There once was a child born. A little girl. A darling, but small, child. Destined for something, obviously. Not everyone has a destiny from birth.
“Jaundice?” A nurse trying not to sound alarmed.
“No…” A doctor, intrigued.
The mother blushed as several healthcare workers gathered around the slowly emerging head and muttered things about the spectacular color, the protective coating, the sheen and brilliance and unexpected nature of the embryonic fluid—no, not fluid, almost plasticine—and would there be fully-formed limbs inside?
“Um, excuse me?” the mother asked. This was her first child.
“Would you mind if we videotape this?” the doctor asked. “I think it best.”
Mothers often squeak in alarm before they are fully aware of danger. Danger in earnest is usually accompanied by a full-throated scream. This mother squeaked at the request to video her inaugural birth. She’d never had practice!
Men of science lack the skills necessary to recognize that their curiosity comes to others in a form that causes annoyance. “It will be completely anonymous. No one will ever know whose vulva this is.”
The mother screamed.
“Oh, come now, your baby isn’t very large,” the nurse said.
“I don’t like it when they scream,” the doctor said. He removed his little green hat and headed for the door. “Let me know when the baby pops out.”
“What would you like me to do?”
“What about the video?”
The mother screamed again.
“We’ll re-enact it. I’ll be in the cafeteria, finding the proper stand-in for the baby. I’ll be in the fresh fruit bowl if you need me.”
“What about the stand-in for the mother?” the nurse asked.
The mother screamed.
The doctor looked the nurse and said, “You’re female. You’ve got the right parts. Although, unfortunately, my stand-in for the baby will be necessarily smaller, it will make it easier on you to pass. Won’t even have to staple it in. But, damn, it’ll appear breach, banana-end first. I’ll have to look for a suitable head.” The doctor tried to slam the door, but it was pneumatic. Damnable modern hospitals.
The birth progressed. The baby popped out. The nurse caught her, guessed at the sex, and burst into tears over the prospect of re-enacting a fruit birthing.
The doctor, meanwhile, sat on a counter in the cafeteria, attempting to attach a severed doll head to an unpeeled banana. “Does anyone have a longer nail?”
The birthing membrane covering the child from neck to foot was a thick, fibrous, yellow skin. For all intents and purposes, the child appeared to be a banana with a head.
“You shouldn’t name her ‘Banana’,” the father said reasonably. “At least call her ‘Chiquita’ or something.”
The mother snorted. “If I call her ‘Chiquita’ everyone will ask, ‘As in the banana?’ If I call her ‘Banana’ no one will dare enquire as to what is inside her fruity shell. Besides, the doctor swears she’ll grow out of it. ‘Chiquita’ would surely embarrass any kindergarten child.”
The birth certificate proclaimed the baby girl: Banana Coraline Peel.
The overly enthusiastic nurse asked, “Shall we peel her?”
The doctor declared, “Let’s send her to x-ray!”
They whisked her away to take pictures of her insides before making a decision about the peel.
The doctor was somewhat disappointed when he found that the child, grown swaddled inside a banana peel, was simply a child beneath the peel and not a mushy piece of fruit. “Damnation,” he swore, “just a normal little girl.” He held the x-ray up to the window to show the parents. “See? Stop crying. She’s fine. A medical anomaly, but fine.”
“I peeled a hermit crab once and it died,” the nurse said. She flicked a nail at the tight peel around the baby’s neck. “But it’s such a treat to help one out of the shell. And such a temptation…” She felt around for a seam. “May I?”
With the nurse’s obsession with peeling the baby, and the doctor sneaking up at quiet moments to steal photographs of the baby “in her natural element,” the parents ensconced their little bundle into a baby carrier and slipped away into the night.
They didn’t get very far.
“I’m afraid I’m in a bit of pain,” the mother said, stoic, stiff-lipped, and refusing to faint in polite company. “You should go on ahead without me. Take little Banana.”
“How will you find us?”
“Leave a trail of breadcrumbs.”
“I haven’t any bread.”
She pulled a small loaf out of her robe pocket. “Here you are, dear.”
“Where did you get that?”
“From my dinner tray. I didn’t have time to eat. The newspaper man was being a nuisance.”
