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Martha and Other Anomalies by Kerrin Piché Serna

 

Kerrin Piché Serna has had works of fiction published in Rosebud Magazine and The Portland Review. She lives in Fullerton, California with her husband and their spoiled, but adorable, Shih Tzu Ophelia.

3rd place - 2014 Raymond Carver Contest

 

The pineapple was flying! It paused at the pinnacle of its arc, weightless, and then began its descent—slow, sinking, faster, faster—finally landing with a thump into the tall grass beside the road. The milk carton had ruptured and the box of couscous split open, sending tiny yellow grains skittering across the asphalt. The tomatoes were ruined, too, gashed and hemorrhaging onto Interstate 9.

Cars pulled to the shoulder and drivers exited their vehicles, dazed. They stood along the edge of the road with their cell phones pressed to their heads, squinting their eyes from the white florescent sun and the horror, oh, the horror. The motorcycle came out of nowhere, they told each other, and the car had swerved and rolled and did you see it and holy shit and is anyone hurt and oh my god, my god.

Police arrived in their starched blues and boots, crunching potato chips and couscous and corn niblets into the blacktop. Where did all this food come from, someone wondered. The pineapple went unnoticed, a tropical blip along a Midwestern highway. Ambulances descended with their desperate, manic lights. Orange cones. The motorcycle and its rider lay far apart and motionless.

Eventually the wreckage was cleared, witnesses questioned, cones stacked. Tires picked up speed and carried away bits of glass and couscous, scattering sparkles.

And so, when nothing else remained, two bodies survived. The pineapple, whole and golden. And Martha.

In her first waking moments, there was whiteness and the smell of antiseptic. Chemicals, cleaning agents, fixatives. A nauseating smell. A monstrous metallic eye shone down upon her and stiff, unfamiliar fabric lay cold against her skin.

“Where are my clothes?” she asked the hazy figures. “I need my clothes.”

“It’s okay,” someone said.

In her next waking moments, she smelled soap and pinecones. A doctor in a tie and a white coat stood over her.

“Can you tell me your name?” He was taking her pulse.

“Martha.” Her throat was scraped bare.

“What do you remember, Martha?”

“I was asking for my clothes. I’m naked,” she whispered.

The doctor was handsome. Too handsome, really. It was unsettling. He was too tan, his coat and teeth too white. “You were in an accident,” he said. “Do you remember?”

She blinked. “What kind of accident?”

“The usual kind. Car.” He sighed, as though this information were disappointingly mundane. “The good news is you’re going to be okay.”

And miraculously, she was.

. . .

When she returned to work after almost two months, they threw her a party. Cake purchased from the grocery store, pink roses, and a “Welcome Back!” sign. It was 9:00 a.m. and her coworkers stood around the break room with flimsy plates of cake and cups of coffee in their hands. Reggie from finance kept trying to catch her eye. They had gone on two dates before the accident, and she had maybe almost gone to bed with him.

They asked how she was feeling.

“Not bad,” she said. “I’ve got all kinds of foreign objects in my body. Pins, titanium, precious metals. I think I’m almost bionic.” They laughed politely, the way you do when you’re standing around a gray-walled office licking buttercream frosting off your fork at 9:00 a.m., and as they drifted away murmuring glad-to-have-you-backs, someone said how lucky she was.

. . .

The pineapple lay undisturbed in the tall grass by the side of Interstate 9, listening to the sound of tires humming by with no beginning and no end. Another cool dusk began to slip across the road like a satin nightgown. Everything crawled with life. But the pineapple, ripe and unblemished, lay perfectly still.

. . .

Martha went to physical therapy three times a week. They gave her exercises to do that made no sense. Balance on this wobbly board, they said. Try to remain standing upright for two minutes. Lean against this wall for four counts of ten. Sit on this ball for five minutes. Push against my hand. It was like they were playing stupid nursery school games with her, killing time. Distracting her from something. From what? She stopped going.

Reggie leaned against her office door and teased her.

“Are you taller?” he said. “Did they add a few ribs?”

She didn’t know how to joke with him anymore. She had lost all capacity for banter.

He sat on the edge of her desk. “Well, something’s different,” he said. “New elbows?”

