Pears and Apples and Pears

by Sarah Spring




Thanksgiving had come again. Carol did not want people in the house, especially her family.

“How would you feel about soup this time, Harry?”

“Soup, eh? Can’t go wrong there I suppose.”

“For Thanksgiving, though, how about a nice soup this year?”

“No, no gotta eat a bird on Thanksgiving.”

          And with that the issue was resolved and they would once again allow a host of family and friends into their home for this holiday. Carol imagined drugging Harry into a deep sleep and simply turning off all the lights and locking the doors. She would sit in the upstairs window and watch as each guest would try the doors and peer into the windows without losing a handle on their hot dish. She would have to unplug the phones.

          For once, the fantasy gently passed and Carol went into the kitchen and began to flour the counter-top for pie making. She laid her hand in the center of the white canvas and traced its shape, lifting it up to reveal the outline of her fingers and thumb. It reminded her of the hand-traced turkey pictures that her children had brought home from school year after year. How many of these turkeys had she thrown out over the years? Why did teachers believe that anyone would like a picture of a child’s hand colored to bear a vague, straining resemblance to a hideous bird? And those endless dried oranges with cloves that the children had brought home. God, how these oranges would inevitably rot in some corner of some room of the house before Christmas.

          As Carol clenched patches of butter into a pile of flour on the counter space she could not recall ever drawing a picture for her parents. She had grown up deep in the country and there had been no room in their small cabin home for crayons and paper. Carol had grown up to be good with her hands in other ways. She had stripped the bark from trees and braided bits of grass into her hair and tried to catch birds in wire traps. She remembered the day that her father had shot a turkey. The feathers had been dull on the dead bird and came off in sticky, easy clumps. The fat of the turkey had left her hands greasy and soft and fragrant for days so much so that her mother had scolded her to stop smelling them between meals.

          With the dough now firm Carol turned out the mixture into a round with her old, filmy wooden pin. It had been her mother’s rolling pin at one point and it had been used well. Carol missed her mother now, despite her passing some years ago. She had been her mother’s only child and had never wished for siblings. Growing up so far away from the rest of the world, Carol had assumed for many years that mothers and fathers simply had one fairly decent child and settled with the results.

          Yes, she missed her parents very much. Her father had not been perfect in terms of men, but he had been a father nonetheless and Carol mourned him equally. She could remember how closely she had felt their deaths before they had actually died; how she had prematurely mourned the day they would no longer be somewhere in the wilderness. After their death Carol found herself looking out the window, always seeming to look just beyond the mountains to see if they were out there somewhere. They were not and that is when Carol began to feel herself change and turn into the person she currently lived within.

          Carol herself had given birth to five children.

          “My God,” Carol said aloud to herself, reflecting on the tiny horrors of being pregnant so many years of her life. A rather miserable way to live, but she had been much stronger during those years. She had been quite asleep to life in those days, maybe, but it had been entirely functional. Perhaps that is why she had been so eager to continue with Harry’s plan for a big family, hoping that it would bring her closer to a life that she had only occasionally glimpsed. How she had been excited for each baby; excitement and joy had been her feelings and now she could not imagine herself carrying a child without incredible anxiety and fear and doubt. Her children would have been born weak. She might have only had two, if any.

          Carol pulled out her best pie plate and carefully blanketed the glass with soft dough. With her fingers, she crimped the edges into a wave, back and forth, in an endless vacillation. Three of her children would be coming in the next few days, Frank with two small children of his own and Mary with a teenage daughter. Her third child, Barry, had never had any children and did not seem intent on having any and the thought gave Carol some relief. Children now made Carol sweat and feel the blood just below her face. Children were so trusting and reliant upon adults and how easily breakable they seemed. Strange to think how she no longer had a uterus, having had the operation some year ago. Her mother had still been alive at the time. She had brought Carol some home-made cheese in the hospital and had told her a funny story about the old crotchety neighbor only seen once or twice a year, like the solstice. That day she had felt as if she were 12 years old and out with a bad cold.

