It Was Then

by Hadas Bigman

In my head, there are images of her peeling the banana. We had been saving the banana for her birthday, a cake. It was a creeping brown, a dark brown, a splotchy brown, and it was ready to be made into a cake. We didn’t want her to know about the cake, or the party, or the little bit of flour that we had saved for the cake, or anything. It was to be a surprise, a grand surprise, and she was to savor the cake and we were excited for the surprise. Life was dull, so dull, and we felt that if we did not have something exciting soon, bad things would happen, like father jumping off the roof again.

Father’s jumping off the roof did not end badly, excepting the hospital bill which we were trying to pay back but failing, failing, failing. His leg had been shattered in two places only, the doctor smiled as he told us, smiled inside and outside, because he was a doctor and he had a job, and he was going to go home to wife, children, food, he smiled and said that the leg was only shattered in two places and that we should be grateful. We were grateful, because his leg could have been shattered in three places, or four, but we were unhappy with Father because he had jumped. Why did you jump? We asked him. And he looked into our eyes and we looked back and he looked and said that it was all gray and it could not continue being gray anymore. And then we asked what color it was now and he said pink. We were surprised, that a broken leg means the color pink. We wanted to ask him if he meant to die or if he just wanted to paint his world a different shade, but we were afraid. The question was so big we were frightened of it; it was so heavy that it might crush his other leg.

Later that week we came up with the banana cake. It was her birthday, it was a big birthday, and the cake would be different. We took Father into our confidence. “We will paint the world yellow, Father. Banana yellow.” Father nodded once or twice and said that that was a wise decision, and that she would be very happy, and that yellow goes very well with pink, even though his pink was fading. If Father’s pink was fading, it meant that he might want to jump from the roof again and see if he could reach a different color this time, and we did not want this at all. Every time we sat down for dinner the dent that Father’s heavy work boots had left on the tin roof sat with us; we did not fear the roof’s collapse, for it had dealt with worse than Father. But every supper, the dent joined us. It was unwelcome.

The dent was unwelcome, and so we threw ourselves entirely into the project of the cake. First, we had to get a banana. Bananas were scarce at that time of year, and expensive, but it was the only kind of cake that Sarah knew how to bake, she had learnt how at her last position, before she got fired, and she was adamant. It would be a banana cake. And so we saved up, saved up, saved up, and bought a banana. It was green, bright green, and it looked like a bud against the walls of our potato of a house; it was a sign of life springing from the brown walls, brown dirt in the front, brown skin, brown everything. We passed it from hand to hand to hand, until Benjamin tried to take it with his toes, and then Sarah snatched it up quick, saying that it wasn’t a toy and that we mustn’t play with it, for God’s sake. So the banana was hidden in the bottom cabinet on the left side, inside a big bronze pot. The pot was slid to the very very back, where the blackness was, and other pots were shifted to the front. We didn’t think that she’d notice. Benjamin had suggested that we hide it under the floorboard in the bedroom, because there was nice soft dirt there, and she would never think to pick it up. She detested the ground, everything that had to do with the soil, she never looked at it if she could help it, and certainly not in the house. Sarah thought that maybe it would be not so wise to do that, because of the lots of little insects that live in the soil. They would probably eat the banana.

Father looked on, and didn’t say a word. He picked at the cast on his leg, picked and scratched and sighed. We saw his gaze stray towards the dent at dinner, and we cursed the dent and whispered conspiratorially to him of bananas and yellows and cakes and surprises, and thought that the dent would not be able to compare to a surprise such as we were preparing, and that soon it would simply become a little lake, when the winter came.

She noticed that the pots had been moved. Sarah said that we had boiled some water and added some dandelions and salt and we had eaten it. She didn’t say anything else, only looked a little sad. Maybe because we were eating dandelions, and when She was our age She had had quail eggs to eat for lunch, and sorbet for dessert, and all sorts of other things that we’d heard about and seen and never tasted, not even a small taste. Maybe she was sad because we hadn’t saved her any dandelions.

The pots were left as they were, Father was as he was, we were as we were. She was as she always was. But the banana, the banana was changing. It was going from bright green to a paler green to a different kind of green to a green that was almost yellow. We all checked its progress, never at the same time, always separately, and if we caught one of us checking into the left cabinet we pretended that they were just looking for a pot, even though we knew that that was unlikely, for there was not much to cook. It was pleasant to see the colors changing, and to think of the baked square that would come out of this little tube of colors, even though in the end it would just be a brown cake, and then it would go into Her stomach, and come out brown again. It was even more pleasant to see Father, when he thought no one was looking, hobble over to the cabinet and gently extract the yellow from the bronze, and to hold it in his hands, for several moments. When he held the banana he was no longer Father who jumped or Father who scratched incessantly or Father who was vacant. When he held the banana he was Father as he used to be.

She was as she was. She wandered about the house, touching objects, talking to herself. Do you remember, before Jose? Do you remember. Yes. Yes. I remember. Jose, who couldn’t anymore because of his cast and the tingling in his toes, used to follow her around dismally, not a step behind her, reaching towards her and never arriving at her pale skin. Her white, him brown, it would seem as though they were dancing, and that she was singing, which of course wasn’t true because she wouldn’t sing in front of Father because of the great hatred she harbored against him, and it also wasn’t possible because Father couldn’t dance, not even from before he was Father and he was only Jose.

We didn’t know how she found the banana, only that she found it. This was the scene: Father wasn’t in his chair, scratching his leg; we didn’t know where he was, we hadn’t seen him all morning. Sarah was standing there, arms crossed, lips compressed, staring at Her and willing with her eyes that the banana was back in its bronze womb, silently changing. Benjamin was staring at the floor, staring intently as if there was nothing more interesting in the world than the rotten red boards. His lips were silently moving, and we, or maybe just I, could make out the word “cake”. My hands were sweaty, I was standing just outside the kitchen but not in it, and I wanted to snatch the splotchy brown banana from her hand and run away with it and find father and eat it with him, and maybe with Sarah, and maybe with Benjamin.

She didn’t even savor it. One, two, three, four, five. The banana was gone. And the cake, and the surprise, and the canvas of yellow-gold-brown-green. Her little tongue darted in and out, she tossed the peel through the window; it made a distant landing sound, much like the sound a butterfly makes when it glides onto a branch. Or so I thought, then. The little tongue crept out again and slowly licked the cracked brown lips, first the top and then the bottom, working together with her smooth, ivory hands that were all the time going up and down up and down over her apron, ridding herself of banana crumbs that had never fallen. I couldn’t look at her eyes, I couldn’t look at her at all, I moved slowly away, out of the house, out of the yard, out of the town, from the brown to the green to the yellow until I was in the middle of the sun, the greatest banana of all. When I came back Sarah said that Mother was gone but Father was back and he was hammering out the dent in the roof. The light came out from behind a cloud and it was as if the pounding of Father’s hammer had summoned it down.

So I thought, then.

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Filed under Issue 3, Short Story

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