She looked up at him. He had wispy shoulders and hair, but a tobacco-leather-chair-Thoreau quality around the eyes. He looked good in blue.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m an entirely different person.”

He lifted one eyebrow. “Interesting. You and the old Martha—you both like spaghetti?”

He took her to dinner at Mama Rosa’s. She knew she wasn’t supposed to drink with her medication, but the spaghetti was swirling and the meatballs were rolling and Reggie laughed in a rumpled, boyish way and she didn’t care. She did not care. They went back to her apartment and ate each other up.

Even in the dark, she was conscious of the relief map of scars under Reggie’s fingers. A map of nowhere and without relief. Then the pain crashed down in choking waves upon her, which she repackaged into moans of pleasure. He had to cover her mouth with his hand so the neighbors wouldn’t call the police.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” He looked at her, concern in his eyes. Martha pulled him close and bit his shoulder. She forced herself through a tiny opening in her mind, like being born and giving birth all at once. Afterward he tried to hold her but her skin felt prickly and hot. She scooted away.

He traced little patterns on her shoulder for a while and then asked if she had anything to snack on.

“Help yourself,” she said. She burrowed under the pillow and felt the pain whiz up and down her back, a scream searching for a mouth.

Reggie returned with a bowl of cherries and lifted a corner of the pillow. He put one to her lips and whispered in her ear, “A bowl of cherries! Isn’t that what life is like?”

. . .

The pineapple, nothing but time all around him, tried to piece together the moments of his life. There were flashes: a sweet breeze, a strong hand, a very cold box. He remembered a jostling truck ride, the glorious gleam of a produce section. Like a carnival! A fiesta! All the colors stacked together and everything new and fresh!

He had always known he was gorgeous. He felt it in his juices. Furthermore, he knew that he was meant for a Grand Big Something. He had glowed and preened in the misty chill of the produce section. He was selected (of course!) and rode like a king in his chariot up and down aisles of wonder, and then he was handled and weighed and placed into a paper sack and it was on to the next amazement. Then, smash bang crash and soar, high into the air, and thud thump thwack to the side of the road. Something had gone terribly wrong—but what? He thought about this on and on into the night.

. . .

The X-ray glowed on its light box like something alien and radioactive. But it was Martha; it was her insides.

“Here.” The doctor pointed to a spot inside her ribs.

She squinted at it. It was a perfect circle.

“It could be something left over from the accident, maybe. But from the size and shape of it…” His face was smooth as molded chocolate. Up this close, she almost wanted to lick him. He would taste like cocoa butter.

“What?” she whispered.

Two tiny lines appeared between his brows. He looked at her and his forehead went flat as fondant. “It looks like a tumor.”

The air in the examining room turned warm and heavy. The smell of his piney soap was thick, mulchy. It suddenly smelled of rotting things.

“A tumor?” The word hung in the air between them.

“It could be nothing. We’ll biopsy it. It’s a smallish lump,” he said. “About like that.” He held his thumb and forefinger in a circle. “About the size of, say, a cherry.”

. . .

She decided not to tell Reggie. She kept things from him already, like how her back and pelvis curdled with pain when they were in bed. She learned to work it into the experience, make it part of the fun. Was she becoming a masochist? No. It was just the way of things now. The After. If the pain took over her body, she could let it also consume her mind, which was a bit of a relief. She learned to throw a lasso over the pain and ride it like a mechanical bull. She closed her eyes, felt the spinning, and held on tight, tight, tight.

But the night before the biopsy, on a whim and a river of wine, she told him.

“A tumor?” His mouth hung open.

“Don’t say it like that.”

“But it is a tumor, that’s what they said?”

“Just one doctor. Not ‘they.’ And he said it might be. Maybe he left something in me from one of the surgeries.” She pushed her spaghetti around and snuck little glances at him. Reggie stared at her, unblinking.

“But you said it was round?”

“Like that,” she said, holding her thumb and forefinger in a circle. “About the size of a cherry.”

“A cherry?”

“Yeah. You know.”

“What’s shaped like a cherry?”

“I don’t know. A cotton ball? Do you want more wine?” She reached for the bottle.

