The Pineapple Princess
by Richard Lutman
The move into the new apartment made things worse than ever, the three small rooms I’d rented overlooked a treeless street that ended at a narrow estuary choked with reeds. I still couldn’t forget Pineapple. At the end of the block was a broken down flatbed truck that looked as though it had been there forever. On hot days the smell of the mud and rot were unbearable, but the rent was cheap and it was a part of town that nobody would ever think to visit, or so I thought.
No matter how hard I tried, I still imagined her around, how she looked, and could even hear her talking and laughing, head thrown back and tilted in that attractive carefree way she had with just the hint of a smile. I deserved the memories for acting stupid when I was with her, but when you dealt with someone like Pineapple; you never knew what might happen. Perhaps that’s why I had been in love with her in a way I hadn’t thought possible. She had become more than just a character I would put into one of my stories. I wondered where she’d gone this time. I envied the way she’d just take off, and then reappear from who knows where as if nothing had happened. I knew never to ask
questions as we lay side by side in the sultry afternoons eating cold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Although most people knew her as Pineapple I knew her last name was Kryzyk. Her father wanted sons to carry on his line. He'd been properly rewarded for his greed with three daughters. As retaliation, he named them with the worst names he could think of: Kumquat, Cantaloupe, and Pineapple. The Princess was my idea. At first she hadn't liked it.
"Pineapple Princess?" she said. "People will think I won some sort of contest. I'll have to wear a bathing suit everywhere I go."
"What's wrong with that? You look good in a bathing suit. If you don't like the name, think of something else. I've heard of these Indians in South America who name their children after the supplies that come up the river. Peanut butter. Jelly. Light bulbs. Whatever. You're certainly better off than they are.”
"Thanks a lot," she said. "Actually, pineapples terrify me. I sat on one once when I was little. I cried for days. I still have a piece of it in me. My father thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen."
“I don’t believe that at all.”
“Well, there are plenty who do. Now shut up and kiss me.”
Before Pineapple there was Marcia, and then Betsy, but it hadn't been the same. As a writer it was important to have the right girl and Pineapple had been it.
An English professor once told me my style was spare, clear and to the point--effective, in the best sense of the word it reminded him of Hemingway, and the comments pleased me.
That afternoon I told Marcia, with whom I was living, about how the professor praised my work. She said nothing and went back to hard-boiling Easter eggs for her niece.
"Aren't you interested at all?"
"No," she said. "Not at all. Do you think I’ve boiled enough?"
I’d found Betsy at a Bogart double feature with a shopping bag full of what seemed to be everything she owned. After I bought her a large popcorn and a root beer she kissed me for a long and sensuous moment.
"What about you. Do you think I’m the next Hemingway?" I said to her one night over cold spaghetti and hard meatballs.
"Isn't Bogie wonderful?"
After Betsy left I spent my time sitting in the bar by the harbor with my notebook hoping for inspiration. From my seat it was easy to look out over the fishing boats and think about the girl I’d see at noon. The girl was Pineapple. She came every day and walked slowly toward the peninsula where the older apartment buildings were located. Her long brown hair bounced with each easy step she took. Her eyes were hidden by dark glasses, but I was sure they’d be lovely.
From the first moment I saw her I knew she was what I’d been looking for. Anyone could see that. What a story she’d make.
I drank another beer and watched the boats at the dock. There always seemed to be a lot of girls with tight shorts hovering about, looking lost, but Pineapple never looked lost. That was something else I liked about her.
I slid off my stool and walked outside. It was getting hot and the sun glared off the pavement. I stood in what little shade I could find under a small, thin tree and waited for the noon whistle. When it blew, Pineapple walked past. She wore a light yellow summer dress that suited her. I followed her to the row of picturesque apartment houses, the kind that were always mentioned in the travel articles as examples of a forgotten age. Then she turned abruptly and I almost bumped into her.
“What do you think you're doing?" she said.
"I'm following you. I think I love you. I'm the next Hemingway. I want to put you in my stories."
"Do you now?" she said, “I guess you could call me fictional.”
"If you don't love me back, I'll nail myself to your door until you come to love me."
She laughed and quickly ran up the stairs and across the porch to an apartment building where she stood above me. "Don't waste your time. My door is already full of holes."
Before I could say anything, she slammed the door in my face. I walked back down the street to the hardware store I'd seen on the way and returned with some nails and a hammer.
I saw the curtains move aside and Pineapple's face stare out. I held up the hammer and nails as a threat. The curtains closed. I put my hand against the door, and placed the nail between my fingers and raised the hammer. I hit the nail and heard a noise from inside. The door opened.
