Three Stories About Pineapples: (Un)Fruitful Unwrappings
“It’s for you. A present,” Jeff said.
Elaine looked down at the pineapple she cradled in her arms. The plant’s waxy leaves scratched at the inside of her elbow like sharp puppy teeth.
“Thank you,” she smiled nervously. “I’ve never had a pineapple of my own before.”
“Everyone should have a pineapple. Don’t you think?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Elaine replied. “I can imagine it’s my tropical getaway.”
Jeff seemed satisfied with Elaine’s reception of the gift. He poured two glasses of wine and asked if she’d like to help him prepare the Spanish tortilla they would have for dinner. Thankful to relinquish the pineapple to centerpiece status at the kitchen table, Elaine located a spare knife and began to chop bunches of cilantro.
The setting evening sun cascaded through the slotted shades of Jeff’s apartment. The pineapple. The dinner. It all felt like an early summer evening, but January kept the pair indoors. Elaine lived in a college town a few hours from Jeff’s, and earlier that afternoon she skipped her last French class to make the westbound 200-mile drive. They had planned this evening for a few weeks. They were good friends — had been for years — but recently, they had been talking more and more. They started calling each other on their way to class. They timed their visits home, and arranged to have coffee together. Elaine couldn’t help but think that their very lovely friendship might turn into something more. She had been planning her outfit for a few days. She sprayed a few squirts of perfume. She risked being pulled over and sped the whole way. She put on extra deodorant, but now, in Jeff’s kitchen, she couldn’t stop sweating.
Elaine had not expected to receive any gift from her friend. The pineapple was thoughtful, and quite unique. Unlike flowers, the fruit would not wilt. And it was, as she had mentioned earlier, a symbol of warmer days. Still, the pineapple had caused within her an internal stir. It was true that Elaine had never owned a pineapple. She had, however, once cut through the woody surface of the tropical fruit, when on one evening last summer, she helped her mother prepare dessert. On the countertop, the pineapple dangerously rocked and shifted under the knife’s blade. “Be careful,” she heard her mother say, but these tiny words disappeared into the fast, red stream of blood that rushed from the tip of Elaine’s left index finger. She looked at the knife. A surprisingly thick flap of flesh and fruit stuck to its sparkling edge. Dessert was postponed, and Elaine’s mother drove her to the hospital. It took three stitches, and the doctor who performed the nominal surgery was the same doctor who, sixteen years before, had sewn up Elaine’s split chin when she had fallen out of bed. The black ends of the threads prickled like the pineapple’s leaves. A few weeks later, when the same doctor removed the stitches, the previously rounded fingertip made a sharp slant. A small portion of her fingerprint was gone forever.
Understandably, Elaine now feared fruits with tough skins. In the market, she went past the mangoes. She shied from squash. Watermelon, which had been her favorite summer snack, was out of the question. And pineapple, well, she’d already learned her lesson.
But she couldn’t tell this to Jeff. He was a nice guy, and she knew that he’d feel terrible. Instead Elaine continued to carefully chop cilantro. She sliced a few potatoes, and while the tortilla baked, they chose a film to watch. They ate slowly, and quietly complimented each other on their cooking and kitchen knife skills. Together they washed the dishes, their hands touched in the sudsy, warm water. They smiled self-consciously. They turned on the film and drank more wine and nibbled on chocolate, inching closer together on the couch. Anxiously, Elaine leaned her head on Jeff’s shoulder. He reached for her hand. They kissed. They kissed long after the film ended, their breath hot with red onion and cocoa. They kissed on the poorly stuffed couch, and down the hallway, to the bedroom, where he pulled off her clothes before taking off his own, pushing her onto the bed and under the covers until they both came and fell asleep. The next morning, Elaine woke and dressed and brushed and kissed him goodbye, but received little more than a sleepy groan. It wasn’t until she was at the front door, taking a last scan of the apartment that she remembered the pineapple. Somehow, in the night, it had fallen from the table and rolled onto the floor. Last night had been a mistake, and now, it was impossible not to find dark meaning in the armored fruit, but Elaine couldn’t leave it behind.
Elaine drove the 200-miles back with the pineapple sitting by her side. When she allowed herself to think about the night, she grew hot with embarrassment. She wondered if she’d ever hear from her friend again. She decided if Jeff did call, she would cut open the fruit. But Jeff did not call.
One day, sad but ready to move on, Elaine called him on her walk to French class. She left a friendly message that went unreturned. And later that afternoon, when she arrived back at her apartment, Elaine discovered that the pineapple had begun to rot.
Illustration by Tom Loughlin