“No, finish it. Wait.” He stopped her hand. “Are you sure you should be drinking that?”

“I have surgery tomorrow. I’m sure as hell that I should be drinking it.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll drive you.” He folded his napkin in his lap as though the subject were closed. He spoke with an air of ownership, as though this tumor belonged to both of them. But it was hers.

“You have to work.”

“I’ll call in sick.”

“That’ll be suspicious, don’t you think?”

“I don’t care.” He took her hand and looked at her, his forehead creased. His hair was soft and downy and sticking out a little on the side. His nose was shiny.

“I’ll be fine,” she said. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s a tumor.”

“It’s a cherry.” She downed her wine in one long gulp.

. . .

Martha awoke from the anesthesia with a jolt, like being dumped out of a hammock onto the ground. The doctor smiled at her, teeth smooth and white as magazine gloss. “Hello, Martha,” he said. “Do you know where you are?”

“Martha’s Vineyard?” she managed froggily.

He chuckled. “Here’s the deal,” he said as he looked over her chart. “It was a cherry.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“A cherry.”

“I’m sorry,” she said patiently. He was as good-looking as an actor and possibly not so bright. “What does that mean, you know, in medical terms?”

“There’s no medical term for it. It’s a cherry. Like in a pie. Like on George Washington’s tree.”

She tried to sit up, the wound in her side singing. And then she realized that this was the same place in her body where she had felt a stab when they told her the motorcyclist hadn’t made it.

“Are you joking?”

He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’m as baffled as you are.”

“So, what you thought was a tumor the size of a cherry…”

“Was, in fact, an actual cherry.”

Martha felt a tremor in her body, a tectonic shift a mile underground.

She had to keep talking to make sure she was awake. “What kind of cherry? Bing? Maraschino?”

“I guess I’d have to say Bing.”

“Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“What the fuck?”

He shook his head, shrugged. “We’ll study it, but it seems to be just what it looks like. If I weren’t so perplexed by it I would say it was even … lovely.”

“Well,” she said. “Thanks?”

He gave a little bow.

“But … how did it get in there?”

“I have no idea. It’s quite unorthodox.”

She stared at him, at his perfect eyebrows and his straight, princely nose.

“You can go home in about an hour,” he said.

On his way out, she thought of something, and called to him. “Can I see it?”

It was indeed lovely. Deep blood red, perfect green stem; it seemed to gaze back at her from inside its fluid-filled jar. She realized she wanted to take it home. He would rather she didn’t—more tests, bizarre medical anomaly, and so on. But he was called away suddenly, and as she dressed, she slipped the jar under her coat. She walked out with her cherry anomaly under her arm.

. . .

She had used up her share of sick leave. The company was doing their best to accommodate her, they said, but the doctor’s visits were piling up and so was the data that needed entering. “It’s not that we don’t sympathize,” they said. “Of course, we know these things are beyond your control. But you understand our position. We have a business to run.”

“I do,” she said. “I do understand.”

The cherry tumor was pushed to the back of her refrigerator, but Martha was aware of it from every room in her apartment. In the shower, she cleaned around her plastic-covered bandage and felt the wound and the cherry lean toward each other with a distant gravitational pull. The doctor’s office called but she deleted the messages. She and her cherry were each somber and curious, not afraid of each other but not exactly unflinching.

In the grocery store, she leaned her arms on the cart as she went up and down the aisles. She wanted to make dinner for Reggie. He had been so relieved when she told him it wasn’t cancer, which wasn’t a lie, and she couldn’t find a good enough reason not to let him be around. She knew how to make couscous, so that went into the cart. There was a tiny hole in the bottom of the box (who knows how these things happen?) and she went up and down the aisles leaving a trail of fine yellow grains behind her. In the produce section, she passed the cherries numbly—they were just cherries, huddled in slotted bags so they could breathe—and stopped at the lemons, sunny and bright.

. . .

All the while, the pineapple waited for something to happen. A beginning or an end. Clouds assembled and began to rain. Ah, he thought. Home. Back when he had first known he was destined for his Grand Big Something, he had loved to feel the soft rain on his stalk. But this rain brought something unfamiliar and unsavory that he felt deep in his pulp, in his dense pineapple core. If he had had a word for it, the word would have been doubt.

