[NOTE: My kids and I started a summer writing challenge: using a word or general theme to create some piece of writing each week. My 10-year-old suggested, “pineapple” and the following is my contribution.]
Wendy didn’t remember when it started. She only knew the story, one that her family liked to tell to just about every person they met. It was embarrassing and she felt like a freak, but even Wendy knew that her fear of pineapples was unusual and begged for an explanation. She had to admit the story was a good one. If it had happened to someone else maybe she would have told it herself. The videos? The family agreed on that one. They would never be watched.
“John! Do you have the list?” yelled Susan. She finished buckling the kids in the car and turned back to the house looking for her husband, wiping a bead of sweat from her arm. It was 94 degrees and a family trip to the grocery store seemed like a good idea if for no other reason than to spend time in air conditioning. The window units John and Susan had installed earlier in the summer had cooled the house for weeks. But as the temperature began to rise at the start of the August heat wave, the machines struggled to keep up. And when they began tripping the circuits—which required suiting up in protective gear to descend into the snake infested basement—they unplugged them completely and reverted to open windows, box fans, and family shopping trips.
Susan started the car and turned the air conditioning up to high as Wendy and her sister, Ella, started whining about the heat, clutching at their seat belts and pulling them away from their chests as though they were the source of it. Susan felt the thump, thump, thump of Ella’s tiny feet furiously kicking into the back of her seat and resisted the urge to yell. “It will only make you hotter,” she told herself quietly; willing her husband to appear at the door, list in hand.
John walked empty-handed toward the car. “Where’s the grocery list?” she yelled through a small crack in the windows, trying to not let any of the cold air escape. He shook his head as he approached. “I couldn’t find it,” John said, easing into the passenger seat. The cold air hit his face and he sighed deeply. “Let’s just go. It’s fine.” Susan turned the car in the direction of their local Whole Foods and the family settled in for the ride, cold air and Kidz Bop soon filling the car at nearly uncomfortable levels.
The parking lot was almost empty as they pulled into the plaza. In a few weeks the place would be packed as local families returned from their summer vacations, but now the Steamers had the place virtually to themselves. Susan pulled the car into the closest spot to the front doors and the family made their way across the lot, the car’s cold air only a memory as the heat and humidity weighed them down with each step.
The doors slid open and a rush of cold air spilled over them as John navigated a cart and Ella into the store; Susan and Wendy moving fast ahead into the land of artfully arranged produce. In the center of the room was a display that caused them all to stop and stare, mouths agape. An 8-foot tall inflatable pineapple seemed to rest atop the tallest pyramid of fruit any of them had ever seen. Soft lighting and island music surrounded overflowing bins of pineapples that seemed to climb toward the ceiling. “Whoa…” whispered each member of the Steamer family—almost in unison—as they took it all in.
Bursting with pride, Ned watched the family admire his work. The display was spectacular and any doubt he had about it not meeting the company’s rigid guidelines disappeared as soon as he saw his customers’ reactions as they walked through the door. He reminded himself to post a photo to Instagram. His assistant manager, Cathy, had expressed some concerns with the stability of the display, but Ned had stood his ground, certain this would give him the attention he needed from corporate.
Turning away, John settled Ella into the deep side of the cart—layering her bare legs with cool containers of sliced watermelon and baby salad greens. That’s when he heard the crash. John looked in the direction of the sound and saw Susan running toward an avalanche of pineapples. “Where’s Wendy?” he asked himself, looking around quickly before his eyes returned to the mound of toppled fruit where his wife was now frantically digging.
Susan didn’t even need to stoop over as she began pulling one pineapple after another from the spot where she last saw her daughter. Store employees rushed over to help. A few customers also sprang into action while a larger number stood back to let them work, their phones out and recording. “Don’t move!” ordered John as he parked Ella and the cart and ran to help Susan. There were now nearly a dozen of them throwing pineapples from the pile.
“Help me,” cried a muffled voice as Susan pulled off a prickly fruit from the pile’s center. Soon feet and hands were visible. John and Susan focused on the area where they thought Wendy’s face should be, hurling pineapples across the store as they fought to free their daughter, their hands cut and stinging from the leaves and juice. More employees ran over to help, only to slip and fall in the puddles of juice that now covered the slick concrete floor, taking down modest displays of citrus as they went. Ned continued to conceal himself, standing quietly and stiffly amidst the nearby orchid arrangement.
Susan thought she could see a shoulder and an arm and reached down aiming for her daughter’s armpit. Finding it, she pulled up hard, her rush of adrenalin causing pineapples to shoot out in all directions as she freed Wendy. Susan fell back against the pile of discarded fruit behind her, cradling her sticky and crying child to her chest as she rubbed her back. John kneeled down next to them, picking pineapple leaves from Wendy’s hair as others stabbed into his knees. “It’s okay, baby,” Susan repeated over and over, using her other hand to wipe sticky strands of hair away from Wendy’s forehead.
Now that the child was safely freed from the pile, Ned stepped out from his blind. “Is she okay?” he asked nervously, looking back and forth between the weeping family on the floor and his now destroyed produce section. Released from the pile below, the inflatable pineapple swayed freely from the ceiling above their heads. Looking away, his eyes caught Cathy standing close by—phone in hand—and he swore he could see her mouth curling into the shape of a smirk.
“She’s fine,” said John, growing uncomfortable at the gathering crowd and the sudden awareness of the phones pointed at them. Pulling himself up from the floor, he walked over and removed an uncharacteristically quiet Ella from her cart and brought her back to Susan and Wendy. “Can you get up?” he asked his wife quietly, using his head to gesture toward the crowd. Susan looked at the group of amateur documentarians, suddenly aware of the scene and their role in it. “Let’s go,” she whispered as she gently pulled Wendy to her feet, brushing leaves from both their clothes.
A wave of heat hit them as the family walked slowly, but purposely through the store’s automatic doors and toward the parking lot—the car now seemingly very far away. The quiet was disrupted by the squishing sounds from their shoes. “There’s always Market Basket,” said John as he unlocked the car and helped the kids into their seats. Susan looked over and nodded in silent agreement.