The tragedy of the miracle birth came here: the breadcrumbs got eaten.
A hungry stork followed the father.
The father wove This Way and That to lose the newspapermen and Mayo Clinic experts and thrill seekers and curiositiers. He ducked up alleys and down side streets. He ducked up side streets and down alleys. He hid behind garbage cans and plots of tulips. He hid from neighbors and strangers and cats with glowing eyes.
The stork stayed a safe distance behind. Nibbling.
Little Banana cooed and slept and pondered whatever great questions the newborn mind ponders. When awake, she saw thousands of things she’d never seen before, and had no name for. While sleeping, her mind replayed the adventures and created an image of her world. For a baby sees everything for the first time and believes this is as the world should be. Bundled not in a blanket but inside a banana. With a father carrying her willy-nilly through streets and fields and furtively across the town lawn at midnight.
At last, several villages from the town he’d started in, he reached the end of a dirt street. The sign read “The End.” He believed it.
The village of The End was small, no more than fifty thatched-roof houses. It had no hospital, just a town doctor and a midwife. It had no supermarket, but a bakery, a butchery, and a vegetable stand. Fruit was picked freely from the respective trees on which it grew. Few of the villagers had ever seen a banana.
“What have you got there?” an elderly gentleman asked. His voice was kind, like his blue eyes.
“Banana,” the father said.
The wide newborn eyes looked around.
“What a pretty little girl.”
“Yes, I think so, too.”
“Swaddled up tight.”
“No use catching cold.”
In town the mother panted down alleys and up side streets, the opposite her husband had done. That Way and This instead of This Way and That. She ached from the birth and rested often. Then she panted down side streets and up alleys, again, the opposite of her husband. Opposites are the most thorough way to lose a person, even unintentionally. She hid in front of garbage cans and plots of tulips. She hid with neighbors and strangers and cats with glowing eyes. “Have you seen my Banana?” she asked them all. But her husband had been skillful in his escape.
She finally gave up and took an apartment by her lonesome, where she stayed for three years. She took out an ad in the paper asking about the whereabouts of her child and husband. MWF seeks Banana. She knitted decorative holders for flowerpots for three years, never a word of her family. She knitted a broken heart and wouldn’t sew it back together.
Banana learned to crawl like an inchworm. She rolled around the dirt floor of the little cottage in the town of The End.
Her mother sat melancholy in the city of How Sad. Every night by the light of the moon, she raced through the streets, looking for breadcrumbs. Once she followed a particularly messy eater for nigh on a mile, but at the end of the mile she made a new friend. An old lady, smeared in jam, pockets full of crumbs, hair oddly reminiscent of feathers, all white and practically flying away even when she stood still, licking crumbs from her claw-like fingers.
“Why, hello,” said the mother shyly.
The old lady cackled. “Why? Hello? Because, I suppose, this is not good-bye.”
“That’s lovely. I have too many people I never said good-bye to, but they’re gone anyway.”
“Why hello?” She stared up at the moon. “Where good-bye?”
The old lady leaned in, smelling of honeybees and jelly and fresh toast. “I made a mistake. Once. And now look at me. That’s a secret. I made a mistake. Someone must have thought it was a pretty big mistake for a pretty big bird and took away my wings. Would you like some tea?”
“Why, yes, that would be lovely.”
“Because it’s not no.”
“I grow old just watching her,” the father said to one of the mustachioed long-johned overalled villagers. “Look how she grows.”
“She’s still very small.”
“Yes, but she said ‘Mama’ the other day.”
The townsman said nothing. Best not to bring up Sadnesses. Everyone in The End knew babies came from women, and that there was one woman Mysteriously Missing. No fools inhabited the town. Just cautious, non-learned folk. Though they said nothing, they wondered amongst themselves why it had taken three years for the little girl to say one word. And then to choose the one which had never been spoken in her presence.
In the city, the mother cried herself to sleep. She awoke to a tapping on her apartment window, though the apartment was on the third floor. She climbed from bed and saw beyond the small balcony down to the street where her new friend threw pebbles at the French doors. The old woman was covered with crumbs as normal. In her hand, she held a basket of fruit, which was not normal. Fruit didn’t leave crumbs, so the old woman rarely ate it. Today she wasn’t eating it, just carrying it around. “Why? Where?” she squawked. “Yes, hello there! Hello, here!”
