Perfection in a Cherry

Charlie and Beth are getting married. I know because Sarah comes in sing-songing their names and telling me as if she can read my heart and know that I covet his attention. I fell in love with him when I first heard him read a poem at one of our Sunday night dinners several years ago. We were a group of five: Charlie, Sarah, Fred, Ted, and me, and used to gather as spring turned into summer and the lethargy of the heat would drive us to make up distractions to our boredom.

It was the time of year when the cherries were profuse. I always know from the taste of the cherries whether it will be a good summer or not. Each year, I taste them, looking for the one perfect specimen that will forecast my future. Down the street are two huge cherry trees and we watch each year as they ripen, looking for the moment when their color turns into that deep dark purple that signals the time for our harvest.

I can hold a cherry in my hand and know from that first touch whether it has the potential to be the perfect one. It feels round, firm, and alive as if it is speaking to me. Putting one into my mouth, I pull off the stem and feel the pop that comes from perfection. The first bite crunches like an apple in the fall and the cherry juice fills my mouth with its succulent burst of sweetness, flowing across my tongue like a finely aged wine. Finding the seed, I push off the fruit with my tongue and spit it out. What’s left is the essence of cherry, a rich promise of life, and the fulfillment of my dreams. Each cherry season, I want the last cherry that I eat to be the faultless one, as if that taste can hold me during the ensuing year until the next season.

One year, almost every cherry that I ate held that promise and I knew it would be a good summer. That was the year that Charlie and I made love under the arching oak tree on the side of the mountain. We had walked what seemed like miles off the road, looking for the ideal place amid the sun baked earth with the golden grass that slanted toward the setting sun. Finding a tree with its outside branches hanging heavy over its drip line and an upside down bowl shape within, he lay down his shirt to make a bed for me. It seemed that we would last forever, yet our passion played out in what seemed like a nanosecond.

This year, the cherries were either firm and crunchy or sweet and juicy. I ate myself sick looking for the perfect one. It seemed fitting, then, that Charlie would marry someone else.  It’s not that I mind that it’s Beth. She is slight, almost delicate, with large framed glasses that make her look bookish. Around the rest of us, she is quiet, an air of detachment that makes her look as if she doesn’t quite understand our brand of humor. Charlie is the leader of the pack, loud, boisterous, always something funny coming out of his mouth as he continually keeps us in stitches.

Sarah brought Beth into our group this year, saying it was good to shake things up. She is right, and I know that this is what I need to move on to something else. I watch as they walk away from me and shiver in anticipation of the cold weather that is to come.