It all starts with a mango. Then an avocado and a lime. Anything you can find in the neighborhood, really.
You put the mango in a coffee mug. It fits perfectly. In the morning, both of you walk silently through the kitchen preparing for the day—you place a geometry textbook into your tie-dye backpack; she looks through her phone. As she opens the kitchen cabinet, she stares for a minute. There the mango sits like a Fabergé egg. She touches a couple of coffee mugs before selecting a blue one stolen from IHOP. She says nothing.
These days, she hardly notices when you’re home—never mind a silly mango in a mug. Truthfully, this is how mornings have been since the divorce. Your father moved back to New England with your brother Donnie. Your parents tried to cover the hurt by turning it into something different and thrilling. Like when a doctor waves a toy in a baby’s face with one hand and administers a shot with the other. However, the initial excitement of it being “just us girls” has worn off. Now, it’s just empty.
After breakfast, you place an avocado in her shower next to the bar of soap and chuckle at the absurd location. During French class, you imagine her, eyes closed, fumbling for her lavender soap and picking up the avocado instead. Its lumpy, waxy skin rubbing against her forearm.
At dinner, she tells you about her day: what she saw, where she went, what she did. She explains some new career she might be pursuing: Reiki Healing. It is her latest passion and, just like all the others, she speaks about it with wide eyes and large hand motions. She never needed to work before the divorce, but things are different now. Now, she must be the adult. She’s a dreamer; you’re a realist. Or she’s a romantic and you’re a cold cynic. You’re never sure which one it is.
“How was your shower?” you ask.
“Fine.” She replies and then goes right back into ancient rituals and the healing energy of our bodies and something about a wooden toilet that diffuses essential oils up your vagina to cleanse bad relationships.
She is fucking with you. Everything in her bathroom is milk white, frosted. There is a giant avocado resting on one of the fiberglass shelves of her shower; she had to notice. It’s like a turd plopped on her bleached castle. This is a classic standstill. Or maybe a distraction. Parents do this to their kids, you might even do it to your own someday if you have any.
Before you go to bed, you tell her, “I will win.”
She smiles and kisses you goodnight. “Sleep well, Cutie.”
The next day, you skip school. Mom isn’t in the kitchen that morning and her car is already gone. Where? You’re not sure, but gone is gone. Quickly, you gather more mangos, more avocados, more limes, grapefruits, oranges, key limes, starfruits, and those odd little lynch nuts that only your Vietnamese neighbors enjoy. At 10:00am, Mrs. Dicky from the front desk calls the house to inform your mother that you’ve missed the first two periods. You listen to the message twice before deleting it.
In the driveway you start a large pile on a blue tarp. You feel like you have harvested all the fruit in Northwest Bradenton, but when you look at the pile it’s no higher than the little league’s pitcher’s mound.
You don’t want to go far, in case she comes home, but you must widen your search. About half a mile down Riverview Boulevard, you notice that the big yellow house with steel gates has a banana tree. You sneak into the backyard through the seawall and take them all—hanging the bushel over your shoulders like a packhorse. You’re pretty sure their gardener notices you, but he doesn’t say anything.
As you’re walking towards home, a black BMW drives by. Panicking, you jump into the bushes and squish a couple of bananas on impact. The driver happens to be a man with gray hair—not your mother. You say a couple words of prayer for the fallen bananas and continue walking. To be safe, you get off the main drag and take back roads—it’s slower, but more discreet.
On these backroads, there are hundreds of fruits. Rare ones too—ones you’ve never seen before and aren’t entirely sure what they are called, but they are undoubtedly fruit. They hang from trees and attract bugs. Their shapes force you to recall that geometry book still sitting in your backpack and they display colors that Behr and Benjamin Moore love to name swatches after. Soon you start to pile all the fruit into the back of a white van; you’re not sure where the van came from or how you got it, but you are grateful to have it and its helps.
Around every corner the fruit tumbles in the back, like lottery balls being spun on the 11 o’clock Powerball drawing. You should have gotten your driver’s license by now, but mom has been too busy to take you to the DMV. You figure you’re doing just fine—staying between the yellow and white lines. Occasionally, an orange hits the center console just right and pulp oozes out on to the other fruit and into the cup holder. You’ve created one of those giant ball pits that children play in at McDonalds. Except they aren’t at all balls as you are reminded every time one explodes on impact. Your hands are starting to stick to the steering wheel and there is some type of citrus burning in your eyeballs.
At the house, you park the white van next to the fruity pitcher’s mound. You decide the best approach is a shovel. But who the hell owns a shovel? It’s Florida. There is no snow and you’ve never seen your mom garden anything. So, you fill the plastic laundry basket instead. At first, you place the fruit very methodically around the house. A mango in the microwave. Limes replacing lightbulbs. A grapefruit in the coffee pot. By the third laundry load you’re over it. You start tossing. Yellows, reds, greens and browns lob through the air and roll when they hit the floor. As if someone knocked down all the produce shelves in Publix. You don’t care where they land. And you aren’t picky about the fruit either–you toss the good with the damaged. A slug path of juice trails behind you wherever you go. The white couches in the living room now have mounds of fruit on them; the bath tub is now a fruit pool. Odd marks and dents decorate the walls where flinging went wrong.
Soon the white van is empty and all that is left on the driveway is the sticky blue tarp. It’s getting late, so you sit and wait—giggling at your accomplishment. Every car that turns down your street wells up waves of nervous excitement. A couple of times you stand up and begin to hide, but every vehicle is a false alarm.
By ten o’clock it’s clear that your mom isn’t coming home tonight. For dinner, you eat a mango that was sticking out from between the cushions of the couch, but immediately regret depleting the hoard and go quickly outside to find a replacement.
None of the fruit landed in your room, so you lay in bed wondering what they are all doing in the other rooms. Occasionally, you check on them.
Mom doesn’t come home the next night either. She has a healing passion and a new Massage Therapist boyfriend.
You start naming some of the fruits that you see often. The limes in the lightbulb: Frank and Judy. The grapefruit in the coffee pot: Steve. Together you discuss Mom’s possible reactions when she finally comes home and sees the house.
“She thought an avocado in the shower was nothing—wait till she sees you guys.”
On Wednesday, she finally returns. You sit at the kitchen table, surrounded by bananas and fruit flies. By now, the house has started to smell like a smoothie left in a hot car too long, something you know will never wash out. An everlasting hint of rotten produce. A sour bacterial odor that makes you wonder if the fruit was ever really healthy in the first place. Mom looks hungover, but happy. Her dark brown hair slightly more frizzy than usual and her eyes caked with a sleepy gloss.
“I’m sorry.” She says, “I had the best time.”
She rests her purse on a bed of starfruit. A frightened cockroach darts across the floor.
“Were you okay? What did you do?”
“Nothing much.” You look at her. Then at the house. Then back at her, “I picked some fruit.”
“Oh nice. We had the best fruit cocktails down at The Circle. There was a live band and dancing. We got up and sang. He is a great singer.”
She smiles and exhales then kicks a lime with her foot. “He could be a professional. He has a band too. We danced and we were the center of the party. We were incredible.”
Something sticky gets on her hand, so she pulls a tissue from the box and a lynch nut pops out with it.
You don’t know what to say. You never do. You look over at Frank and Judy for some answers or support, but now they just look like stupid pieces of fruit. Even Steve looks dumb. As you search for the words, her phone rings and you watch as she rests among the fruits and laughs with whomever is on the other end. There she sits, a beautiful woman surrounded by an ocean of rotting fruit, hovering flies and cockroaches mixed within. Here it is, the house of “just us girls.”