. . .

Reggie licked his fingers with a smacking sound and made groans of culinary delight. Martha thought the chicken was a bit too lemony, but with her chin on her fist and her wine-shimmering eyes and Reggie’s adorable, wrinkly forehead, she forgot and squeezed more lemon onto her plate.

She told him what their boss had said.

“I’m on thin ice,” she said. “Let’s drink to it.”

He dropped his fork. “They can’t fire you.”

“Who knows?” She supposed they (who were they?) could do whatever they wanted.

“You’re not worried.”

“Should I be?”

He swirled his wine and peered into it, the glass cloudy with chicken grease fingerprints. “I guess not,” he said. “No. We’ll be fine.” There was a grain of couscous stuck to his chin. He looked impossibly, hilariously serious, and before she knew it she was climbing onto the table and knocking over the wine glasses and planting her knee in the couscous and running her tongue across his chin.

. . .

As Reggie held her and slept, the pain crashed in like a storm, a hurricane, bursting open the shutters, a flash flood, and she nearly drowned in it. He moved a little when she gasped, but he didn’t wake up. Something sang with a high falsetto in her ears, blood surging, muscles clamping, the gnashing of teeth. She was on a raft in an ocean, and the waves lifted her up a hundred feet or more and crashed her down onto bone-hungry rocks. I’m dying, she thought, and this soothed her. At least there was a reason for this agony, a purpose, and she closed her eyes and let it tear her to bits.

. . .

“What’s this?” said Reggie. “Oh god, oh my god, what is this?”

She couldn’t see anything and had no idea where she was. It took her a moment to realize that she was in bed, lying on her stomach, with the pillow over her head. She came out into the light. The bedside lamp was glaring at her. “What?” she said. “Turn that light off.”

“This,” he took her hand and pulled it around to her lower back, pressing it lightly onto … something. “Can you not feel that?”

It was a lump, hard and large and grotesque, and she twisted around to peer over her shoulder.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Turn off the light.”

“Are you nuts?”

“Probably,” she said.

“That wasn’t there a few hours ago. I’m taking you to the hospital.” His voice was muffled as he pulled on his shirt.

“Maybe it’s a lemon,” she said into the pillow.

“The hell? Are you feeling all right? Get dressed.”

. . .

She awoke again to the smell of soap and pine needles. The doctor was sitting in a chair next to her bed. How long had he been there, watching her?

“Well?” she said.

“We really should stop meeting like this.”

She had no time for his teasing. Or was it flirting? “Please just tell me.”

He ran a hand over his hair. “Well, Martha, it was a lemon.”

Martha looked down at the small bump of her body under the thin hospital blanket. There was a bouquet of flowers at the foot of the bed. She could make out Reggie’s handwriting.

“I knew it,” she said softly.

“Did you? Funny, it was a surprise to me.”

“Can I see it?”

“Now you know that I know better than to let you out of here with this one.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course you don’t.” He went away and came back with a jar of fluid with a gleaming, candy-perfect lemon inside, happy as sunshine and giddy summer days.

“Martha,” he said, setting the jar down beside her, “I’m afraid I just don’t know what to do with you.”

She looked at the lemon, bouncing gleefully in its bathwater.

“Make lemonade?” she said.

He smiled. What answers could he give her? He was really good at looking good and picking fruit from her body and that was about it.

“Your friend’s outside.” He took the lemon with him.

Reggie held her hand and patted it softly, which made her feel like punching him in the nuts.

“I’m not dying,” she said.

“What did the doctor say?”

“It was just a benign cyst, that’s all. They took it out.”

“But how could it have popped up so quickly? In a matter of hours?”

“They don’t know. But it’s not anything, so it doesn’t matter.”

He looked at her with his head tilted and his eyes narrowed, like he was trying to x-ray her head. He was unshaven and he smelled of burnt toast.

“Does this have anything to do with the accident?”

“They don’t think so.” Now, there she was, talking in ‘theys.’ “I mean, the doctor said probably not.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s an anomaly,” she said. “Wait … what time is it? Why aren’t you at work?”

