This story is by Janice Woolley and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I remember the first pomegranate I tasted. Kenny brought it to me.
I was ironing in the kitchen with the door open to catch the September breeze, when he burst through the door,
“Sophie – you’ll never guess what I found at Bud’s!”
Bud’s was a mom-and-pop grocery on the corner of 3rd and Oakhurst. We rented a little house 4 doors down from it. One bedroom – big enough to put the baby’s bassinette in a corner and still fit a double bed and a dresser. A kitchen with an eating area and a small living room just large enough to have friends in for a chat or to take my Singer off the card table and set up a Canasta game or a puzzle.
Kenny put the fruit down on the formica tabletop. It started to roll but stopped on it’s slightly flattened side. The approximate size and color of an apple it looked hard and leathery.
“Bud said his produce man gave it to him to try, imported from California, but Bud didn’t figure anyone here would even know what it is. When I said I grew up in California and loved ‘em, he gave it to me. Said, “Just take it as a good customer bonus.”
“And what is it?” I put down the iron and pushed the damp hair out of my eyes.
“A pomegranate! Never thought I’d find one here. Back home we grew ‘em in the yard. You have to try this.”
Ken took out his pocketknife and snapped open the blade. He made one long cut from end to end through the tough outer coat then another an inch or so away and pulled down the wedge of skin. Inside I could see a fibrous layer the color of the inside of orange peel. He scored that with the tip of the knife and stripped it off revealing rows of shiny red jewel-like kernels. Plunging the knife into the fruit he loosened up some seeds and dropped them in my hand.
I never did develop a real taste for pomegranetes. The slightly tart juicy kernels each have a little seed that gets caught in your teeth.
I did get a recipe for “Dixie Salad” from Ken’s aunt who made it for a family reunion. It’s a fruit salad with banana, pecans, pineapple, orange sections, coconut and whipped cream. And of course pomegranate seeds. I haven’t thought about that salad for years. I did like it but probably wouldn’t even want to make it now because of the whipped cream. Seems like no one cooks with real cream any more.
Yesterday there was just a certain feel in the air. I woke up early – still at the far side of our big bed even though the side closest to the door has been empty for months now. It was warm when I went to bed so I left the window open and just slept under a sheet. A cool breeze came across me and with the pink sunrise showing through the curtains I almost cried for the sweetness of it. “Ken” I said and reached for him, but of course I was alone.
Amanda sometimes says, “Mom, there’s nothing wrong with a good cry now and then.” But I don’t cry any more. It makes my head ache and my nose run.
So I just got up, ate breakfast, and went to do my grocery shopping.
That’s why, when I saw the little stack of pomegranetes at the Thrifty Grocery Store, I had to get one – just for old times’ sake like Ken used to say. He doesn’t say much of anything now.
Who would believe a man could change so. He was always the talkative one.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. He was dating Addy, my cousin, and she brought him to Grandma’s Sunday dinner. I thought he was the best-looking man I had ever seen. I don’t think Addy every forgave me for stealing his heart. Not that I really tried. I didn’t even imagine that he could be interested in me. He was tall with black, black hair and his eyes – a deep gray and so full of life. Everyone loved him and he loved people. He was interested in people – what they thought – how they felt about things. He could get anyone talking and he remembered them and their names. Everywhere we went he’d see someone he knew.
I used to love to hear him say my name – such a plain name, Sophie, but it was musical when he said it. That’s what I miss the most. It has been a year now since he sat across from me in the breakfast nook that day. I made his favorite lunch, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. He hardly ate a bite. He looked puzzled, his gray eyes searched my face, his voice was still strong then – “Now tell me – who are you? What is your name?”
That was the last time I cried.
He said very little after that. He mainly walked, paced back and forth through our apartment. He would stop wherever I was and look at me like he should know me, sometimes he even smiled a little before he resumed his walking. Before long he was awake and pacing during the night and I couldn’t continue to take care of him.
I visit every Sunday and he never knows me. His eyes are still dark and gray but they’re empty now of the former light. I hold his hand and talk to him, tell what I’m doing and all my little troubles. I tell him “It’s Sophie, Ken, I love you Ken.” He says nothing.
Today was different. Maybe he could feel it in the air too. What is it when there’s a feel in the air. The scent of dry leaves, the temperature, the humidity, the breeze. What if the weatherman reported it – “Well folks today the barometer is in the 1950’s and the humidity 1960 so with the breeze factor I’d say you’ll feel like September 1955.”
When I got there he was sitting out on the sun porch right under the “S” of Sunset House painted across the whitewashed header of the porch. Who thinks up the names for these places anyway?
His wheelchair was next to Lizzies as usual. She sometimes greets me by name when I come. Today her face was blank until I touched her hand.
“Sophie, it’s you isn’t it? Is it Sunday then?” I gave her a hug. “Yes Lizzie.”
She nodded toward Kenny next to her – “He’s been quite alert today, more awake than usual – still doesn’t say anything. Just looks out over the lawn – I almost wondered if he was watching for you.”
“I wish that were true – it doesn’t seem to matter to him whether I come or not.”
I pulled up a chair in front of his wheelchair. He’s usually asleep when I come but as Lizzie said he was awake and looked a little more alert.
“It’s Sophie, Ken. I brought you something – something you used to love.” I pulled the fruit out of my purse. I had wrapped it in a dishtowel. I put it on his lap. “Open it Kenny, it’s a present for you – a surprise.”
He looked puzzled so I opened the towel enough that he could see what it contained. He reached in and slowly pulled out the red orb and turned it over and over, examining every detail.
“Do you know what it is Ken?”
“Yes, yes, you remember!” I took a small paring knife out of my bag and cut open the fruit the way he used to. I put some sparkling kernels onto the towel – “here you go – have some.”
He took several in his hand but didn’t eat them – instead he reached for my hand – “here Sophie, you taste some – it’s a pomegranate.