when there’s somebody’s blood all over the prep-area! As Debbie began to slowly peel back the fingers on Leroy’s right hand, so as to inspect his left index finger, I asked a valid question.

“Debbie,” I began, “Leroy seems to have dripped blood into the fruit salad. We don’t have enough fruit to make a new batch. What should we do?”

Debbies reply, “Really?! That’s your first thought? ‘What about the fruit salad?’ Leroy is really hurt here.”

“You’re right.” After all, she was. “I know! I’ll just mix it all up and it’ll blend right in. Make it all a nice yummy-pink color. Nobody’ll know.” And so, I began to do just that. I began to mix the blood right in with the fruit salad. And it did. It did make a very nice yummy-pink color. Debbie was not pleased.

“Don’t you dare! We can’t do that!”

“Sure we can.” Said Leroy. “Here, let me help you with that.” And then he reached out, and helped me carry over the bowl of fruit salad to the serving line.

Debbie was very confused. Her mouth hung open in shock and disbelief as to what had just taken place, and what was happening before her eyes. Only moments ago Leroy was in mortal pain, now, here he was using his injured hand to assist me with the work for dinner prep—with blood still dripping from his finger. This wasn’t happening, it couldn’t be real. Well, that’s only half right. Before Debbie could charge over to us and put a stop to the serving of a bloody-fruit salad, we let her in on the joke.

“Debbie, I didn’t cut my finger. See?” Leroy held up his red-stained hand to demonstrate that there was no injury.

“Then what…?” Was all she could manage.

“It was the red food coloring we were supposed to add to the fruit salad. We just poured it all over my hands and the table, when you were in your office.” Leroy started laughing. A full-mouth, ear-to-ear, gut-busting laugh. I did too. With tears forming in my eyes, it was difficult to see for certain that Debbie had stormed off—back into her office—to complete her paperwork. However, the door slamming did clarify it for us. She stayed there until it was time to serve dinner.

When she came out, Leroy and I were certain she was going to kill us both. She didn’t. She let us know that the joke was funny. Not at that time. But still… She was good people, that Debbie.

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