“Sometimes the key arrives long before the lock. Sometimes a story falls in your lap. Once about a hundred pounds of apricots fell into mine. They came in three big boxes, and to keep them from crushing one another under their weight or from rotting in close quarters, I spread them out on a sheet on the plank floor of my bedroom. There they presided for some days, a story waiting to be told, a riddle to be solved, and a harvest to be processed. They were an impressive sight, a mountain of apricots in every stage from hard and green to soft and browning, though most of them were that range of shades we call apricot: pale orange with blushes of rose and yellow-golds zones, upholstered in a fine velvet, not as fuzzy as peaches, not as smooth as plums. The ripe ones had the faint sweet perfume particular to that fruit.
I had expected them to look like abundance itself and they looked instead like anxiety, because every time I came back there was another rotten one or two or three or dozen to cull, and so I fell to inspecting the pile every time I passed by instead of admiring it. The reasons why I came to have a heap of apricots on my bedroom floor are complicated. They came from my mother’s tree, from the home she no longer lived in, in the summer when a new round of trouble began.”
Rebecca Solnit writes an anti-memoir about her mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s. I love that it is called an anti-memoir. Who knew that was a genre? That’s the genre I would like to end up in. A dark corner of the bookshop where maudlin people hang. Maybe what makes it an anti-memoir is its refusal tell a story chronologically, or to tell a story at all. Sometimes it feels like reading a literary thesis as she rambles on about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Reading this book you fall into the maze of the writer’s mind.
My own parents had a similar tree in their yard. Like Rebecca’s mother apricot. Except a mandarin. From the kitchen window it could be seen. My father hung his little pots of honeyed poison from it to catch the fruit fly that threatened it. A visit to their house at ripening season meant leaving with a shopping bag of freshly picked mandarins. Wanted or not. They were small and not very juicy. Their skin was fiercely adherent and difficult to peel. They often had discoloured patches that quickly turned brown and soft. Most of them ended up in the bin. But how my mother loved the fecundity of the tree. She loved that she had something for free that she had previously paid good money for. She loved that she could give containers of fruit to the neighbours or anyone who came visiting. A visit to June meant leaving with a dozen or so mandarins, a few of which were already on the turn.
Graham gave me the Rebecca Solnit book after reading the opening scene about the apricots. He knew it would remind me of my mother. A pang. Apricots. Mandarins. The fruit tree you harvest as its crop becomes plentiful but there is always too many to eat. The tree bursts forth all at once. Too many to give away. Instead they become binned. Others just fall and sink into the ground around the tree and become dirt.