          She set the pie crust in the pre-heating oven and went down to the cellar to bring up some fruit and spices for the filling. The other two children were somewhere, probably enjoying a snow-free meal together in America. They had always kept each other company, being the two youngest. She should probably expect a call from them on the holiday. Carol had never quite gotten used to the telephone, forever feeling as though she were missing some important part of information by not being able to see a person’s face. She much preferred letters. Lines on parchment told their own story to supplement content; they could read anxiety and heartache and drunkenness. What did her own handwriting now reveal? For the filling Carol had chosen the last of the apples and pears from their back orchard, fearing that they would get too wrinkled and molded over before Christmas. Christmas, so definitive, always the molding point in her mind as if the birth of Christ could not tolerate decay.

          Carol could feel her legs tremble under her as she brought up the crates. Realizing that she had been working in a dark kitchen, Carol turned on the small lamp near the sink and watched the apples bob at the top of the sink as it filled with cold water. The pears sank a bit, perhaps already fading. Carol took a deep breath and listened to the running water, washing her hands in it several times, hoping to avoid the necessity of cutting and peeling.

          For months now, Carol had been haunted by her own mind.

          One night in March she had been sitting quietly in her den, reading a book about the collection of wild mushrooms, when her mind became overwhelmed by a series of violent images. A hand had grasped the inside of her chest and she began to breathe rapidly, trying to dismiss the images that flitted across her eyes by reading the same lines over and over again.

The largest Puffball ever found was almost four feet across and weighed fifty pounds

The largest Puffball ever found was almost four feet across and weighed fifty pounds

The largest Puffball ever found was almost four feet across and weighed fifty pounds

          But the attempt at distraction failed immediately and Carol had collapsed into herself, terrified by the sudden power of self-destruction that her hands suddenly presented. Images of knives coursing across her skin seemed now entirely real and imminently possible when moments ago she had been simply considering morels. Eating poison and breaking her own neck soon crept upon her and she froze at the stunning potential of ending her own life. Driving over cliffs and jumping in front of trains leaped into her mind, seemingly unsolicited but entirely overwhelming.

          “What is this? What is happening? Why would I want to die?” These were the things that she had wanted to say to Harry when he ran into the den, drawn by the sound of violent sobbing that had erupted from the woman he loved. She could still not entirely explain what was happening to her mind when talking to Harry or to the therapist that she had started seeing soon after the first episode.

          Carol could not tolerate the thought of making other people worried about her and so she did not share these new fears with any of her children. She could not tolerate this sense of weakness, this feeling as though she had lost an eternal confidence in herself; watching the foundation of trust in her own ability crumble to dust.  In the following months the images changed as her fears shifted. It seemed that just as soon as she had become comfortable with one scenario of violence, another even more terrifying display would develop. Just as the images of knives, guns and bridges seemed less threatening, Carol would soon be haunted for days by the images of her children, distraught and confused over their mother’s sudden and unanticipated death at her own hands. She could see the mortician hiding violent marks. The worst came during a visit from her eldest daughter, when a wave of violence crashed through Carol’s mind in which she saw her own hands attacking and destroying her child and grandchildren. She saw herself attempting to strangle her own husband.  She had to excuse herself from the room when she started to cry, only to say that she had an upset stomach upon her return.

          She felt like an unwitting addict, with a brain drawn to a nearly endless cycle of images that she did not want. In quieter times she mourned for her old self. There had been such a long stretch of living before this problem. The thoughts drew her into doubt about her well-lived life and her supposed happiness. Most notably, during those first few days after the incident, Carol felt wildly awake.

