SHE GAVE ME HER PINEAPPLE
I gave her everything. I gave her the car, the swimming pool, the house and everything in it. I gave her my virginity, and in the process, the seed for her daughter. Our daughter, who is also named Charlene and who chose to stay with her mother because she had everything, which I gave her, and I had nothing but the pineapple. Her pineapple, which she didn’t so much as give me as throw at me from the balcony outside our bedroom, which is now her bedroom. But I caught the pineapple, I stopped it from splitting over my head, as she’d intended, and I held on to it like an infant tossed from a burning orphanage, an infant with jagged green hair and spiked skin that tore into my palms like stigmata, but one I learned to love as my own because it was all I ever got from her.
The pineapple and I ride the buses. I cradle it in my lap. Sometimes, when the pineapple starts to feel heavy and there’s an empty seat next to me, I’ll set it there and secure it under a safety belt. We’re traveling west. Charlene, the pineapple, seems drawn in that direction, and she’s taking me with her.
One night, in a Super 8 motel just outside Charlotte, I try to explain to Charlene why we can’t be with Charlene, the woman I married, and Charlene, our daughter. I tell her sometimes a woman isn’t happy with her man. Sometimes a woman needs a boy, like the pool boy who comes by twice a week to skim water and add chlorine. And sometimes when you ask a woman why she needs such a boy in such a way, she becomes indignant. Outraged, you could say. And she may never forgive you for it. Instead she may chase you out of the house and then return to the bedroom balcony and launch a pineapple at your head as you stand below pleading for her forgiveness.
You might wonder why she had a pineapple with her up there, and you might guess that it came from the fruit basket that the pool boy delivered to her bedroom. And you might worry for the poor grapes that somehow got crushed into stains on the bed sheets. Truth be told, I would have preferred the grapes at that moment, for grapes have softer skins and are easier to catch or deflect. But now I’m glad she threw her pineapple because I’ve learned to love it tender and true.
Charlene, the pineapple, doesn’t want to talk about any of this. She rests on the pillow in stoic silence and gazes at the weather report on TV. It promises clear days ahead for as far into the future as they can see.
At the top of that great arch in St. Louis, we can see halfway to Oklahoma, and we realize this is the point of no return, this being the Gateway to the West. I am tempted to turn my gaze back east, but I don’t want to betray my regrets to Charlene. They are quickly diminishing, anyway. She keeps my mind off the past and grows more stunning by the day.
Her colors beguile me. She shares the same hues of yellow and brown as a box turtle I caught when I was young. I named the turtle Marla and sheltered her in my hamper for three days and nights before concluding that she was too beautiful to keep, that I had to let her go.
I am all too aware of Charlene’s resonant beauty. I can’t ignore her succulent charm. Some days she’s perky, with all her tips erect. Some days she’s fiery, almost explosive, like a grenade fixing to blow. Oh and she’s sultry when she pouts. That’s what people notice at the theater in Kansas City after we get caught in the rain. I laughed and skipped down the sidewalk, all the while trying to shield her under my jacket. But we both got soaked, and now she’s dripping all over the lobby, and everybody just stops and stares like she’s the feature presentation. I want to take her in my arms and tell them all she’s mine.
But she’s not. Not mine, really.
Two days later, in a steakhouse in Amarillo, a trucker comments on how big Charlene is. That’s a mighty big pineapple, he says, even for Texas. I don’t know whether to swell with pride or chastise him for eyeballing Charlene. I should kick his butt. Sure, Charlene isn’t exactly spoken for, but the trucker doesn’t know that, and he just goes pitching unsolicited woo to her like she just wandered into his stag party. He doesn’t bother to ask if I’m her chaperone or her suitor or what.
Or what. I still wonder what I am to her.
Maybe I’m getting a little reckless here, not shielding her enough from the roughness in the world. She’s tough in her own way, but she’s still young, too. I want to take her to a tamer place, someplace soft, a town completely void of sharp corners and hard edges.
I think that place is Santa Fe. I know it is when I see all the old folks there, and how they can go about in funny hats without fear of persecution. And nobody ogles Charlene, nobody gives us a second look when I walk her through the Palace of the Governors. We’re safe here, I can feel it. In Santa Fe, they understand and respect the delicate relationship between man and fruit. Charlene and I tour the New Age retreats and turquoise shops. We meet Indians in the plaza. Real Indians. We visit a museum that displays the work of an artist so wonderful they named the whole museum after her, the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, like it’s her museum.
Georgia O’Keefe painted flowers so pretty you might think about giving them your seed. I’m filled with shame for staring so long and afraid Charlene might notice. I have not yet explained to her the difference between love and desire.
The Dole Pineapple Company loved O’Keefe’s work. Or perhaps they desired it, I can’t be sure. In any case, they invited her to Hawaii in 1939 to enhance their product image. Sex it up, as they say. She accepted their offer and their money, then painted much of Hawaii—its roads, valleys, and waterfalls. Yet much to the chagrin of the good people at Dole, she didn’t pay much mind to pineapples. It’s cruel, I know. They gave her everything, and all they wanted in return was a pineapple, her pineapple, but she wouldn’t give it to them.
A pineapple in an O’Keefe picture is indeed a rare and beautiful sight. If you visit the O’Keefe Museum on special days, you can witness for yourself her vision of a pineapple plantation. It is a marvel in tropical lust, with pineapples perched about the emerald hills on a paradisiacal isle. They look so happy, so free.
Charlene is smitten. She gazes as though blinded by a glimpse of heaven. I know now where this journey is taking her. I should warn her. I should tell her what they do to pineapples on pineapple plantations. They’ll shave off her spiky hair. They’ll tear off her abrasive skin. They’ll cut out her tough core and slice her into rings. But I’m afraid I don’t know how I can explain that to her. And worse, when I think of Charlene stripped of her armor, I fear she’s no longer safe with me. I think of her golden nectar dripping all over my flesh the way she dripped in the theater lobby in Kansas City, and I think of the sugar rush I’d get from tasting it, and I think I could go to hell for the thoughts she conjures in my head.
I want to keep her here with me, forever, but I don’t own her, can’t tell her what to do. So I let her go, and there’s no way to explain why I won’t follow. I just have to let her go.
Stephen Ausherman is the author of two
award-winning books: Typical Pigs, a novel, and Restless
Tribes, a collection of travel stories. Born in China and raised
in North Carolina, Ausherman now lives in New Mexico. Visit his Web
site at www.restlesstribes.com.
© 2007 Swink, Inc.