NOTE: For Banned Books Week and celebrating the freedom to read, this bit is in honor of Robert Cormier, whose book “The Chocolate War” is considered “forbidden fruit” by enough people to get it listed as one of 2007’s most frequently challenged books. It’s not that Cormier’s style pervades this piece, it’s that this mediocre story idea was radically improved after I was affected by reading an excerpt of his writing.
Jonas Fairfield’s upbringing on his parents’ upstate New York farm had been one long lesson in humility, what with being kind of like a number, just one of eleven kids. But humility had done him right, made him easy to be around. He had no other talent besides farming and he wasn’t particularly outstanding looks-wise. But that was no matter, for he was a goodhearted, good-natured boy who wished only happiness on the world, and that seemed to get him by well enough. At seventeen years of age, he was the oldest boy amongst his siblings, and by now was well enough groomed to take over the farm at any time if need be. His father had seen to that.
Unlike the majority of kids his age, Jonas felt settled and at peace with his lot in life. Naturally, then, he found no cause to grumble when asked to do any chore or favor around the barns or the house. And being asked to work the family’s roadside vegetable stand, the thing his brothers and sisters hated the most, was no exception. Even though it made for a longer day on top of his other duties, he saw the good in it, the extra income for his family, and he enjoyed interacting with the folks who stopped by. So when his mother heard him come in from school that day, and hollered down from upstairs for him to go out to the vegetable stand and help June, he immediately hollered up, “Yes, Ma’am,” and went right back outside.
Jonas ambled all smiling, long-legged and cool across the front yard to the vegetable stand and found June tending to old Mrs. Reed from down the road. June was eighteen, his oldest sister, and the one in the family that he felt closest to. She mothered him something fierce, but secretly he liked the looking after. And he pretty much did the same thing to her. He couldn’t help but notice she was getting prettier every day and, knowing the teenage male intent, felt an overpowering urge to keep her unhurt in all ways.
Jonas stood off away and watched June as she handed Mrs. Reed the change back from her twenty. June aimed her charming smile full at Mrs. Reed and sing-songed, “Here you go Mrs. Reed. You come back and see us soon, you hear?”
Mrs. Reed chuckled, smiled back and said, “Oh June, honey, you know I will!” then she tottered off to her car with her two bags of corn and tomatoes.
Jonas strode up to June, pushed into her and smiled at her. She pushed him back and teased, “’Bout time you showed up, boy!”
Jonas just laughed, pulled out his pocket watch, flipped open the lid of it and drawled, “Four fifty-nine. Sure enough I saved your day in the knick of time, girl. One more minute and you’d be neck deep in rural rush hour.”
June just rolled her eyes, and said, “Whatever.” Then she squinted toward the two cars that had just turned in and were parking in front of the stand. “Ooh,” she said, “Out of state. Georgia looks like… Yup. And Mr. Hedren. I’ll take him. You can take the out-of-staters.”
Jonas started saying, “Makes no nevermind t…” and stopped short when he saw her get out of the passenger side of the Georgia car.
Then June saw her and groaned, “Oh brother.”
The Georgia girl was such an overwhelming feast for Jonas’ eyes that he froze, couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. She looked a couple of years older than him, but then, you couldn’t tell with girls. They always seemed more developed for their ages.
This girl was like nothing he’d seen in person before. She was so pretty and so tan you almost couldn’t see the cute freckles on her perfect little nose. Her long blonde hair was kept back from her face with a lacy, pink ribbon tied at the top, and she wore the shortest daisy dukes he’d ever seen. Her lips were sparkly with pink gloss and she was chewing pink gum.
Jonas couldn’t remember ever feeling this helpless. He could only watch her walk toward him in movie-style slow motion, her hair bouncing with each tan-legged step of her pink-sandaled feet. He didn’t even notice the girl’s mother hurrying to catch up to her. His mouth hung open. June jabbed his left side hard with her elbow. His body jolted as every nerve in it buzzed a split second and seemed to short out. His reaction to her jab came late. He shut his mouth.
June sashayed past Jonas making sure to skim his backside. She twirled around to the front of him ending up with her face right up in his. She batted her eyes and said breathlessly, “Danger, danger, Romeo,” then she twirled away from him to tend to Mr. Hedren.
The Georgia girl stopped in front of the counter, put her hands in her pockets, and looked directly at Jonas. She flashed a dazzling smile at him and said cheerily, “Hi!”
Jonas swallowed hard but he still croaked when he spoke, “Hi.” The sound of his voice surprised him. He cleared his throat.
“Do you have any green tomatoes?” the Georgia girl asked brightly.
Jonas stared at her and “Yes” came out of his mouth. Then he felt his brain stir and he thought to glance over his shoulder to make sure there were indeed some green tomatoes left, and he noticed they were all gone. “Ah…I mean no…” he said, still looking at the empty bushel box as if waiting for them to reappear.
The Georgia girl smiled and giggled, “Well do you or don’t you?”
Jonas turned back around and she was right there leaning on the counter smiling up at him. His eyes locked with her ice blue eyes and something in him started to break loose. Thank God, he thought. A wave of joy washed over his whole body. He felt freed-up and a gigantic smile rushed across his face and wouldn’t let up. Adrenaline came next, and with it, a brilliant idea.
