John Miller, who still looked half asleep, glanced up and said, “Fruit of the Month Club. My nana gave it to me for my birthday.”
“Potassium,” Dexter said. “You need that every day, you know.”
John Miller yawned, as if used to this kind of stupid information. Then he went back to his banana.
“I bet,” Dexter said suddenly, in the voice I later would come to recognize as the one that always preceded a challenge, deep and game show host-like, “that you can’t eat ten bananas.”
John Miller finished chewing the bite in his mouth, then swallowed. “I bet,” he replied, “that you’re right.”
“It’s a challenge,” Dexter said. Then he nudged out a chair, with a knee that was already jiggling, for me, and said, in the same low, slow voice, “Will you take it?”
“Are you crazy?”
“For ten bucks.”
“I am not eating ten bananas for ten bucks,” John Miller said indignantly.
“It’s a dollar a banana!” Dexter said.
“And furthermore,” John Miller went on, tossing the now-empty peel at an overflowing garbage can by the back door, and missing, “this double-dare shit of yours is getting old, Dexter. You can’t just go around throwing down challenges whenever you feel like it.”
“Are you passing on the challenge?”
“Will you stop using that voice?”
“Twenty bucks,” Dexter said. “Twenty bucks-”
“No,” John Miller told him.
“-and I’ll clean the bathroom.”
This, clearly, changed things. John Miller looked at the bananas, then at Dexter. Then at the bananas again. “Does the one I just ate count as one?”
John Miller slapped the table. “What? It’s not even to my stomach yet, for godsakes!”
Dexter thought for a second. “Okay. We’ll let Remy call this one.”
“What?” I said. They were both looking at me.
“You’re an unbiased view,” Dexter explained.
“She’s your girlfriend,” John Miller complained. “That’s not unbiased!”
“She is not my girlfriend.” Dexter looked at me, as if this might upset me, which was evidence that he didn’t know me at all. He said, “What I mean is, we may be seeing each other”-and here he paused, as if waiting for me to chime in with something, which I didn’t, so he went on-“but you are your own person with your opinions and convictions. Correct?”
“I’m not his girlfriend,” I told John Miller.
“She loves me,” Dexter said to him, as an aside, and I felt my face flame. “Anyway,” he said, moving on breezily, “Remy? What do you think? Does it count or not?”
“Well,” I said, “I think it should count somehow. Perhaps as half.”
“Half!” Dexter looked at me as if he was just so pleased, as if he had carved me out of clay himself. “Perfect. So, if you choose to accept this challenge, you must eat nine and a half bananas.”
John Miller thought about this for a second. Later, I would learn that money was always scarce at the yellow house, and these challenges provided some balance of cash flow from one person to another. Twenty bucks was food and beer money for at least a couple of days. And it was really only nine bananas. And a half.
“Okay,” John Miller said. And they shook on it.
Before the challenge could happen, witnesses had to be gathered. Ted was brought in from the back deck, along with a girl he’d been seeing, introduced to me as Scary Mary (I chose not to ask), and, after a futile search for the keyboardist, Lucas, Dexter’s dog Monkey was agreed upon as a suitable replacement. We all gathered around the table, or on the long, ugly brown couch that was next to the refrigerator, while John Miller did some deep breathing and stretching, as if preparing for a fifty-yard dash.
“Okay,” Ted, the only one with a working watch and therefore timekeeper, said, “Go!”
If you’ve never seen someone take on a food challenge, as I had not at that point, you might expect it to actually be exciting. Except that the challenge was not to eat nine and a half bananas quickly: it was just to eat nine and a half bananas. So by banana four or so, boredom set in, and Ted and Scary Mary went to the Waffle House, leaving me, Dexter, and Monkey to wait out the next five and a half bananas. It turned out we didn’t have to: John Miller conceded defeat in the middle of banana six, then carefully got to his feet and went to the bathroom.
“I hope you didn’t kill him,” I told Dexter as the door shut behind him, the lock clicking.
“No way,” he said easily, stretching back in his chair. “You should have seen him last month, when he ate fifteen eggs in a row. Then we were worried. He turned bright red.”
“You know,” I said, “funny how it’s never you having to eat vast quantities of things.”
“Not true. I just moved on after completing the master of all challenges back in April.”
I hated to even ask what would earn such a title, but curiosity got the better of me. “Which was?”
“Thirty-two ounces of Miracle Whip,” he said. “In twenty minutes flat.”
Just the thought of this made my stomach twist. I hated mayonnaise, and any derivation thereof: egg salad, tuna salad, even deviled eggs. “That’s disgusting.”
“I know.” He said it proudly. “I could never top it, even if I tried.”
I had to wonder what kind of person got such satisfaction from constant competitiveness. And Dexter would make challenges about anything, whether it was in his control or not. Some recent favorites included I Bet You a Quarter the Next Car That Passes Is Either Blue or Green, Five Bucks Says I Can Make Something Edible Out of the Canned Corn, French-Fried Potato Sticks, and Mustard in the Pantry, and, of course, How Many States Can You Name While That Woman Picks Up Her Dry Cleaning?
I, personally, was up to twenty. Dexter was at nineteen and experiencing a bit of a brain cramp.
“California,” he said finally, casting a nervous look at the front of the cleaners, where we could see the woman talking to someone behind the counter.
“Already said it,” I told him.
The door opened: it was her. “Game over,” I said. “I win.”
“You do not!”