          When the brain feels as though it may not last another moment the senses become madly aware of color and shape and smell. An intense compassion awoke in Carol’s heart for the suffering of other people. She could feel the tension in her body only minutes after waking, quickly aware of what she did not want to think about. And if only it had been that simple, to be able to just turn off the cyclical thoughts of gloom and violence; to feel once again as though she had no doubt in her own will to live. She did not know when it would end partly because she did not know why it had started. Hormones or a change in chemicals might be to blame, but soon enough it didn’t really seem to matter why or how and so Carol began to take it one day at a time, to swallow one fear a day so as not to choke on panic.

          Harry did well not to look at her with fear, to reassure her that she did not want to act upon these ideas that sprang into her head like so many spores of a poisonous cloud.

 “I won’t let you do anything that you don’t want to do, or anything that you might even want to do,” so went Harry’s train of logic.

“But you won’t always be around, you aren’t always with me.”

“I’m not?” said Harry with mock puzzlement. “Then we’ll have to work on that.”

          So Carol began to do the things that scared her most. She took swim classes and learned that she did not want to drown. She drove to see their son in Toronto and did not allow herself to careen off the road. Harry took her on a trip in a tiny single engine plane and although she felt as though she wanted to die from terror she did not jump out of the aircraft. She wanted to convince herself that she did not really want to die.

          “Our thoughts and feelings are temporary,” her therapist had said. “What we feel today is not what we will feel tomorrow or even in the next five minutes. No matter how intense the feeling, it will pass. I have great hope for you.”

          Carol accepted this as truth, but knew that the undertone of this sentiment maintained that these feelings may reoccur for the remainder of her days. It also made feelings seem almost entirely invaluable. Although she had seen good days since these episodes had started, there had been a constant tinge on the periphery of every emotion that she was trying to prove something to herself.

          And now Thanksgiving had come again. It had been a good day thus far, but now the apples and pears had reminded her of the second shadow that she now wore. Both disappointment and determination swam through her mind as she picked the necessary paring knife for the job of peeling. She did not want to be afraid of her own kitchen, of her own hands.

          The mottled red skin of the apples came off in loops. The thin skin of the pears dropped off in easy curves. Carol could feel the tightness in her chest as she saw herself doing any number of violent acts with the paring knife. Yet, as always, she kept going without error or devastating action.

          “What are you makin’?” Harry said, sidling up next to his wife after catching the first scent of crust from the living room where he had been reading the morning news.

          “I’m making a pie for Monday,” Carol said as her mind dredged up images of fatal injury to the man she had married nearly 40 years ago. “Thought that I would use up the rest of the fruit down there.”

          “Yep,” Harry sunk his bare hand down into the water with the now skinless fruit. “Pears this year? Will that taste good?”

          “Pears and apples.”

          “And pears?” Harry asked, still questioning the deliciousness of this ingredient. “You’re not afraid of trying something unexpected, are you?”

          “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of, Harry.” A silence fell into the kitchen only pervaded by the sound of running water. “I’m tired of the unexpected.”

          Harry pushed his glasses up a little farther onto his large nose.

          “You know what I just read in the paper?”

          “What’s that?”

          Carol had stopped reading the paper when the stories had started to creep into her thoughts.

          “I read that a turkey’s gender can be determined by its droppings,” Harry said with a small smile peeking through his lips. “The males leave their waste in an “O” spiral shape while the females make something like a “J” formation.”

          “And you think that they do this on purpose?”

          “They must be trying to tell us something, but they have a very limited vocabulary to work with. One can’t really spell much with just an ‘O’ and a ‘J.’”

          “Have they looked at letters left by other birds?”

          “I believe that the Imperial Pheasant is known to leave a ‘Q’ or two in his wake after a particularly large meal.”

          “Well, that is equally unintelligible,” Carol said. The conversation carried on like this until Carol had finished chopping the fruit, mixed in the necessary spices and arranged the composition into a firm, warm crust. “Are you trying to tell me, Harry, that there is something to be learned from shit?”

          “Yes, entirely.” 




Sarah Spring

Originally from Alaska, Sarah Spring is a Speech-Language Pathologist and short story writer currently living in Salem, OR.