The mother put on her slippers and went below to examine the wicker basket. “What have you got here?” she asked, full of sadness as usual. She tried to smile.
The old woman smiled her nearly toothless grin. “The question is, what haven’t I got here?”
“A banana,” the mother said easily.
“Ah ha! Thank you!” The old woman skipped off with her basket, la-la-la-ing a little tune.
The father woke up one morning to find Banana had started to peel. The tight collar at her neck had sprung open like a daisy. He scooped her up and ran out the door of the cottage, his nightcap flying, and down the dirt street to the temple where the elders could be found gathered before breakfast.
He panted and held his child.
The elders, three men and two women, looked up at him but said not a word. They could discern the situation without help, and the wisdom of the ages usually told them to keep quiet.
“What do I do?” he asked, forgetting they knew nothing of the extremely odd circumstances surrounding his child’s birth.
“Mama?” Banana asked.
“It’s high time that child was betrothed,” one of the elders said.
The father went away, bowing to them as he backed out of the temple. “Yes, yes!”
The mother, alone as usual, sat at a sidewalk café on the main street and watched for passing men with fruit carts. She ordered a coffee, which was brought to her small round table, and she sat there holding it, trying to figure out which was warmer on her hands, the coffee, the sun, or joy.
Her arms longed for her baby.
The old woman came by, skipping merrily.
“Old woman,” the mother called.
The woman stopped and looked at the mother. Her grin faded, her eyes grew sad and crinkled up with the ages of life. “Poor dear,” she said. “I never did find what I was looking for, now did I? Lost my way!”
“Oh, that’s all right,” the mother said quietly. “Will you join me?”
The woman sat at the other wrought-iron chair. She sat uncomfortably straight, hands folded in her lap. “What’s the plan?”
“But you go out every night.”
“Just looking for something.”
“I understand.” The old woman looked around furtively. “That I do understand.” She leaned across the table. “When you’ve lost something important, you look and look and look. And never find it.” She slipped from the table. “Write me a note, this time I won’t forget!”
The mother smiled and nearly laughed. Her new friend ran down the street straight into traffic, crossed the boulevard, and ducked out of sight.
That night a newspaper, hand-inked on papyrus, fluttered through the half-open French door. It listed weddings, funerals, and a single engagement notice. A small village which still practiced arranged marriages. The children’s names were Banana and Apple.
The mother bolted out of bed, clutching the papyrus to her chest. She dashed about the room, took only as much as she could carry, and ran out into the night.
Breadcrumbs led the way down the street. She wove this way and that. She ducked up alleys and down side streets. She ran down side streets and ducked up alleys. She hid behind a garbage can and the crumbs stopped.
The mother sat there and cried.
In a yard across the street the old woman sat behind a tulip plot, a loaf of bread in hand. “You’re out prowling again,” she noted.
The mother joined her behind the tulips. “My life is but sorrow.”
“You just need to wait a little longer.”
“Wait? All I’ve done is wait!”
“As soon as I’ve finished my bread, you’ll see.”
The mother shook her head. “You don’t understand. I have to get to The End!”
“I do understand. For I’m the naughty stork who delivered your Banana. I’m the naughty stork who was supposed to deliver your family to safety, but got hungry and created mischief instead. I’m the naughty stork who’s spent three years in this form trying to fix what I messed up. If you’ll be patient and let me finish crumbling this bread, you’ll see what I mean.”
They made their way slowly out of the city. The old woman’s pockets were filled with bread. Bread enough to make crumbs all the way from How Sad to The End.
As the dawn broke over The End, the old woman turned into a stork and flew away. The mother was reunited with her daughter and husband, and the Banana peeled just that much more.
“Is there really a boy who’s grown up in an apple?” the mother asked after they’d spent three days in a family hug.
“No. But there’s a little boy whose hair is green and thick and spiky and fibrous like a pineapple.”
“Is he a good boy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is he really going to marry our Banana?”
But Someday was a long way off. First that little girl had to shed her peel, which she did, on her fifth birthday. Then she had to learn to walk, rather than hop. (She’d always been fastest in the gunnysack race, though.)
