Published on October 20th, 2016 | by Caroll Sun Yang0
Caroll Sun Yang’s UNPLANNED GUAVA CEREMONY
The past could be jettisoned . . . but seeds got carried. —Joan Didion
We sit cross-legged on the floor, closing in on a lopsided box full of small green guavas. A sleek fruit knife with a happy yellow handle is on the mound. It is a sultry afternoon in November, the month all three of us were born. My baby lies between us. We have gathered about something serious, so we buy time and cut the thick by joking about our shared astrological sign, Scorpio, notorious for being sexually potent. We are proud of that designation, humored by the animality of it.
We are wearing just enough clothing to maintain lukewarm bodies. Loose fabric hangs from our frames, baring limbs. We travel up and down thighs, ponder cherry paint chipped toenails, trace Adam’s inking of a small crow in flight, read signals from Evelyn’s tattered denim hems and defiantly unshaven legs, delight in Baby’s tiny curling fingers attempting to grip the floor. We free float in an atmosphere of tepid sunshine, sliced by dusty beams coming in through crooked blinds. A brick falls somewhere.
Baby pokes at the curious jumble of fruit.
“What is these things?”
I stare absently into the box, a victim to intrusive questions that steal my ability to respond to him, my son. What kind of man will he be? Will I be enough? What if I damage him in some way? I wonder what his father does now? How far has he gone? Is there danger ahead? Will they meet? Will there be other fathers? Other children?
Evelyn answers my son, a fine surrogate.
“These are guava, yummy fruits. Do you want to taste some?”
His fingers splay so eager to receive new things.
“Hold on Baby, gotta cut it first.”
“Oh cut. Ouch. Don’t cry fruit.”
I laugh myself gently back into the room. Adam is watching us. Evelyn carefully cuts through the thick skin of the fruit and I imagine that it must be sour. It seems an unripe shade of green. She sections it neatly and methodically into quarters as the juice drips to the floor but she doesn’t bother to catch the drops or wipe them away. When she hands my child a piece, I notice that it is gelatinous, pink and seedy instead of the solid cream-colored flesh that I expect.
How womb-like these guava pods seem, strange that the guts of this fruit make me wonder about the soft matter that is in our bodies, in those empty pockets where it is bile, bone and tissue free, maybe we are seedy with the same kind of earthy speckling, orange-amber colored and sparkling even in the darkness, grotesque and exotic at once.
We watch Baby take his first bite of this foreign fruit. Sweet slobber runs down his dimpled chin. Soft pink wets his chest. He brings a fresh cut to my mouth.
“Mama eat too.”
“Okay Baby, we can share.” I accept the fruit from him and slowly scrape at the soft wetness with my teeth, all the way down into the rind where it becomes bitter. I am looking at Evelyn’s face as she sifts through the box of waxy fruit, seeking the next worthy specimen. Shirtless Adam has positioned himself in a languid pose. He lays on his side—ribcage meeting earth, the ribbing of his plaid boxers playing peek-a-boo at his hips, above everything else. The side of his tan face is pressed against the coolness of the ground. His heavy lidded, adobe-colored eyes follow the grain of the polished hardwood, his mind roves with the right angles where one plank meets the next and he is getting lost inside the white light of the sun’s refraction. His fingers tap out a reliable beat. One-two-three and three-two-one, he can count on that.
I ask Evelyn finally, trying to be soft but the question is naturally abrupt.
“What are you going to do?”
One-two-three and three-two-one.
“What do you mean? Jesus, you know. I can’t. It’s not what I want. God, I’m just so mad right now.” Her hands tremble. The rims of her eyes are a wet red as she kneads one guava with aggression. I expect it to burst in her hands.
“Why are you mad?” I ask her this but fear the answer so I speak quickly—“Well it’s good that you know what you want… yeah, you can totally handle this. Don’t be angry E. You know, this is your life, your body alone. You got this.”
She buries her hands deep into the box of fruit now, her head bowed in deference to everything that is happening to her, to all of us, and I notice how the pods are covered in a thin skin of white powder.
It must be for protection from the sun which might otherwise cause them to turn a wrinkled brown and whither by sunset on an unfortunate day. But what happens in the rain? Or snow? What will happen to us? What are we protected by? Are we safe?
I realize that she is searching my face now and I become nervous, my ears turn hot. Does she have a crush on me? Do I have feelings for her, or Adam, or even that invisible father that I must fashion into someone forgivable? Someone who can forgive? Someone who gave life? Who gave me life? Who could take it away? Who gave me a being to nourish on my own? Who did not push us off of the cliff when he wanted to, when the baby was but a bean tucked away? Who was not at my side when the bean erupted, and was never once at my side as it grew? Who drew a knife down my back when we last paired, my belly bloated with who he deemed a Hitler? What feelings do I have now?
“I know I can handle it. I just don’t want to handle it. I don’t want this to be happening and it just is.”