"My God!" she said. "My God! You actually did it!"
She frantically tried to work the nail loose from my hand, then realizing that it was only between my fingers and not through my skin, she swore and swung at me with a right hook, which connected with my jaw. The last thing I remembered was lying in her arms. They had felt just the way I thought they would, lean yet soft, and with the faintest smell of lotion.
When I woke later in her apartment I found myself on a large red sofa, dripping sweat. I wondered if I'd ever be able to eat again. Someone had taught her to use her right well. She was just the heroine I’d been looking for; hard, beautiful, yet caring.
“About time," she said as she came into focus.
"About time for what?"
"For you to think about getting out of here," she said.
“I’m really hurt.”
“I didn’t hit you that hard.”
"You've got a helluva right, you nearly killed me," I said.
"So you're a writer, are you?"
"The next Hemingway."
“So you’ve told me.”
I sat up, and shook my head to clear it. She’d changed her dress and was wearing jeans with no belt. The sleeves of her red and black shirt had been loosely rolled just below the elbow. She wore a bandanna around her throat. She looked fresh and jaunty.
"I don't like Hemingway,” she said. “I think you better go now."
"Can’t you stay with me? I feel really terrible. I could die without someone to watch me."
"I just want you out of here," she said. "This isn't my place. I'm just using it for a while. I don't want any trouble."
“Can I put you in a story?”
“I want you out of here before I get back. Is that clear?"
“What about my story?” I said.
“Find something else to write about.”
She shut the door in my face and darted down the steps. By the time I caught up to her she had reached a large white-framed building. I watched her run up the stairs and through the front door.
I found her in a cluttered second-floor art studio that was full of students. She wore a champagne-colored chemise and rested her elbow on a small table with a mirror. She looked bored. The floodlights accented the back of her shoulder blade in a way I found to be very appealing.
During the class break I took her arm and led her out among the startled students to the hallway.
"What do you think you're doing?" she said, breaking free. “I thought you were feeling terrible and were going to die?”
“I was, but before I expired I wanted to tell you that you make me feel subjunctive all over. The best way a writer can feel."
"You're crazy," she said and kissed me lightly on the cheek. “Now will you please go away. You can tell everyone that you were kissed by Pineapple. That’s all you’ll ever need to say.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There’s nothing to understand. Just do what I tell you. Now go away and let me live my life.”
I remembered the times I wanted to tell her that all I ever desired was to be with her forever and write great literature. It wasn't such a bad dream to have. Pineapple's dream was not worrying about how things turned out because they always would no matter what. Everything else would follow if it was meant to be.
When I finally showed her what I had written, she read each page slowly and frowned or shook her head.
“I can see the Hemingway connection, but you’re just not going to be anything more than you already are. That's why I like you so much. I don't want to discuss it any further."
"Because I don't want to. When you get like this it's pointless talking to you."
"I could say the same thing about you."
She stood in the doorway sucking on the last grape popsicle, which was melting in the heat. I always liked the way it changed the color of her tongue.
“I think it’s time for me to move on,” she said.
“Maybe I’m falling in love with you after all.”
“Then stay,” he said.
“I can’t. You know that’s the way I am.”
“Just like that, eh? Who will I find that likes cold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Now what am I meant to do?” I said.
“I don’t know.”
“You sound like a character in a cheap novel.”
“Well maybe I am. Accept it!”
She threw the empty popsicle stick at me, and then she left.
Dreaming of her the next morning, I put my arm out and expected to feel her body next to me. I missed her and other times I didn't miss her at all.
Trouble was I liked her more than I should. I even thought I wanted to marry her. Almost everyone I’d ever heard of was married. She never gave me an answer, just kissed me gently on the lips the way she did and squeezed my hand.
"Well what do you think?" I said to myself in a voice that sounded too loud. "I guess it's off to work or I'll get behind. If I don't read my eighteen inches today, it will be thirty-six inches tomorrow."
I worked for the publisher of HOSE magazine reading the manuscripts that came in from places like Humphrey, Parallel, and Dust with titles like; "My Experiences with Foam," "The Truth about Fire Hydrants," "Maypoles and Fire poles: A Woman's View."
It was my job to decide which ones to pass on to the editorial board. In my first week I'd found an article called "Hosing it Down, an Insider's Story" which eventually became one of the most popular articles in the magazine's history. Ever since then it had been downhill.
"Why do these things always happen to me?" I said to the reflection in the mirror.