Jonas sprang to action. He spun around, grabbed the empty bushel box, and shot out from the stand and around to where the Georgia girl was standing. He held the bushel box up and said, “Yes! Yes, we do have green tomatoes!” and he took off running for the tomato field across the road.
The Georgia girl’s mother tried to stop him but only brushed his arm as he flew by. She shouted after him, “That’s OK, Hon! You needn’t go to all this trouble just for us!”
Jonas skipped and turned so he was jogging backwards and hollered, “It’s no trouble, ma’am. Gotta get some more anyway!” He skipped back around and sped across the road. Then he hopped into the field, and whipped his head around every which-way like a madman as he looked for biggest, best green tomatoes to be had.
June looked up exasperated and angry. Jonas had left her juggling two, now three, new customers, and a fourth was driving up. She shot the meanest look she could muster across the road at him. What a fool, she thought, trying to impress some Barbie doll from Georgia!
To make matters worse, she saw dreamboat Jimmy Morris, who wouldn’t give her the time of day, pulling up to the stop sign up the road in his ‘70 GTO. She saw him catch site of the Georgia girl, do a double take, and continue on down the road toward them rubbernecking, mouth open.
“She’s just forbidden fruit!” June snapped as she weighed Mrs. Raymond’s potatoes.
“What’s that you say June, girl?” Mrs. Raymond said raising one eyebrow.
“Oh, nothing, Mrs. Raymond,” June chirped, then added with a sigh, “I just wish Jonas would get back over here to help me out.”
“Well, where is he, girl?” Mrs. Raymond countered.
June pointed across the road and frowned at Jonas, “He’s right there, ma’am.”
Mrs. Raymond and the other customers turned to look just as Jonas was raising his full box of green tomatoes up like a toast to the Georgia girl. They watched him, still grinning and fueled by adrenalin, as he high-stepped it through the tomato plants toward the road, knees up, feet flying. Then their expressions turned to horror as they saw Jimmy Morris almost parallel with the vegetable stand now, his head hanging out his car window grinning like an idiot at the Georgia girl.
Jonas wasn’t watching what he was doing, either, so some of the customers hollered, trying to get both boys’ attention. And Mr. Hedren, who was on his way to his car, dropped his eggplants on the ground and started running toward the road with his arms waving wildly as he bellowed at Jimmy, “STOP!” But Jimmy didn’t get what was going on. He just winked at the Georgia girl and romped on the gas peddle of the GTO. It’s impressive, deep-throated rip and tear covered the deadly thud and crack of Jonas’ body and bones.
Everyone was silent as Jimmy finally registered he’d hit something and locked up the brakes. He pulled over, got out of the car and headed toward the back of it thinking he’d find a deer he’d have to put out of its misery, but instead he found his little brother’s friend, Jonas Fairfield, sprawled on the asphalt, grotesquely disjointed, mangled, in a growing pool of blood and tomato pulp. He blanched white and froze, able only to repeat “Oh my God,” over and over and over.
June ran screaming hysterically toward her brother and dropped to her knees by his shoulders. She held his face in her hands sobbing out of control, begging him to be alive, to be alright.
Jonas felt a glow of the utmost joy and in degrees became aware that he was that joy existing as an orb of light drifting lazily outward from his body. He felt the heat of himself sweeping upward like the last bit of summer rising to grace another part of the world and in its place leaving the chill of autumn. He began swirling toward an orb of light and joy and heat unfathomably great in size and astoundingly brilliant-white and beautiful when he heard her.
It was a hollow sound at first, like wind howling. He began to follow it, spiraling down, listening back toward the earth. The sound became less echoing, more solid and intelligible the closer he got to his body. He drifted down into his head, his ears, his eyes. He felt the weight of his skull light in the cushiony heat of someone’s hands. His ears were under pressure, like he was underwater, but through the muffled ringing he listened carefully. His felt his eyelids. They seemed as armored gates welded shut. And then he heard her again. “Oh my God!” she cried, her voice consumed with anguish.
He was suddenly overcome with a sense of urgency within that was unclear to him. Confused, he spread out into the rest of his body and slowly began to understand the extremity. Too much damage had been done. His ribcage was crushed and his punctured lungs were unable to take in air. The sporadic beats of his severely damaged heart had slowed to just one beat within the last minute, and his kidneys and other organs were beginning to shut down left and right. He figured he had maybe a minute left at the most before he’d have to leave again, and somehow, within that time he at least needed to find a way to open his eyes.
He concentrated all effort on the muscles in his eyelids and imagined himself heaving them open like he did the heavy doors of the cow barn. What had felt like gates welded shut, began to twitch. One more heave of the barn doors and his eyelids raised just enough. Then he used his last pulse of strength to roll his eyes toward the sound of her voice. And through a milky-white haze he did see her one last time, clutching her heart, tears streaming down her tanned face and sparkling on her pink, glossy lips.
Missalister’s “Forbidden fruit,” copyright © 2008, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “131 – Forbidden.” Click here for more on prompt #131 from other Sunday Scribblings Participants.