“Sure. I get it. That’s totally reasonable. I mean, you’re doing the Berkeley thing next year. It wouldn’t make sense right now. I get it.” I get it, but my head is unconsciously swiveling a slow no. We meet eyes like two lasers crossing. The intersection is a tiny war of our feminine wills. The will we were born with and the will that was shaped by circumstance.
She is agitated and shifts her body, unfurling her pretty long legs to stretch out knots. I glance at the area right below her belly button, her jeans cut into her fresh 19-year-old flesh. I imagine too much. I see too much action inside of her body and I think I see more guava-like flesh as well. A pod is in her. The pod is they. It keeps expanding and being and its parts are duplicating like a Rorschachian ballet. She keeps feeding it juice and seed from the fruit and it keeps carrying on like that. It’s smaller than a heart but it has a heart. How? I am obsessed with the fact. Many long seconds pass. My son demands more fruit.
“I need more mama, good, I wants.” She picks three from the box and offers them all to him.
“Which one Baby? You choose.” The way she says “Baby” always thrills me.
He reaches out for the largest pod by instinct, one that is turning tender with painterly sunset stains. The sweetness will hurt our teeth. Adam sits up. Drained by his peculiar brand of reverie. He offers to cut the fruit. He carves with concentration as we watch the rind fall to the ground in one continuous curl. He slices the meat into floppy thin slivers. Baby takes a piece and eats it with two hands. Adam hands me some and my mouth draws on it with the suction of my anxiety. I taste nothing.
“So A, what do you want to do?” I try to sound casual in between draws on the wet sliver.
“I just really know what I want and I don’t think it would make sense right now.” He drums the floor with his fingertips and stares into the guava box, now an abyss of our thinking, a pasture for our questions, a place to land our eyes safely.
I sigh as quietly as I can about lots of things at once. About being a woman and what a man is. About our bodies and the things they go through, starts and finishes. How terrifying it is to house life. How everything about birth and death overwhelms me, until my mind goes safely blank. I want their baby in the same way I wanted mine. Even when all railed against the choice, warning me of hardships to come, I wanted him to complete.
“Then it’s settled right? You’re both lucky that it was such an easy choice. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. My choice was easy for me. But I am not you of course, so—”
“I guess. Jesus, this is so weird. I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.” Gravity wins. A positions flat on his belly, his stubbly chin propped up on strong forearms, and he is eyeing us still—outside of our womanly experience but still a vital participant. A man can give life, and easily take it too.
Now the box is full of partially eaten fruits. It is wet and sticky around us. There is a flowering pungency to the scene. The fragrance has become nearly nauseating. There are different shaped peels littering the floor. It has become too hot on this day and the air in the sparsely furnished room is dense, a formidable entity itself. The room is ripe. A line of sweat runs down my temple, drops off at the edge of my jaw, and reaches the floor to commingle with rind and wood. I smear it with my bare feet. My child is still working on the fruit. E is pulling on a loose fray as it constricts her upper thigh.
Outside, cars zoom by. Big rigs rumble. Someone is drilling into cement. A man is whistling a song about freedom. Meats and fats sizzle. Faintly I hear a thousand birds. Children make noises at parks. Time has slowed in the room. We are stuffed with gauze, all except for Baby. We don’t speak to one another but offer obligatory glances, goofy weak smiles and communal sighs. The contortions of our downcast eyes can mean anything now. Sympathy eyes, flirty eyes, tired eyes, resigned eyes, sex eyes, scared eyes, challenging eyes… everything the eyes can do and everything we think they are doing, when they are not. Life, as vague as death.
We scan the room. We scan one another scanning the room. There is nothing to do now. It expands under our collective gazes. I notice that there are only piles of books and ragged clothing scattered about, a cup of molding tea, a single beach chair, jelly jars half-full with murky water and sprigs of this and that, stacks of notes about everything under the sun and conversely… nothing. All of this is enclosed by smoke-tinted walls that are bare except for a few pushpins where things that mattered used to hang.
Then I notice her. The once stray kitten that calls this home. Christened Baby Cat, we have always agreed that it is a pragmatic name. She is what she is and nothing more. But if that is true, why do we nurture her, worry over her, and spend hours enjoying her cool company? Why is she Baby when she is not anymore? Can a cat also be a baby? And her carefully calculated birth month? November, in the house of Scorpio.
We can pretend that she-is-what-she-is but now that her soft ebony body is resting on top of dusty copies of “A Lover’s Discourse” and “Politics of Friendship,” we think twice. She flicks her tail against a nuisance we cannot see, drops a paw and watches us with suspicious topaz eyes. Cats do not eat fruit. There are no stray cats in horoscopes. She never learned to purr.
Author’s note: the author supports a woman’s right to choose 100% regardless of the situation or emotions involved in said decision. This piece was an attempt to paint a portrait of a complex situation while exploring the intricate webbing of a woman’s body, mind, relationships, environment and rights. Thank you.