Alyson Mosquera Dutemple
We are a few months into my “honesty-only” policy when my son asks the question. “Why are bananas so cheap?” We are in the supermarket. He is taking notes for an elementary school project about balancing budgets, making informed family decisions. Behind one pink ear, he has tucked a chewed pencil. Evening is approaching and the last rays of sun pump their quiet heat through the window glass, illuminating persimmons, kumquats, other expensive exotics. “Maybe it’s a fire sale,” I say. Our shopping cart wobbles as I push it. I tell him what I read about bananas dying out, about the fungal disease slowly decimating their numbers, as I steer three working wheels, and one broken one, out of the section marked “Produce.”
At the register, I hang back while my son tabulates his expenses in a notebook, places each item on the conveyer belt with care, without my assistance. Though the cashier is uninterested in the particulars of his project, he tells her about them in great detail. She rings up his selections with a red laser beam that recalls a television program I used to watch with my grandfather back when I was my son’s age. Before we even knew phrases like “genetic predisposition.” Before anyone understood all the different ways words like “heart” and “disease” could fit together. Women in short dresses wielding astral powers, ray guns, dynamite calves. My grandmother, in the other room, frying a chicken.
My son tells the cashier, apropos of nothing, that his father shouldn’t be blamed for hurting himself, that his sadness was a sickness, and I am raising him alone now. He tells her, too, that the pair of us are vegetarians, that we don’t eat meat because we don’t want to speed up the death of our already dying planet. “Mom says we’re burning up,” he adds, nostrils quivering. The bananas he’s chosen are bruised ones.
Sometimes I think I tell him too much. But what else is informed? What else is family? His vegetables slowly glide away from us and, for a moment, all I want is for the world to treat my boy with tenderness. I look for signs of it in the way the cashier handles his perishables. A significance in how she bags his produce, uses her sharp red nail to unstick a coupon, not yet expired, from the bottom of a tub of lettuces.
Alyson Mosquera Dutemple is a writer from New Jersey with an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best Small Fictions, and longlisted for Prism International’s Grouse Grind Lit Prize for V. Short Forms. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Puritan, Pigeon Pages, Flock, Little Patuxent Review, Construction, Fiction Writers Review, and elsewhere. She is a fiction reader for CRAFT Literary. Find her at www.alysondutemple.com and on Twitter @swellspoken.