It was funny how much time I spent talking to myself now. I must be going crazy, something else I could blame Pineapple for.
Damn her anyway, I thought and reached for a shirt. It was time to start living again, to forget the past. That's what I'd do. She'd approve of that. Even kiss me for it. I felt better than I had in days. Before I could do anything further I heard someone at the door.
"I'm here,” the familiar voice said. “Where are you?"
It was Pineapple and she looked more tired than I remembered. The duffel bag dropped from her shoulder and she smiled that crooked smile of hers.
"What are you doing here?"
“Weren’t you expecting me?”
“I thought you’d decided to move on,” I said.
“Is that all you have to say?”
“I’m already late for work.”
"We're not going to fight, are we?” she said. “I just got here. I'm so tired of fighting."
I watched her disappear through the door.
"Nice place," she said. "I guess it will have to do.”
If I hadn't known better I'd have sworn there were tears in her eyes, something I’d never expected to see.
"I didn’t think you were coming back."
"I can be wrong sometimes," she said. "Very wrong. And I’ve thought it over."
“About getting married. You said the offer would always be open, so here I am. You can write a book about it. I hope you have some sandwiches I’m really hungry.”
She tilted her head in the way I used to dream about, hair covering one eye, mouth
Pouty. She was more desirable and inspirational than I remembered.
Bio: Richard Lutman has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He has taught fiction and composition classes in Connecticut and Rhode Island. He has won awards for his short stories, nonfiction, and screenplays. He was a 2008 Push Cart Nominee. A chapbook of his flash fiction will appear this summer from Last Automat Press. He currently teaches short story classes as part of Coastal Carolina University's Lifelong Learning program.
FAT BOY ON THE BEACH
by Ron Van Sweringen
He was five feet tall, one hundred and seventy-five pounds and had breasts like a girl. His name was Carl Horner. He was thirteen years old and out of school for the summer. A long, hot summer of doing nothing with nobody.
He didn't mind it so much during the school year, he could mingle and listen to conversations, even if they were not talking to him. He could pretend to be part of the group, as long as he stayed on the fringe, out of direct eye contact. That was dangerous, it could bring a stinging rebuke like, "what are you looking at Lard Ass".
He hated Gym class the most. Then he had to undress in front of everybody. No matter how hard he tried to be inconspicuous, they all laughed. One hundred and seventy five pounds of pink baby fat, that could not manage the usual feats other boys his age easily accomplished.
Mr. Matson, the Gym teacher, gave up on him after a few weeks and just let him fade into the background. Both the school counselor and his parents assured him he would outgrow this awkward condition in time. Carl wasn't sure he would last that long.
Saturday morning, Carl sat on the boardwalk steps. It was early summer and the beach was not crowded yet. The sand, warm between his pudgy toes, felt wonderful after a long winter of shoes and socks.
Carl watched absentmindedly as bathers passed and children ran about, shouting and playing. Then he noticed something interesting. A man was being buried in the sand. His two small children were covering him, leaving only his head visible above the sand.
Carl observed how many people as they passed, noticed the man. Some pointed and laughed, others even spoke to him. Then something really interesting occured to Carl. For all practical purposes the man did not have a body anymore, at least not one you could see.
Carl picked the place carefully. Just out of the way so no one would walk on him, yet close enough to be easily seen. When he was sure of his choice, he began digging furiously. The trench had to be the right width and length, so that when he laid down and covered himself only his head would show.
It took about an hour to accomplish the deception to Carl's satisfaction. The hardest part was getting his chest completely covered. A kind lady with sun glasses and a huge straw hat, seeing his difficulty, cheerfully finished the job.
As he lay there under the warm sand, Carl felt a strange sensation. It was as though he had become disconnected from his own body. He was enjoying this pleasant sensation when two young girls about his own age walked by. Much to his surprise and delight, they spread their beach towels right next to him. He could hear their conversation as they giggled and laughed. The blonde girl even waved at him and said "Hi". Carl, smiled and thought to himself, "This summer may not be so bad after all. "
That's when he realized he had to go to the bathroom.
Bio: Ron Van Sweringen, painter and writer. Resides in Vero Beach Florida with his best friend,Punkin, a Carin Terrier. His paintings have been exhibited in the Corcoran Museum of Fine Art in Washington, D.C. and also displayed in the White House in Washington, D.C. through both the Reagan and Bush administrations. He is a well listed and recognized painter.Ron Van Sweringen began writing three years ago and to date has had nine short stories and one poem published. He is most happy to become a contributing writer to the Greensilk Journal.