“I called in for both of us.”

“Jesus Christ, Reggie. Now everyone knows.”

“So?” he said, stroking her hair away from her forehead. “So what?”

. . .

The pineapple wondered sometimes whether he was fortunate to have flown away from the wreckage, what seemed at the time like danger. Maybe the couscous had made the better decision, to go with it, and let itself get scattered about by the whim of the wind, and he wondered where the couscous was now and if it was happy.

. . .

Martha sat in her car in front of a tidy blue house. She had hoped that in the time it took to drive to the address, the words would have formed in her head, something simple and pretty and perfect like the pink tulips on the passenger’s seat. She sat there waiting for the pink tulip thoughts to form, and then she waited for it to be too late to drop in. But time refused to move forward. As she got out of the car, the stitches on her back knitted and puckered like sour lemon lips. She walked up the porch steps and rang the doorbell.

The door opened. A boy blinked up at her with cow-lashed eyes in a round, freckled face. A kid. She hadn’t expected a kid. The tulips in her hand gave a little tremor, nudging her back to life. “Hello?” she said. Like she was answering a telephone.

“Mom!” the boy yelled suddenly. For a moment this confused her. Did he think she was his mother? But he yelled it again as he turned and ran inside, leaving the door open.

Now she was alone, with an intimate view into a stranger’s house. There was a brown corduroy couch strewn with lumpy throw pillows. Cereal bowls and crumb-sprinkled plates on the coffee table. Television sounds, crowds and bells and cheers, coming from another room. A woman appeared from a dark hallway. She was young. A young mother, maybe twenty-eight.

“Yes?” She had wisps of brown hair in her eyes and wore no makeup. She was barefoot and in cutoff shorts. “Can I help you?”

Martha searched for words—an introduction, an apology, something. But her mind was blank as a hospital wall. The woman squinted at her, puzzled but kind.

“Are you okay?” she asked. Martha lifted the tulips and held them out to the woman. They bobbed and nodded, polite and quivering.

The woman looked at the flowers and then at Martha’s pale face. “Oh. Oh my god,” she said. “I know who you are.”

. . .

The pineapple had no friends and no enemies, no one to help pass the lonely days. The creatures that crawled through the grass or flew overhead eyed him warily and kept their distance.

Then, one day as he watched the clouds, always on the move, he felt something. A change in the wind, a new kind of prickle in his skin. The notion that something was coming, that he might not have to spend eternity in this place. He wanted to tell someone, a bird or a worm, but they never came close enough.

. . .

“Hey.” Reggie leaned against her office door. His face was edgeless and soft, backed by light like a face in a cloud. Martha put her coconut hand lotion into a box.

“What’s going on?” he said.

She put her secret stash of Pop-Tarts and her Pugs in Costume calendar into the box.

“I got fired.”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“What the hell?” He took her hand, stopping her from packing.

“They’re restructuring.” She was empty as a clean jar; there weren’t any tears.

“No. No way. They can’t do this. We’ll get a lawyer.” We.

“Do you want my mouse pad?” she asked. It had a jellybean-shaped bump of blubber meant to support the wrist. Reggie stared at her while she squished the lump with her fingers.

Two of their office mates swooped in to offer their condolences and get first pick of the good pens.

. . .

Martha sat on the brown corduroy sofa as the woman gathered up the dirty dishes from the coffee table. Her name was Abby. She apologized for the mess and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Can I get you anything?” she called. “Water, soda … fruit? I have some good oranges. Jeez, it’s so hot.”

“No,” said Martha, a bit too loudly. “No, thank you.”

The boy stood at the other end of the sofa, gaping at Martha. She still clutched the tulips.

“What are those for?” he asked. He rubbed his nose in a hard, upward motion with the palm of his hand.

She looked down at the flowers. “They’re … for you.”

He smiled sideways at her as though he was being teased. For a brief flash, she saw him as a man, with the same smile and eyelashes.

“Pink flowers for a boy?”

“Um … yeah,” she said.

He seemed to be turning this over in his mind, looking from the flowers to her and back again as he circled his stretched-out, boy-socked toe along the carpet. Then he took them from her tentatively. He kept his eyes on her as he backed away and then bolted down the hall.

