He says the only way to learn is to watch him make it first.
He gathers peaches in a large bowl and rinses them with cold water then pats them dry with a paper towel. Next, he peels away the fuzzy skin to expose the fleshy fruit. He does this slowly, meticulously, to remove all the baby fine hair. The peaches must be completely bald, he says. They’re sweeter that way, more enticing in their bare state, soft with the natural juice that coats his fingers, and if he sneaks a taste, just one bite—so inviting, so fresh, so young with summer—they’ll leave behind a sheen on his chin, his upper lip.
To remove the pit, he slices the peaches down the center and splits them wide. It takes concentration and force, but not so much force that the peaches bruise and congeal in his grip. “If you bruise them, they’re no good,” he says, and licks his fingers. He can’t help but to remove the juice that way.
He slices the peaches into cubes and stacks them in a colander to allow the extra juice to drain away.
Next, it’s the mangoes. He palms them, adjusting his grip around one, then the other, squeezing gently and playfully, checking for spoils.
The mangoes are quickly sliced and chopped and tossed into the bowl without concern. They don’t require the gentle handling afforded to the peaches.
The fresh mint is next. He yanks them from their stalks, tears the leaves, and mixes them in with a splash of lime, and some crushed—nearly massacred—pitted cherries. Everything is tossed together and poured into a bowl.
The recipe calls for red onions, but he leaves them out. Chopping onions makes him cry and he won’t risk crying in front of me.
He doesn’t ask me to chop them, either. I’m not old enough to use a knife.
He scoops the mixture onto a spoon and suspends it in the air in front of my mouth. I’m in his world now, unsteady on my feet, uncertain as to what happens next or how we got here.
“Try it. You’ll like it. I promise,” he says.
I reach for the spoon, but he pulls away and shakes his head.
And so I do.
Melissa Grunow is the author of I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018), finalist in the 2019 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Award and 2019 Best Indie Book from Shelf Unbound, and REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second PlaceNonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Brevity, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, as well as listed in the Best American Essays notables 2016, 2018, and 2019. She is an assistant professor of English at Illinois Central College. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com for more information.