It’s late after a long, hot day of baking. The sky is softening gray. I’m tired and sweaty and hungry, but before I can go home to cook dinner I need five kilos of fruit.
There’s a sour cherry tree at the edge of a parking lot not far from the commissary. Maybe someone planted a food garden there once, but now the tree is part of the ornamental landscaping. I’ve never seen anyone pick its fruit but the birds and, once, an old Russian woman who told me she ate her cherries with rice.
The tree is loaded this year. I scramble up. The branches are tight and thin, tugging at my ballcap and pulling strands from my braid. I wedge a foot into a fork in the trunk, brace myself against a branch, and begin. If I squeeze the cherries just right, first finger and thumb pinching the top curve, they pop off their pits. It’s messier than picking whole fruit but will save me the time pitting later in the hot kitchen. I drop them, hollowed and dripping, into my bucket. The juice splatters my glasses. I lick my cheek and taste cherry. When I reach above me juice runs down my arm to my armpit, soaking the side of my shirt. It drips between my breasts. The oven burn on my wrist stings.
When the cord begins to bite into the back of my neck, I climb down and empty my bucket. The insides of my elbows and the backs of my knees stick together as I move. I climb back into the nest of branches.
People walk by on the sidewalk below me. Cars pass. No one looks up. With the second bucket full, I untangle myself from the tree and climb down. I’m a mess, dripping with cherry juice, bits of dried stamen and lichen speckling my arms, my throat, my chest and legs. My hair is half out of its braid, sticking to my cheeks. I walk back to the kitchen with a bucket heavy in each hand. I spread the cherries on trays in the freezer so they won’t brown overnight, wash my arms and face in the vegetable sink, and pull my hair back with clean hands. I ride home. The western sky is pale with sunset, the east darkening towards night.
Owner | Baker
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