You started out thinking you wanted a plum.
Then you passed a cart mounded eye level with nectarines — a pile of gold-orange-red spilling out the scent of late summer under a yellow sign that read “99¢.”
I showed you how to place each one in your little palm and test its firmness with your fingertips. “You want it to give a little,” I said, and no sooner had the words left my mouth than your brother declared he’d found the perfect one.
I was doubtful and added, “It should smell peachy too.”
“Mmmmmm,” he said, holding the fruit to his nose. He’s an optimist like his father.
He set it in my hand for approval, and my suspicions were confirmed. It had all the tenderness of a turnip and smelled like skin and steering wheel.
You were more patient, trying a dozen or so before choosing the one most likely to be sweet. We dropped both fruits in a plastic bag so you wouldn’t be tempted to take a bite before we paid. It’s by the pound, after all.
At home you both helped to unload the groceries, and then I gave firm instructions: As soon as you’ve eaten your nectarines, it’s time to do your chores.
Well, didn’t you suddenly find the backyard fascinating? Off you went together, across the driveway and up the hill beyond, nibbling your nectarines with shocking restraint. From the kitchen window I watched you walking side-by-side along the tree line — just walking! — looking as civilized as the most mannerly folks in an Austen novel.
With your backs to me, you stood and gazed into the woods, musing together about who-knows-what. Trying to identify a tree or a bird, perhaps. Conspiring. Every so often you took mousy little bites and barely nicked the bright flesh that was buying you time.
Fifteen minutes later you were still there (and so were your nectarines). You squatted together near the cedar, engaged in serious conversation over something invisible to me — a bug, I guess, or a hole in the ground. This was a level of quiet harmony reserved for moments of common purpose — avoiding bedtime, or baths, or taking out the trash.
I’m sure you hoped I had forgotten what you were supposed to do. Maybe you had half-forgotten too.
Watching you enjoy each other in the light of dwindling summer, bright jewels glistening in your little right hands, I decided to play along.