OLD WOMAN BEARING FRUIT
My senior year of college, I was set to graduate a semester early. Instead, I took a full-time position at the university and enrolled part-time, hoping it would make things easier. I’d been working my way through college, sometimes cutting classes to meet tuition payments. Always closely eyeing that grindstone with its precarious balance. Spinning. I felt older than my classmates, more grown-up, and it was not a lot of fun.
On one of my first days, before the other students had returned to campus, my boss, an older woman named Rosalie, invited me to take a break from the office and walk outside the campus gates over to Belmont, the Little Italy of the Bronx. On our way back, she spotted a man selling produce out of a white truck on the corner and asked if I minded if she stopped to pick up a few things. She pulled fruit out of one of the buckets, and I said, “What’s that?”
She turned and held out her hand, presenting me with a soft, smooth, reddish fruit the likes of which I’d never seen.
“Try it,” Rosalie laughed, amused that I’d come this far without ever tasting, without ever seeing, a nectarine.
What did I know of fruit? As my sister Sarah says, we were raised on sarcasm and Pop-Tarts (and she’s not wrong), and even then, I did not choose the fruit-flavored variety. I favored cinnamon with its hard-crackled top coating. In the college cafeteria, I’d grab an orange plastic tray and surely pass where there must have been a station of fruit—although I truly cannot conjure it in my memory—on my way to the long row of see-through cereal bins.
I did grow up with stories of fruit, apples in particular, and women. One is cast out of paradise for her wanting of knowledge. Quite the punishment, not only for her, but for all of humanity until the end of time (at least on this Earth). The other, an orphaned teenager, escapes death at a hunter’s mercy, only to have her evil stepmother, disguised as an old woman, lure her into eating poisoned fruit. It lodges in her throat, silencing her, casting her into a deathlike slumber.
That day on the corner in the Bronx, Rosalie was old to me; I was twenty-one then and she was three times my age. I paused to study her eager offering and looked at her beaming freckled face, her soft white-gold hair, her pale eyes, before I took the nectarine from her. I bit into the exotic stone fruit of the rose family as we walked along the city street. Its sweetness filled my mouth. I knew a little more of what the world could be now that Rosalie had given me this radiant orb, this palm-sized joy.
Susan Barr-Toman is a novelist and essayist. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Citron Review, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, and Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, among others. She brings mindfulness to the blank page in her Mindful Writing workshops and is an affiliated faculty member at the Penn Program for Mindfulness. Visit her at www.susanbarrtoman.com.
Cover Design by Karen Rile