by Pasha Malla
In the Montreal springtime it rains and rains. The city's sidewalks become a refuge for escaped socks and half-eaten sandwiches and flaps of newspaper, all soaked grey, all sodden and clinging limply to the pavement. The earth churns itself up into a clotted brown muck, swapped in clumps from shoe sole to shoe sole. There is dog shit everywhere. The worms have an especially tough go of it: they end up stranded in wiggly half-flight, and drown. Colour drains dead from everywhere until the whole city has the washed-out look of an old, faded photograph. Winter, that mighty icicle-toothed behemoth, has been reduced to a few sad silver crystals clutching to the shadowy corners of alleyways.
Now, all this business about springtime is fine and good, but today I would like to talk about grapes. A grape is something else entirely: it is purple, it is green, it is a bubble of sun-kissed wonder. Grapes grow in clusters, like children in a housing project. They jostle for space, swell, ripen, toss themselves lightly around in the summer breeze. John Keats was especially fond of grapes.
Here in Montreal, we have our grapes shipped up from Chile. A few years ago something truly awful happened: evidence of cyanide was found on Chilean grapes. Hysteria descended on the city and a grape embargo ensued. These were desperate, dark times. Occasionally you could get a scraggly half-bunch from some clandestine bootlegging operation, but the grapes were invariably bruised or sour or peppered with so many seeds they were rendered inedible. But then grapes were declared safe again, and the city rejoiced. There could, easily, have been a parade.
It is important at this point to remember that a grape will never hurt you, intentionally -- the cyanide incident notwithstanding. And those who choke on grapes are invariably reckless amateurs: they smash a handful into their faces, then stagger around incredulous when one wedges in their larynx. Listen: a grape is not a "Corn Nut" or a "Cracker Jack". A grape has been crafted by the gods -- by Vishnu and Allah and Buddha and the Christian god, known only as "God". It is a marvel of perfection, and should be revered as such.
You know what it is to eat a grape: you pluck it from the vine and pop it between your lips. You feel it taut on your tongue, ready to burst. You steel yourself against the urge to bite down -- but you cannot! The grape explodes in a fountain of grape-a-licious flavour against your palate! You slump back on your chaise-lounge in a state of bliss.
Children, at Halloween, have been known to peel grapes and pretend they are human eyeballs. This is unfortunate, repulsive, and a waste of grape skin. You see, the skin is where the tartness is. A peeled grape is almost as worthless as a warm grape. (Incidentally, if you do not know enough to keep your grapes in the refrigerator, you are a fool. Eating a warm grape is like being beaten to death with a Kleenex.)
When you are done eating grapes, all that is left is the vine, like a skeleton. This is a heartbreaking thing -- some impossible molecular formation, all knobs and twigs and stripped, puckered buds. It is too tragic. Putting on a brave face, you fling the dead, barren thing into the rubbish bin. But what's this? Lying under the table, a single, violet oval -- an uneaten grape. This you retrieve quickly and hold in your hand, considering.
You look out the window, at the rain. The city is soaking and grey. On the street a man in a peacoat is trying to hail a cab, holding a dossier over his head for shelter. This is the most pathetic thing you have ever seen in your life. You look at the grape, then at the man. You crank your window open, yell, "Hey, buddy," and hold up the grape for him to see. Joy passes over his face. His eyes soften, the dossier lowers, he moves toward you. Then, when he is right at the window, you hold the grape out for him. He puts out his hand. He says, "Bless you." Then, with a quick flick of your wrist, you launch the grape into the air, and it sails up, up, then hangs, before plummeting down and landing squarely in your own open, waiting mouth. The man falls to his knees on your sodden lawn, arms raised to the heavens. You shrug, chewing. There, is, after all, only so much you can do.
About the author:
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