Abby’s tears fell on her lap, into her open hands, as she talked about Jeff. How glad she was that Coby, the boy, had had a close relationship with his father. How she had always hated that motorcycle. How she had known what she was getting into when she fell for him and had still fallen willingly and happily. How she didn’t regret a single moment.

Martha listened and nodded. At one point, she had the slightest desire to reach over and take Abby’s hand. But she didn’t. She just let her talk, and finally, when Abby pressed her fingers into her eyelids and tilted her head back onto the couch, Martha touched her knee.

“Listen,” she said. “I just … I really want you to know how sorry I am.” Martha choked a bit as she got the rest out. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Abby lifted her head and opened her eyes. They were wet but bright.

“Oh,” she said, blinking, as if Martha had just told her that cherries were red. “I know that. Of course you are. But it was an accident. No one’s to blame.” And she wrapped her arms around Martha’s shoulders and hugged her tight, tight, tight.

The boy reappeared with the pink tulips. Their heads had been snapped off and repurposed as tiny parachutes, their green rubbery stems tied to the plastic backs of army figures.

“Coby!” said Abby, letting go of Martha and wiping her eyes. “You ruined those beautiful flowers!”

“They’re mine,” he said, blinking and certain. “She gave them to me.” Then, he gathered them in his arms and carried them outside for test flights off the porch.

. . .

“I’m pregnant,” Martha said into her untouched pasta at Mama Rosa’s. Reggie stopped mid-pour and the wine bottle hesitated just over the glass, its round green mouth open in surprise, lip dripping. The waiter appeared and asked how everything was.

“Everything,” said Reggie, “is super.” He set the bottle down carefully, leaned across the table and said, “I’m sorry. Could you say that one more time, please?”

Martha picked up her wine glass, held it aloft. “I said I’m drinking for two now.”

“That’s not funny,” he said sternly, fatherly already. “Put it down.”

She watched his face for signs of anger. Or would it be fear? Revulsion? Instead, he looked bewildered. “How long?” His voice went up an octave. “Are you sure? How long?”

“I don’t know how long,” she said. “But I’m sure. I mean, I need to go to the doctor. But, you know. I’m late.”

Reggie put his elbows on the table and folded his hands, resting his forehead on them as though in prayer.

Martha waited and stared at her spaghetti. She was hungry, but lately she had been craving fruit—the freshness, color and life of it. The sweet, ripe flesh of things borne from trees and vines. She found herself wandering the produce aisles and haunting farmers’ markets, lifting apples and peaches and cantaloupes to her nose. Inhaling their fragrance but never tasting them.

“Wow,” Reggie said finally. “Wow.”

“Yep,” she said.

His eyes glittered in the candlelight. Here it comes, she thought. He feels terrible about it, but he just isn’t ready for this. She almost felt sorry for him. Guilt was the worst feeling in the world.

He reached across the table and took her hand. “Baby,” he said. He looked at her like she was made of spun sugar. “I hope it’s a girl.”

. . .

The doctor placed the jar on the bedside table.

“Well, my dear.”

She looked out the window.

“I’m not pregnant.”

“No.”

“I knew it.” She hadn’t known it, was as shocked as anything to see the cantaloupe appear next to her like a giant eyeball covered in alligator skin. She was sure the lump she felt in her belly was a baby. She was as sure as if she had already given birth to it. She had already nursed it, rocked it in her mind.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t even eat cantaloupe. I’ve stopped eating fruit altogether.”

The doctor slipped his hands into his white coat pockets. He looked freshly tanned; his skin was oiled and nutty. Had he been to Hawaii recently? “I don’t think that’s what’s going on here,” he said.

“So, what’s next?” she asked him. “A pomegranate? A pineapple?”

He smiled. “A watermelon?”

She put her hands over her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Tests have been … inconclusive.”

“Doctor?”

“Yes.”

“This fruit is going to kill me, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know, Martha. We can’t possibly know.”

“Right,” she said. “We can’t.” And she went home and dumped her cherry anomaly down the garbage disposal, which hacked and spat.

. . .

