Mar 22, 2006

Unless I see

I don't know why, but I didn't believe them. It wasn't that I thought they were lying or that there was some sort of conspiracy. It just seemed so fantastic. So mysterious and unfathomable.

I'd said Do raisins grow on trees or bushes? and they'd laughed and told me raisins came from grapes. I don't remember who it was that told me, if it was Dad or Mom or the neighbor kids down the hill. I checked with all of them though and everyone confirmed it and seemed amused, amused that I needed to know and that I didn't believe it. It just seemed so strange, that somehow those green- and red-skinned grapes could shrivel in the sun into this, into raisins. It didn't makes sense to me that the words on the raisin package saying sun kissed didn't mean kiss the way the sun kissed my face in the morning, didn't mean the evening sun falling through the pine trees, didn't mean sun as warmth or light or as a place to play, but meant something leaching and wrinkling and blackening.

I'd seen kittens and calves and lambs, being born. I'd seen tomatoes and pumpkins and squash and corn, ripening and changing colors. I'd seen the blowing seeds of trees and grasses. I'd seen fire eat and vultures eat and I understood how rain fell and evaporated and fell again. But none of that was like this. I understood cornbread and tomato sauce and grape juice, but I didn't see how a raisin could be a grape.

The next time I ate grapes I bit them in half. I bit them splitting them the short way and the long way. I peeled the skin off with my teeth. I looked at the split grapes and the skinned grapes and looked but couldn't see it. I smashed one, pushing down with my thumb until the skin popped and the flesh exploded into a grape mush spatter. Every grape I ate, I'd look at it first. As if with this one I'd see something I'm missed every time before, but there wasn't any way to see it. There wasn't any sign. The grape kept a secret and everyone knew it, and even though I now knew the secret too, I couldn't see it.

The grape to me became an artifact of mystery. I dedicated some section of my mind to thinking about grapes, and how it was they became raisins. I worked around it and around it and around trying to figure out what it meant, what it was, how it worked. Of all the mysteries of life, this was the one that seized my 4-year-old mind, that seemed to me like a key, like it was important to figure out.

I finally took one, in a test, and left it outside in the sun. I set it on the edge of my pebble box in the morning on a Saturday. It was a sunny day in the summer and I thought I'd watch it - catch it in the change, witness the alteration, the transfiguring metamorphosis of grape becoming raisin.

I was still there when Dad called me. Danny, he yelled from the porch before he saw me by the tree by the box. I could have been out back in the woods, or down the hill at the neighbors, or over by the pasture looking at slobber-nosed sheep through the fence. But I was by the pebble box, sitting there on the ground Indian style looking at a grape. He said to come in and get my shoes because we were going to town. I couldn't go, I said. He didn't laugh, but raised his eyebrows. When my dad raises his eyebrows it scares people. Why? he said and the look on his face was that he asked just to know what strange idea was so important to me that I'd thought to say no, I couldn't go. I didn't want to tell him about the test. I wanted to wait and show him the raisin that had happened while I watched and tell him about watching it. He looked at me. I looked at his feet. Well, I said, I want to see a grape turn into a raisin.

We didn't get back until it was dark and I didn't go out to see what had happened until the next morning. At first it wasn't there. I thought maybe a bird had taken it, or someone had walked by and decided to eat it, or that it had blackened and shriveled to nothing. Then I found it, rolled off the box and laying in the dirt at the roots of the grass. It was still a grape, green and gone soft with brown bruise spots. I looked at it, held it up and looked at it and couldn't see it. There was nothing, no change, no turn, no transformation. I knew it could be a raisin, I just didn't know how or how to look. I didn't know if I wasn't old enough or smart enough or wasn't looking in some secret way. I just knew I was blind to it, that I didn't have the power to see what was there to see.

So I ate it. It was a little sour and my face puckered, but I ate it. Then I forgot about it, accepted it and let all the worry go, and I went back inside to get ready for church.