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Carol Novack


A Perfect Day for Pamplemousse

Grandmere Francoise ironed the red and white checked plastic tablecloth Henri had purchased shortly before his death from anaphylactic shock the previous spring. “It was a Monoprix special,” he’d explained, planting a moist kiss on her desiccated forehead. Henri had always been thrifty with money, but not with love. A generally tiresome fool, he’d possessed a rare talent with his tongue, a gift he’d exhibited enthusiastically in their conjugal featherbed.

The old woman placed the cloth on the table by the kitchen window. She smoothed it with care, frowning at a slight tear in its landscape. Ha ha, you old chat, she chuckled to herself, recalling the day the neighbor’s sly cat, Bonbon, had stolen a plump escargot from her plate and torn the table cloth in the process. I fixed you bien, old chat, now didn’t I? Did you enjoy the strychnine flavoring in the sardine you stole the following day, mon petit chou? She was almost dancing.

Grandmere Francoise peered out the window. There wasn’t much to see: a backyard overgrown with weeds; the clotheslines of neighbors, swaying like tired jump ropes. Ancient Clothilde, with lips like violent scarlet waves, dangled from her window, gazing at the men in the village square. It was a sweet and sour kind of day, on the verge of being summer, a perfect day for white pamplemousse. It was time for Grandmere to insert her dentures and get to work on the fruit.

Weeks passed, perhaps. She cut the pamplemousse in half with savage gusto, nearly reducing the size of her left index finger. She laid half of the pink grapefruit on a plate on the table and began to part the sections. She imagined each section as a different Arrondissement of Paris. As Grandmere cut, she named them and tried to recall what landmarks and neighborhoods each contained: Premier Arrondissement: Les Halle; Louvre; Tuillerie. Deuxieme Arrondisesment: Champs Elysees . . . But she hadn’t been to Paris since her daughter’s wedding to the bigheaded banker, so many years ago, another century. Adieu, ma fille. Henri had sobbed like un enfant all the way back to the village.

Weeks passed, perhaps. It was a difficult task, this pamplemousse cutting. It was becoming more strenuous, day by day. The pamplemousse knife was dull, the membranes tough; the darker the flesh, the tougher the membranes. In addition, the fruits had been getting larger and larger and thus, more and more unwieldy, due to a season of copious acid rain. Grandmere salivated at the sight of the red flesh, but the pamplemousse was so cumbersome, she had to stand up in order to tackle the sections.

Bonbon’s obese son, Bijou, silently entered the room through the open window and watched Grandmere. He licked his tiny cat lips with his cheese grater tongue, watched her licking the dusty slivers of her old lips.

Grandmere Francoise was sweating like goose liver. Suddenly, something reminded her of the childbirth she’d been compelled to endure so long ago. She sat down abruptly, felt a sharp pain race through her like an arrow. She barely managed to place a cherry, la piece de resistance, atop the center of the fruit, when her knife dropped from her clenched hand and she fell to the floor. As Bijou leapt onto the table, the fruit lost its balance. Pamplemousse seeds flew about the room like fat fleas. Red juice flowed into Grandmere’s gaping mouth, accompanied by several succulent Arrondissements.


—first appeared in Word Riot

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