I had the following eclectic prompts to choose from:
Amy – She was obsessed with Italian foreign films
Cameron – They’re hiking in the mountains at 80,000 feet!
Erika – Oh no, she didn’t!
Jen – Prickled, pickled, purple plums
Wendy – Medicinal uses of bacon
Alliteration always trumps everything else, so I chose Jen’s prompt and wrote this magical realism flash fiction in one (procrastination-induced) sitting!
Plums were my daughter’s favorite. I used to haunt kitschy country stores cluttered with overpriced handmade items and dusty farmer’s markets with little shade and cut prices in an attempt to sell one shriveled, organic tomato. All of this was an attempt to find some present plum-related that she didn’t already have.
It was the Great Plum Drought of ’97.
Michaela used to wait by the window like a Chihuahua, fogging up the glass and wiggling when I came home from work. Sometimes she would trot to the door like an actual dog, playing puppy. This was when she was four.
She would whine and rub herself against my leg. “Treats,” she would beg, and wiggle her skinny behind swathed in plum-colored leggings, skirts, even blue jeans that I’d dyed. I tried to buy plums by the bulk, back when they were readily available, so that I could stuff one in her mouth when I got home.
“Mooooom. You’ll waste the juice.” Michaela would transform into a nearly-functioning human (finally) and cup the plum in both hands and race to the kitchen to deposit it reverently in a glass teacup.
“Don’t swallow the pit.” As brain-dead as she acted (she must have gotten the stupid gene from her father), everyone knew what happened when you swallowed the seed of a plum.
I didn’t want my daughter to end up that way.
In ’97, Michaela was sixteen, I think. She no longer begged for plums, but her messenger bag was lilac, and her leggings, a bit more translucent now, were magenta, and her thongs were shades of mauve, tyrian, neon, violet (I learned these all the hard way).
We were currently feuding because I wouldn’t let her get a tattoo. “It’s just going to be a little tree,” she had said, and pointed to the blade of her shoulder, exposed now in a skinny tank. Just because she had the body for it, didn’t mean she ought to show off. In fact, it said something about her sense of privilege that she thought she could get away with it when others couldn’t. “Right here.” She also used my own tattoo against me, but that was hardly a valid argument, considering mine had sagged with age. You could barely read the “Led Zeppelin” scarred across its muscular, angelic logo anymore.
After some screaming and tears, she sat down to passive-agressively do her homework in the kitchen. A tactical error on her part (she got her passive-aggression from me). She usually gave me her Giga Pets to keep alive while she was at school. Now I lined them up on the table. There were three of them, their egg-shaped cases in degrees of purple: a dog whose eyes bulged like a Chihuahua’s, a cat that was constantly grumpy no matter what I did with it, and a frog that was actually a Tamagotchi.
The cat and the dog did not get along with the frog.
They chirped in various levels of starvation and boredom. I began to program them sustenance. Michaela glared at me over her homework, but said nothing. I began to enjoy her glares. I played Frisbee with the dog. I did nothing with the cat, and it meowed. Its battery was dying, so its voice rasped. The frog bounced happily in its pixelated environment. A knock came from the door.
Michaela flung herself from her chair, scattering a pile of busywork. “I’ve got it!”
In the other room, a voice wavered between male pre-pubescence and adulthood.
When I arrived in the hall, he was handing my daughter a jar of round, purple fruit, wrapped in a gaudy ribbon. “I heard you say you liked them.” It looked like the volcanoes on his face were about to erupt in sebum. He spotted me and quickly pulled his hand away as my daughter took the rare gift. “I’m Kayla’s friend from school.”
“What might your name be?”
“Uh. Um. Adam.”
“Adam.” I snatched the jar away and opened it. Pickled.
“Hey!” Michaela protested.
The Giga Pets clamored for attention in the other room. I took a bite of one of her plums. “Where did you get these from, Adam? Did you steal them?”
“W-what? No, I…”
“Mother–! You’ll waste the juice!”
“There’s a Plum Drought on, Adam.” I took a step back to let him pass, if he thought he could get past me. Let it never be said I was unhostessly. “Nobody just comes up with a basket full of plums and gives them as a gift. Do you know how much these are worth?” I reveled in the sour-sweet juice, sourer with the pickling. The sweet taste of revenge was even better.
“Uh, no, but I… I can’t tell you where I got them from.”
“Three dollars per.” I whisked the jar into the kitchen.
“You’re impossible!” Michaela screeched, banshee-like, after me. “Those were a gift!”
I stuffed one of the dripping plums in her open mouth. “Don’t swallow the pit.”
The month before my daughter single-handedly solved the Plum Drought of ’97 was full of slammed doors, muttered “I’m busy”s, and starving Giga Pets. Sometimes Adam was part of those slammed doors, though he always gave me kicked-puppy apologetics. One evening I called Michaela for dinner. She complained of a sore stomach, though she was well enough to go to Adam’s house the next day after school.
After which she rushed through the front door and slammed into her bedroom.
She had a thing for drama on normal days, but I started to worry about her. She avoided me, even after I replaced her plums. A peace offering. I went to one of those kitschy little country stores and bought a dream catcher designed with a glittering, purposefully-weathered sugar plum fairy. I hung it above her bed. She didn’t even acknowledge it. I told her I would take her to get a tattoo when she turned eighteen, if she could scrape together the money for it. Still I got the cold, skinny shoulder.
Until, one sweltering day, I heard choked sobbing behind her door. The door was locked. “Michaela, get your ass out here.” She did not answer. I broke the lock.
Michaela was crying, but she couldn’t speak.
Because a tree was growing out of her throat.
The bark sliced her lips as it grew. Her teeth had inadvertently scraped off patches of it, beaver-like, the detritus of which she now stood in. The tree had forced her head back to accommodate the linear trunk. She stood, her arms held out. I wasn’t sure what the plea was for. Should I help her? Should I end her misery? Should I plant her and let her grow and flourish somewhere? Or should I prune her?
“You swallowed the pit.”
She choked. Her blood covered the leafy branches.
And at the top of her leafy branches were round orbs of purple fruit, hanging like lewd little cherub bottoms.
Prickled, pickled, purple plums.
Weird is what you get when you get an immediate flash fiction! Find more magical realism and speculative fiction on my blog at rebeccaannjordan.com. Thanks for the fun prompts!
Rebecca Ann Jordan is a speculative fiction author in San Diego. She recently won Reader’s Choice Best of 2013 for her short story “Promised Land” at Fiction Vortex and has published poetry and fiction in Flapperhouse, Yemassee Magazine, Bravura Literary Journal and more. Becca regularly answers writers’ questions at DIYMFA.com. Quibble with her @beccaquibbles.