Our fruit went griefy years ago, but our city is still called Cherry on Top. The restaurants still float halved Bings in the Coke, serve Black Forest gateau and banana splits in fine crystal for dessert. Downtown, tourists pose beside a fifty-foot sculpture of two maraschinos, wet tongues pressed to steel.
In truth, our trees have always born sadness. An abstract mealiness that grew worse as the big box stores and then the warehouses took our days. Also, notes of specific losses. When K’s knees gave out and they had to quit roller skating, their only joyful movement, their branches tasted of leather and bearing lube for years. When my oldest friend married her manager, some of my cherries tasted of her homemade red sauce and others of her cunt—we’d fucked a few times, in college—and then I had to admit, between painful bites, that I’d been in love with her.
The summer after Mac miscarried, his cherries looked how they always did, like the kind that grew wild all around here, up and down every street and in every yard, a rich pink color. Yet they were cinders and spoiled milk in our mouths. He pulled them off all at once, wept for the first time in months. He’d run out of IVF money. His hands were pink stained for days.
There was a certain comfort in consuming and naming. You knew your grief was registering somewhere, not just swirling inside your own exhausted body. And we could try each other’s, get a small idea of what it was like. In the wake of a new grief, we’d gather at someone’s house, our small group of queers, light candles, eat the fruit from tiny ceramic bowls sculpted for this purpose. Often, we tasted more than one grief. They interwove with each other, waxed and waned over time. Our elders offered fruit so complex you couldn’t eat anything else for hours, their stories rippling and burning and sparking on your tongue.
Then came the illness the city wouldn’t name. It began in fall, roiled all winter. The hospitals filled and no one was allowed to visit. Everyone said at least one phone screen goodbye. We lost Sam, a painter and bar tender at our one gay bar, Stone Fruit Blues. Their family no longer spoke to them—their cherries still tasted a little of their dad’s potato salad—so their ashes arrived at the bar in an old takeout container. We buried them beneath their largest tree, as was custom. Then K turned on a speaker, played all their favorite karaoke songs, mostly 90s country and Celine Dion. We laugh-cried as we sang, fucking up the high notes; they’d had great range.
Come summer, everyone’s fruit was difficult to eat. It tasted like medical gauze, like the meals the dead loved and hated, like the papery blandness of unpaid medical bills, of funeral flowers. The grief was so severe it spread beyond individual trees and neighborhoods, blended together, traveled through the root systems all the way to the corporately owned orchard on the edge of the city, the one tourists pay too much to pick. Instead of showing up for work, we’d sneak over the chain link fence, walk the rows, nibble here and there. We’d try to understand something of each story. We sensed nothing would return to how it was before, and that seemed right.
The city disagreed. Word of our griefy fruit had spread. No tourists visited, not even in spring when our streets filled with shimmering clouds of blossom. All our trees were diseased, the city declared. They cut them down without warning. It was the first week in September, the weather hot and dry. Many of us chained ourselves to gnarled trunks, encircled our crowns in groups, arms intertwined. The city was prepared for this, came with bolt cutters and cops. They barked get back to work. The days and nights echoed with chainsaws, the air full of a fine, pink dust that coated our skin and hair, slipped into our houses, our lungs, our hearts.
The new trees flower beautifully but bear no fruit at all. The city says they must have made a mistake with the cultivars, must have chosen ornamental. They still hold the annual cherry festival in summer. The bed and breakfasts book up weeks in advance. The restaurants and grocery stores import Queen Ann, King, Sweetheart, gallon jars of maraschinos, the flesh bleached white then dyed candy red, drenched in sugar. They sell well but taste like nothing.
What we keep secret from the city: we saved the pits from every tree we lost. We rinsed them gently as if they were our dying friends, our newborn children. We held them in our palms, dried them and placed them in our prettiest jars, stored them in the fridge beside our non-griefy food. Then we planted them in the biggest pots we could find, positioned them in our living rooms, our bedrooms, everywhere we had space and light. Each day, our houses grow wilder. Who and what we loved, still love, press at our windows, our ceilings, our roofs. Any day now, we’ll bloom, we’ll burst through.