[Editor's Note: Check out Noel's interview with Marisella Veiga here.]
Marisella Veiga's flash fiction piece "Fresh Fruit" [Veiga, Marisella. "Fresh Fruit," Sudden Fiction Latino, (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010)] unravels a psychologically deep story through the self-revealing commentary of Veiga's nameless Latina narrator. Veiga uses this self-delusional narrator to build intrigue and tension and irony to show reality in contrast with what the narrator would like others and herself to believe. Lastly, Veiga cleverly titles the piece "Fresh Fruit" which comes up various times in the story, seemingly innocuously, until readers realize what it symbolizes.
The perspective and commentary of the older woman, a less than reliable narrator, builds tension and intrigue in the narrative. First readers are made to wonder why this older Latina woman is so preoccupied with Susana, the younger Latina woman in her neighborhood.
The young woman across the street, Susana, went to work earlier than usual today. The driveway gate clanked loudly when she closed it, as if it was meant as a shout to someone inside the house, "There, you have it!" I'd like to see someone actually walk away from his home that easily.
Also, it is not until a second read or reflection that readers will look at the line "I'd like to see someone actually walk away from his home that easily" with the insight that the narrator is really thinking about her husband.
As the story continues the older narrator's approach to and commentary about the younger woman becomes increasingly presumptuous. She takes liberties to judge the smallest details of the younger woman's life. The moment she advises Susana about what kind of dress she should buy in order to attract a husband shows readers that this narrator is stranger or more troubled than they first thought, and therefore Veiga once again effectively builds more intrigue.
For one, though I have advised her, she has not bothered to invest in a red dress. It's an attractive color that suits her, and would appeal to a man, and one never knows. A husband could help her along, and she, in turn, could help him. When I told her my idea, she said, "Red? I don't like that color at all."
Here are some of the questions this paragraph would most likely bring up for readers: Why is the narrator trying to help this young woman who bothers her so much and why does she think a husband could help her? And if her "help" is disingenuous, then what is she really up to?
Readers are asked to reevaluate the narrator's psychological state three-fourths of the way through the story, when they find out that the woman's husband has been having an affair with the younger woman next door. This moment demystifies the narrator's behavior on one level but complicates it on another. Readers can understand why the narrator would be judgmental of the young woman next door but why is that it? Why has she resigned herself to live in this situation? Why has she accepted this as a norm? At this point, the story delves deep into the psychology of a woman who has learned to live with and accept the life of being married to a machista man who cheats. Denial and self-delusion are common ways for humans to cope with unwanted realities, and characters in this state also serve as some of the most fascinating unreliable narrators.
When Alfredo returns in the evenings, he greets me with a kiss on the cheek, though he is coming form his mistress's house. We have lived in his house for twenty years now, and she has lived in another one, which he also owns, all along.
I tolerate his nightly visits with her. I have no choice. In a way, they are a relief because he does not look at me anymore to satisfy his longing. He thinks I think I'm too old for sex. He doesn't leave her, won't abandon me, and the neighbors know that in the end he sleeps in this house every night.
We see here that the narrator contradicts herself and then tries to console herself with self-delusion. She says that she "tolerate[s] his nightly visits with her" but also "in a way, they are a relief because she he does not look at [her] anymore to satisfy his longing." Furthermore, it is not until this moment in the story that the reader can begin to understand why the narrator has been acting so strangely; it isn't until this moment that the reader can look back on earlier events and have "ah-ha" moments about the workings of the narrator's mind.
For example, in the red dress scene, it would be safe to assume that the narrator was really motivated by the idea of trying to convince Susana to get a husband so that she would have to leave her husband alone. However even this is unusual behavior, so it does not answer all the readers' questions about the narrator. They are just left with more questions.
The irony of the narrator's commentary on her life and the life of the young woman across the streets become more and more clear by the end of the story. By the last page of the story, readers observe how the narrator attempts to describe the younger woman's life as empty, lonely and pitiful, but her attempts do nothing but reveal her own pitiful existence, her own boredom and loneliness.
