Every Fruit Has its Secret
Take this pie. Take the sweet filling of ground almonds, eggs, and vanilla; take the quartered figs, pink and moist; take the flaky pastry. Rub butter into flour, roll the dough into a perfect round, move the dough to the pan, move the pan to the freezer because cold dough bakes up flakier than warm dough. Take the ground almonds (organic) and the sparkling white sugar (refined) and the butter (unsalted). Hold each fig in your palm; consider its weight and ripeness. Consider its secrets.
When you are twelve years old, your grandfather runs off with the woman from the department store, the one who wears eye makeup and perfume before noon, the one who smokes long cigarettes right out on the street. “He’ll be back,” your grandmother says, “when he’s done making a fool of himself.”
The fig tree in your grandmother’s backyard stands fifteen feet tall. By late summer the branches grow heavy with purple fruit. Your cousin stitches the green, long-fingered leaves together to make clothing for your dolls—green hula skirts, green pantsuits, green halter- tops. “This is how Eve did it,” she says, “when she ate from that tree and found out she was naked and finally had the good sense to be ashamed of herself.”
You are with your cousin when you spot your grandfather and the woman entering the movie theater downtown. You buy tickets for The Apple Dumpling Gang, but sneak into the theater showing Dog Day Afternoon. You sit two rows behind your grandfather and make snide comments about the woman’s hair (box dyed) and her dress (tacky) and her lipstick (bright red). Al Pacino rants and people shush you and a splotchy teenager comes in and drags you out. “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he says.
Your mother makes the pie for the church bake sale. Everyone else brings brownies from a mix or slice-and-bake cookies or yellow cake with funfetti frosting. The pie looks obscene among these offerings. Your cousin tells everyone figs are filled with wasps. “Those crunchy bits aren’t seeds,” she says, “they’re wasp skeletons.” No one buys your pie, so you take it home and eat it for dinner. Your mother says the pie is not for everyone. Your mother says your cousin is an idiot.
Your cousin finds out where the woman lives and you go there one afternoon in the summer. Her house is a white wood square with a concrete stoop for a front porch. Her yard is small and wild, filled with weedy flowers and climbing honeysuckle vines. You arrive in time to see your grandfather come home from work. He greets the woman at the front door and your cheeks turn red when his hands slide across her broad, fleshy hips. “Slut,” your cousin says.
Your grandfather comes back to your grandmother He admits he’s been a fool. “I’m starving,” he says. Your grandmother feeds him pork chops and boiled greens with pepper jelly and cornbread, but she does not offer him pie. “Well,” your mother says. “I’m glad that’s over.”
A year later, you spot the woman in the dollar store among the aisles of cheap candy and plastic doo-dads. You don’t recognize her right away. Her hair has gone dull; her roots look like a paved road through a wheat field. Even so, she is pretty. Her lips, bare and unpainted, look ripe as a fresh wound. You understand why your grandfather went with her. All the women in your family have thin lips and thin hips and thin hair that won’t hold a curl. The woman leans over her shopping basket and lifts a crying baby to her chest. She wraps a pink blanket around the child and stuffs a pacifier in its mouth. Your cousin grabs your hand and pulls you behind a display of multi-colored salad bowls. “Jesus Christ almighty,” your cousin whispers, “do you reckon that’s our aunt she’s toting?”
When your grandfather dies, the woman shows up at the church service with her daughter. “You have no shame,” your grandmother says. “This is for family.” At the service, the preacher talks about how your grandfather was a good man, a godly man, a family man. No one laughs. That night your cousin drinks too much bourbon and vomits in the downstairs bathroom. Two partially masticated figs float in the bowl for hours before someone has the decency to scoop them into the trash.
Soon you will leave this place. You will go to college and read poems by D.H. Lawrence. You will learn that figs aren’t fruit, but inverted flowers. When people learn where you are from, they will make jokes about illiteracy and inbreeding. They will make fun of the way you talk. Men will lecture you on what is proper and what is vulgar and you will never keep it all straight. It will take some time, but you’ll learn that you aren’t the one who should be ashamed. You will meet people who have never tasted a fresh fig and you will pity them. You will spin stories about the wild, exotic abundance of your childhood. You will abandon religion. You will hardly ever think about the woman and her daughter. You will leave behind your cousin and your grandmother and your mother. You will lose your accent, but you will take this pie.
Tiffany Quay Tyson is the author of two novels, The Past is Never and Three Rivers. Shorter work can be found in The Rumpus, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Ilanot Review, and more. She was born and raised in Mississippi. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.