I would rather be eaten, said the pineapple to the stars, than lie here alone one more day, without living or dying or fulfilling my Grand Big Something. I wish someone would come and eat me up.

. . .

Reggie held her and stroked her hair. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s not your fault,” she sniffled into his shoulder. “These things happen.” She didn’t want to be comforted. She wanted to pull up the trees and chew them to bits. “It’s probably for the best anyway.”

He peeled her away. “Don’t say that.”

“Why? Obviously I can’t have a baby.”

He made her look at him. “Hey. I wanted that baby too, Martha. Maybe we can try again.”

“No,” she said. “I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

She glanced at the clock over his shoulder. The second hand was stuck. The same moment lived and died over and over.

“I killed a man,” she said. “How could I have one when I’ve taken one away?”

. . .

Martha eased her foot off the gas and let the car crawl to a stop. She sat and listened to the sound of cars whizzing by, the constant hum of bees in a hive. When she opened the door and stepped out, it was like taking a pillow off her head. The noise of the cars became colored and clear. A blast of air carved out the shape of her body each time a car passed close to the edge. The accident rose up before her in glimmers of light and metal. The skidding, spinning tumble of her car and the sick pulpy thump and the cut glass raindrops and the car crumpling like paper around her and the thought that she was dying and that everything, everything, everything would be fine.

. . .

A truck materialized in the distance, rising out of the rippled air like a charging mammoth. Martha felt the moment upon her. She had a choice. No more fruit tumors and no more surgeries and no beautiful, useless doctor and no jars and no Reggie looking at her with pity and concern and no more pain … just lots of quiet, dark and peace. The truck was approaching, faster and stronger and final like the closing of a drawbridge, and then it was leaning and bouncing, and one, two … on three, she would do it and here it was and she lifted her foot and closed her eyes and stepped.

. . .

No, thought the pineapple. Oh, no. There was something about this woman, something real and important and he knew somehow that if she could only see him, if she could look down for just a second and feel him calling, straining … he knew that they would both be saved. After all these months, he was still beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than he had ever been. He had no idea how he had done it, but he had. He had even wished he could undo it, but he couldn’t. But it didn’t matter how beautiful you were if no one needed you.

. . .

The truck swerved and wailed, and she stumbled, tripped over something, and fell backward into the grass. She sat there, stunned, in the tall grass by the side of the road. The moment had come and gone, a beginning and an ending in a snap of the fingers. Everything had compressed in that moment to an eyelash that the wind could have pushed one way or the other. She looked up at the sun and shaded her eyes. It was too bright, like the metallic eye in the operating room. She looked down at the ground. Spots burned and swirled in her eyes, and as they dissolved away, something else remained, something glowing. She parted the grass.

A pineapple, whole and ripe and golden. Almost as though it had been waiting for her. Martha began to tremble. Was there a whole army of fruit? Attacking her from the inside and now the outside? How long had it been here? What did it want from her? When would it stop?

She looked at the pineapple with the pain chugging through her body and the end of the motorcyclist’s life spread out on the pavement in front of her and Coby’s socked feet pounding on the porch and the wife sobbing into the sofa pillows and the doctor lining up jars of fruit and the gray office walls closing in and Reggie touching a baby’s skin and she suddenly, mercifully, thought of another way out.

. . .

And oh, he was flying! Light as an eggshell spinning high into the air, and he looked down on the cars as they rushed below him now, millions of colors and sparkles and the woman, her face turned up toward him and her hands still outstretched. He was frightened, but as he looked down at her, he realized that she had done just the right thing.

Now he felt a hesitation, a brief ecstasy, high up there in the sky where the clouds moved, and he knew immediately that it was the sensation of his Grand Big Something. It had come home to him. And now he was sinking, falling, speeding down faster and faster, and he saw that the ground was coming, the highway and all those cars with their wheels grinding the pavement were zooming toward him bigger and louder, and he closed his wishes up and packed them away because he didn’t need them anymore; he was Here.

. . .

Cars slowed around the shattered pineapple in the middle of the road. Juice seeped into the pavement and bits of pulp were sucked up and carried away in the grooves of tires. Everything was over. The pain was gone.

And so, when nothing else remained, there was Martha.