The young woman across the street, despite all her American ways, which she learned at school, does not know how to do this [cook]. Yes, she is free to wander beyond her gate, walk into a restaurant any time of day, like any mall, and buy meals made by someone cooking anonymously in the kitchen. She has money, a way to ride around town. She speaks English and French and travels to the other islands. She drinks beer and sometimes stays out late, while I sit on my porch waiting for Wilfredo to arrive. I don't get bored.
The narrator uses words like "anonymously" to try and make Susana's life seem empty. She tries to point out her lack of skill—cooking—the one thing that seems to bring her husband home to her, but the narrator ultimately points out all the pleasure and freedom her neighbor gets to enjoy while she has to wait for her unfaithful husband to arrive home. The narrator's last statement—"I don't get bored"—is painfully false, something she probably has to tell herself over and over again so that she can remain in denial, the only place where she will not feel the pain.
Lastly, Marisella Veiga chose a knockout title for this piece, "Fresh Fruit." Fresh fruit is something deeply connected to the Latino culture, something many Latino tourists/exchange students/immigrants miss when they leave their countries' warmer climates and come north. It is also thematically symbolic: fresh fruit is a metaphor for the womanizing husband's desire for younger women, to always have access to them. There are a few scenes in which fresh fruit is mentioned, and on the first read their presence seems innocuous and or haphazard. But after a second read, it is easier to see the deeper meaning and intention.
When Wilfredo and I were first married, we rented a small apartment in this neighborhood, near the sea, and spent Sundays on the beach. Years later, he bought this house and a few years after that a farm in the mountains, so our home would not lack fresh fruit or vegetables. I haven't seen the farm in years; I don't leave the house, but he drives up there often and returns with the back of his jeep loaded with bunches of plantains. He hangs them on hooks to ripen the garage.
This paragraph comes three paragraphs before readers find out about the narrator's cheating husband. Reading it again or even just reflecting upon it, readers might realize that it is quite possible that Wilfredo has another lover at the farmhouse as well. The motive that Wilfredo gives for buying the farm might symbolize his desire to always have access to young women/fresh fruit: "he bought this house and a few years after that a farm in the mountains, so our home would not lack fresh fruit or vegetables."
The narrator herself uses this literal fruit to stay connected to her neighbors: "I give them out to neighbors as a way of showing appreciation for their attentions to me." Susana herself, the symbolic "fresh fruit," is someone to whom the narrator seems to want to stay connected, to understand, so that she can stay connected to her husband or at least maintain some sense of control.
Later there is even a scene where the narrator tries to feed the fruit, bunches of plantains, to Susana. The narrator seems to have studied Susana's taste, diet and general gastronomic habits.
A little prompting and she takes three thick ones home, hiding them in the briefcase. I know she eats them up fast, fried as tostones, not waiting for them to ripen for a sweeter-tasting dish. No, she is an impatient sort who likes to take hard bites of hot salty starches.
The narrator seems to judge her for being on a diet and for eating them as tostones, the savory version, instead of waiting to eat the plantains when they are sweet and ripe. This judgment might also be a reflection, of her unconscious judgment of her husband, who has deemed her "too old for sex" when maybe she considers herself "sweet and ripe."
Marisella Viega's "Fresh Fruit" flash fiction piece leaves readers wondering about her characters' lives even days later, as if they are still living, as if the older Latina woman is still sitting alone on her porch, critiquing the life of her husband's lover while waiting for him to come home just to eat the food she has prepared and then leave again. Yet readers are also left to wonder will this older Latina woman's self-delusion ever be disrupted? And if so, what will she do? Or does it take another generation of women, like the young woman across the street, to understand there is no sense in waiting around for a man like that?
About the Author
Noel Straight writes, dances, and works in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches Spanish and ESOL to students in Center City, takes all the dance/yoga classes she can at West Philadelphia's CEC, and when Noel is not writing, teaching, or dancing she is kicking it with her roommates at K & A. Currently, Noel is working on a collection of short stories and plans to complete an MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College in May 2014.