On her fifth birthday, the peel opened right up and out she popped. She stretched her skinny legs and skinny arms. She yawned and rolled off the down tick kept on the floor for her. She rolled over to the breakfast table, as she had for many years, greeted her mother, hopped up onto her chair, and sat, as if she were a banana. Her back a little curved, her feet clutched together.
“Morning, Mama,” Banana said.
The mother dropped to all fours beneath the breakfast table and counted ten little toes. She cried happily. “Looks like someone needs to learn how to walk!”
As soon as Banana could walk, she could go to school.
“We can go back to the city!” the mother said.
“What for?” the father asked.
“Why hello? Why yes? Back to our families! Our home. Although we don’t have a home. But we probably have friends.”
He shook his head. “It’s been five years. Why should we go back? We have a home right here.”
“It has a dirt floor.”
“We have friends right here.”
“This is where we were meant to be.”
The mother snorted. But it’s tough to move on with such a flimsy reason as We Could, so they stayed. Fate and storks had a way of playing with the Peel family.
Banana started at the village school, which had four little boys and five little girls, all of different ages. The little boy known as Apple had lost his green spiked hair on his fifth birthday, and now that he was six, he knew everything there was to know.
He cackled in front of the classroom, hands on his hips, master of everyone’s domain.
Banana entered shyly on her new legs. She’d never played with the village children. She could conduct philosophical conversations with the village elders on the subject of yak’s milk, and she could discuss the dangers of crocheting too-cute flowerpot holders for carnivorous flowers with her mother, but children were a different beast.
Apple tossed his head back. He stood atop the teacher’s desk and laughed.
“When’s class start?” Banana asked.
Two of the bigger boys laughed at her. They’d spent the early morning chasing the teacher around the one room, and finally tied him up beneath his own desk so he couldn’t be seen. “Go home,” one of the boys said.
They didn’t learn much that year. Quite often the teacher stayed home with a cold, or spent the day tied up in the forest.
“I don’t see the point of letting boys run the world,” Banana said one day. She longed to curl up inside her peel, but it had rotted away in a box and become nothing more than a shrivel. She sat on the box in the corner of the cabin and looked out the window. She had an idea. In her mind, the right way to live was by running up alleys and down side streets. In her mind, she could hide behind tulips and she’d always be safe. She knew what life should be.
“Mama,” Banana said when she was twelve, “we don’t seem to be learning anything.”
“That’s all right. I never learned anything when I was your age,” said the mother.
Banana stamped her foot. “It’s not all right,” she said indignantly.
“Everyone has a different way of living, girl, don’t worry.”
“It’s just not right. Here or there or anywhere, people should learn horticulture, conjugation, synchronized swimming, star gazing, plaster working, watchmaking, cookie baking. I should know how to tap a maple tree for syrup by now! No one should be allowed to tie the teacher up in the forest and leave him for the bears.”
“No, I suppose you’re right. But where I came from, we didn’t have bears.”
Banana was miffed. “Tell me where you came from.”
It wasn’t long before Banana knew she hadn’t come from the same place her mother had. Every day she went to school and tried to find out why she was there, and every day she came home disappointed. There didn’t seem to be an answer.
“What do you want?” Apple asked one morning when she showed up at school.
“I want to learn to filet a fish, skitter a gibbet, and most of all, this year I want to learn semaphore. That’s a type of communication, you know.”
He stood on the front step and towered over her. Then he pushed her down. “You don’t need to learn anything at all. I learned stuff for a whole year, and I’m supposed to marry you, so stay down where you belong.”
Banana kicked him in the shin, returned home, packed up her parents, and they all moved back to How Sad. Boys needed wake-up calls once in a while.
Banana bloomed in How Sad. She took classes in stork training. She managed rutabagas in the community garden. She learned about apartment dwelling. Her mother turned sheep into yarn and yarn into cupcakes and wore the pants in the family. Banana’s father became village elder of the apartment building and wore his long nightshirt and his nightcap and dispensed wisdom on the rooftop, seeking a little bit of sun in a brick city.
