JACKFRUIT by Gwen E. Kirby

JACKFRUIT by Gwen E. Kirby

By the time Amber knew she was pregnant, the fetus was an olive, her mouth salty for the martini she could not drink. 

At thirteen weeks, the fetus was a peach and Amber took the father out to dinner, watched him chew a piece of steak too long, unwilling to spit the gristle, and decided not to tell him after all. 

She packed up her apartment as her mouth watered with the acid of lemons and heartburn, drove to her hometown hours away. In her old bedroom, she held her hand over her belly and dreamed of making guacamole, slicing into the avocado’s crocodile skin, pulling out its hard heart. 

When her baby was a mango, she dreamed of tropical resorts and never speaking to her mother or father again, who were silent when they were not giving her advice. Of running away with her mango to a place where they would never leave this time of tongue-scratching sweetness. 

Then the baby went into its phallic phase. An eggplant, a cucumber, a butternut squash, knocking her up over and over. The horror of her fertility weighed on her bladder in the night––the fear she would never stop multiplying, that she would swell until she split down the middle like a tomato after heavy rain.

At forty-one weeks, she gave birth to a jackfruit. If she’d delivered on time, the baby would still have been a watermelon. She could imagine that slip-sliding right out, greased slick with placenta. Not like the jackfruit whose yellow-green polyps scraped her bloody. At least her baby had thick skin.

Her mother drove them home. Amber sat beside her jackfruit, safe in its rear-facing car seat. Did she love her jackfruit? She ran her fingers over its bumpy surface. When the car braked hard, she threw her arm out, as her mother had always done, as if she could take the blow. There was something wonderful in protecting a being that had so recently ripped her apart; it made her feel that she had a well of love she’d never known about before. She hoped it was deep, fed by infinite underground reserves, but then with a new well, you could never be quite sure.

The jackfruit needed to feed every couple of hours. She’d read all the new mother forums. Now that your precious jackfruit is out in the world, latch the angel onto your body and let nature take its course. She held her jackfruit to her breast, to her arms, her neck, rubbed it against herself until she was raw. She rubbed soil across its skin, sprayed it with a water bottle. If only she’d given birth to a watermelon. Those lucky bitches, putting their watermelons in the patch and sitting in lawn chairs, nothing to do but wait for soil and sunshine. Jackfruit needed to cling to their mothers. She saw pictures online of women who had two, three attached to them at once, all the little jackfruit swelling while Amber’s did not gain weight, lay limp against her.

Her precious Jack was 74 percent water, 23 percent carbohydrates, 2 percent protein, and 1 percent fat. She played him Mozart to ripple the water. Read him fairy tales to replenish his carbohydrates. She sang to her little Jack and rocked him in her arms, days and nights blurring together, so tired the words coming out of her mouth blended together: littlejack, jacklittle, jackal love of mine. She thought more than once about simply dropping the jackfruit on the floor, this faulty jackfruit, faulty jackfruit mother. Watching it crack open. Did no one else know what was inside a jackfruit? Flesh like pulled chicken, pulled pork. Why had no one told her the baby would be nothing but meat? If she broke it open, would there be a real boy in there? One she could talk to, reason with, say, little Jack, there you are, and hear him say, I’m so sorry, Mother.

She wept and slept and finally one morning she awoke to find little Jack attached just below her collarbone, a thick green stalk grown from the top of the fruit, her skin hard and brown where it entered her. She wept again. Thank God, she thought, and she knew she thanked God for her jackfruit’s sake, but mostly for her own. Because what kind of woman failed at feeding the fruit of her flesh? She thought of what her mother would say if her mother ever spoke her mind, if they ever said the truth to one another. What kind of woman? The kind of woman who makes a jackfruit out of lust, not love. The kind of woman you are.

Gwen E. Kirby is the author of the debut collection Shit Cassandra Saw. Her stories have appeared in One Story, Guernica, Tin House, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere.

Art by Bri Chapman

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