Fruit of a Certain Kind
The first time the tree blossomed, the fruit fell and rotted and was met with an infestation of long-winged, pinching bugs. A local man with local knowledge was called in to exterminate them. His name was Alonso, but he went by The Kid. He was small and angular and spoke in an unpatterned cadence, twitchy and sure of the facts.
He held out one of the fruits in a gloved hand, just below my nose. The bugs moved in slow-motion and made a sucking sound. Crawling over one another their bodies were yellow and slick with the frenzy of their appetites. Some de-shelled their wings, but did not fly—just a momentary flutter before putting their near-invisible jaws back to work. It made my ears feel hot to watch.
The Kid told my mom he could get rid of the bugs, but that they’d also get rid of themselves once they had their fill. He said his poison may kill the tree, and since he couldn’t make out what kind of tree it was, he couldn’t guarantee its safety. He thought the fruits were apples when he first pulled up, but the bugs weren’t known to like apples, and on closer inspection, the fibers of the fruit were too airy. No variety of apple I’ve ever seen, he said. Could be a kind of citrus, but citrus doesn’t grow in these parts. Strange, he said. I’ll come back next week to reassess.
The Kid never came back, but the bugs left with him: it couldn’t have been more than two days and they were gone. All that was left was a sweet, decaying smell and the darkening pulp of what the bugs had left behind.
The next time the tree bore fruit was during a particularly golden summer after a shifty and unreasonable spring. There’d been near-perpetual rain and three or four bouts of hail, a few major floods, and a mudslide just north of us that made national news. Once the weather settled, the world was covered in greens of a primordial kind and birds whose plumage seemed out of place, as if they’d been carried in from the tropics on some powerful wind. Nearly every object, every sticky shadow, basked in a lazy yellow glow.
My mother took to picking the fruit. I watched her, certain that the bugs would return and that she’d be overrun. She was either brave or forgetful in those days as she stood, a monument of balance, in a single-legged lean atop the old, wooden A-frame ladder. She wore a gingham sundress and smiled down at me. Her hair was long then, its caramel color made red by the slow-moving sun. My sister held a basket and held the fruit and laughed.
I did not help. I sword fought—preparing myself for the return of those awful bugs.
Once there was enough fruit, purplish in its just-ripeness, my mother began work on a pie. My mother, whose only history with baking was a fire alarm and a burnt chocolate cake from a box, was now set to full magic, possessed by the witchcraft of a red library cookbook, pedestaled on the dining room table, opened and flipped through, glossary-index-glossary. By mid-evening everything was covered in a slick of flour and butter. My sister’s hair was near-white, and she shook and giggled, shedding snow like a winter mountain.
As they worked the whole day and into the evening, I stood guard with my wooden sword, certain that some larvae lay dormant in the fruit and would soon boil up and come crashing through the room.
My sister teased me for not wanting to eat the final product. It was beautiful: the crust was sugared and auburn and the whole house smelled of butter. My father came home from work with ice cream. I nearly wavered: it was almost enough for me to put down my sword. But I remembered the old leather glove of The Kid, teaming with evil, toothy creatures. I remembered him telling us to be wary, and wary I was.
That night as everyone slept, I heard the bugs. They had been reborn—I was certain. I slunk as quietly as I could down the stairs and into the dining room. What remained of the pie, what my family had not eaten, was at eye level as I stood, sword above my head, prepared to cut through any demon that charged. But there was nothing. Only the heavy stillness of night and the clatter of the old house. With no one to protect, everyone tucked away in their beds, and nothing to fight, I gave in. I placed my sword on the table and ate the pie until I was sick with sleep.
In that sleep, I was covered in the noises of those awful bugs. The pitter of their legs and the wandering of their wide-black eyes followed me. Even now, they return and crawl from thought to thought, a static on my moods. An inescapable buzz that knocks at the base of my brain.
The tree never bore fruit again.
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