One day Banana turned an entire flock of flamingos bright blue. That was the day it got out to the city that she had been born as a banana, disappeared Mysteriously, and had a great destiny. This girl would peel back the layers and rearrange their society until everything gleamed new and different and kinda scary. Suddenly miracles were happening left and right. The penitentiary lost all its crooks, and rumor had it they’d turned into giant fruits and vegetables, with Vitamin C and antioxidants. A pre-school turned into a dark forest with a sunny meadow in the center, and all the children learned about the cultivation of edible fungi from the elders of The End, who were commissioned specially.
The elders of The End were the only ones in How Sad who kept their mouths shut about the miracles. No psst-pssts or didyahears among the elders. They had grown old watching Banana grow up and they knew that, although she was a vessel, she was also just a little girl. The miracles were nothing but sweet little mysteries: the prisoners had been taken to a tropical island to pick coconuts and make pina coladas. Their warden had grown up growing tasty juicy giant farm-fresh fruits and veg. Back to his roots! These weren’t miracles: these were mercies tempered with a little sleight of hand. The pre-school had been razed in the middle of the night by a building company ashamed of the shoddy workmanship, convinced that children learned best free to roam, and free from the dangers of How Sad. The builders planted fast-growing trees and smiled at their secret. Banana’s father called the elders of The End to come teach, dispensing more than they could from a rocking chair staring at the clouds. “Give it a try; what can you lose?” everyone asked each other.
The miracles continued. Parking meters never ran out of change. Flowers blossomed in every green space. Windows washed themselves on the outside. Lawns never grew over three-quarters of an inch. Everything was either recycled or composted, and suddenly art sprouted in every non-green-space. Hanging from the sides of buildings were chandeliers, flowers, and hippos made of old forks and tin cans. Clothes were sewn into giant parachutes and circus tents. See-through umbrellas lined sidewalks and protected people from passing pigeons. Playgrounds made of tires and waste lumber sprouted in every backyard. Butterflies and hummingbirds increased tenfold. Electric eels were harnessed for power and became family pets. And every day at a quarter till three, everyone gathered at the front stoops of their apartment buildings for story hour.
The town council passed a motion to change How Sad to That’s Neat.
The only people who weren’t happy were the little boys who had been left to fend for themselves in The End. They foraged for squirrels and mushrooms, caught fish using spears, and grew long beards because there was no one there to say Don’t Do That. And then, suddenly, they were happy, too.
Banana’s stork training went well. There were no more mistakes.
Banana turned into a slender beauty, and on her twenty-first birthday, she stepped into a floor-length white gown.
Someone knocked on the front door of their apartment. It wasn’t much of a Mystery who would be standing there. “Why, hello.”
Apple answered the Why, dispensing the practicalities of the Hello. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.” He kicked at the welcome mat as if he’d be unwelcome. “I guess ‘cause it was a village decree. Not that I ever listened to the elders before, but somehow or other it might be time I become Old Enough.” He was still an awkward youth, but How Sad—pardon: That’s Neat—would quickly break him of that. “I guess we gotta get married.” Someone had attacked him in an alley and shaved his beard clean off, polished his shoes, combed his hair, and set him free without a word.
“I don’t think so,” Banana said, “as I am a headstrong youth and you are not of my picking.”
“Then what’s with the white dress?”
“Because it’s not yellow. When I’m green, I’m not ripe. When I’m yellow, I am simply myself, but when I’m white, I’m a free spirit. Today, I am free. Not for purchase. Not for hire.”
“Ain’tcha gonna marry me?”
“No. But you can marry me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“But what would I get out of it?”
“I’ll think of something to do with you.”
They married that afternoon, Apple wrapped tightly in a synthetic banana peel to learn That Which He Couldn’t Possibly Understand, but which she hoped to teach him. The village elders returned to The End and celebrated at their temple. They’d managed to finally clear The End of all the weirdoes, the bananas, the apples, the teachers, the wandering parents, the wayward storks, and life could resume, peaceful and wise in its silence.
A graduate of Bath Spa University in England, Dawn Wilson has had the pleasure to dabble in kitsch, surrealism, and espièglerie. Her work can be found in Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Gone Lawn, Paper Darts Magazine, Metazen, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Drunk Monkeys, and Punchnel’s, among others, while the author herself can be found dismantling the kitchen for wearable items, or at nightdawn.wordpress.com. She is at work on a madcap novel.