Today I thought I’d try something a little different. I’m going to post a piece that I’ve been working on in a class via The Living Room Workshops in Seattle. I don’t usually post my own fiction on this blog because that greatly limits its publishability later. However, I not only have no particular plans for this piece, but I wanted to do a public revision exercise so y’all could see my process of revision and perhaps reflect on your own.
Today I’m posting a slightly picked-over first draft of an amorphous essay thing. I added a bit of length to what originally shot out of my pen because I wanted to turn in a nice 500 words or so. I will get feedback from my class on Tuesday; feel free to post in the comments your feedback as well. Next week, I’ll post a revised version and talk about what/why/how I changed the piece.
That’s the plan. Take it away, writing:
The Long, Slow Death of Zombie Fruit
I filled the one-quart Mason jar with barely ripe halves of plums on an August afternoon. Covered them with simple syrup. Sealed the jar. Put it on a shelf. Imagined winter, eating it in the depths of late November when I was desperate to remember the summer sun.
I think I never felt my desperation was adequate enough to unseal a jar—as if the pop of the lid would signal defeat: White flag! I’ve been brought low by you, winter. This eternal squash soup is not enough to see me through. But I never surrendered, and the plums stayed in their jar, sealed, on the pantry shelf.
Five years and eleven roommates later, the jar stayed in its place, in the cupboard next to the jar of pickled beets someone once gave me, taking up space. The syrup slowly turning from bright red to a darker stain, like old blood. The half-plums taking on the cast of organs pickled in formaldehyde—the appendix in a jar proudly brought to elementary school.
The plums were no longer food, not fruit any more but a symbol of never quite being desperate enough. Inedible except when huddled in a bomb shelter or a bunker during the zombie apocalypse. “Desperate enough” became this increasingly hyperbolic creature. It began by occasionally envisioning having a day with just a few more shouts or tears than today, popping the jar to spoon sweet plums over ice cream at the end of today. Eventually, I would have elaborate, visceral fantasies of being unable to go to work due to massive earthquakes or flooding, and then sitting in my yard, cooking old dried beans on my camp stove and finally eating the plums.
Looking at how the skin of the plums is beginning to peel back from the softening flesh, I can only think of how utterly without hope I would need to be in order to put a piece of that decaying, spongy flesh in my mouth and bite down. If I swallowed, what would I become?
I have to kill the zombie fruit. I, mad doctor who made them, who took natural things and preserved them with artifice and boiling water, am the only one who can do it. I am not Dorian Gray; I cannot pay anyone else to take this body into a bathtub for me and melt it with acid so that none may learn of my indiscretion. I will pour the syrup down the drain. I will put their dead flesh in the compost. I will wash the jar. And I will fill it with something else, something better. Fill it with what’s been done already, perhaps, rather than hope for the future that may never come to pass. I know what sustains me through the winter now, and it is not the promise of desperation. It is practice. I can live off of squash soup and writing. It will be enough to see me through to spring.