No crib for a bed

One of my favorite short stories to teach was “The Gift of the Magi” because it represents situational irony so well, and the best way to teach irony, I think, is to provide clear, preferably clever examples. Here’s a real-life instance of situational irony that I find particularly rich: my dad, who had a heart attack a few years ago and takes medication as a result, cannot eat grapefruit because it interferes with the efficacy of said medication. As a rather odd coincidence (I can only assume), his health insurance agent sends him a case of ruby red grapefruit every December as a holiday gift, which my dad divides among his children and delivers to us. One morning a few months ago, I halved one of the grapefruit and, while supreming the segments inside the rind, discovered a seed that had already sprouted.

This felt like a lot of responsibility. It’s possible that I’ve overthought this, but the orphaned little seed with its hopeful protuberance of life potential, that milk-white root reaching for somewhere to nourish it towards growth, plucked at my heartstrings. Here it was, inside its mother mere moments before, fed only by what moisture and nutrients existed within her womb-shaped self, so resourceful as to have synthesized what was preexisting into this posture of promise. And the grapefruit herself, sliced open and bleeding out onto my cutting board, having bequeathed unto her seed what was necessary to mature it to the seedling stage, having given actual part and parcel of her flesh and provided a space conducive to healthy development, having invested more in her tiny proto-plant beyond mere transmission of DNA–it all felt very personal. And now what? Now that the seed had been delivered into air, would it just be tossed into the bin, its possible future as a tree surely rescinded, all of the botanically purposeful energy that had contributed to its growth relegated to a trash compactor? The ground outside was frozen January-solid, so it didn’t stand a chance in the garden, but I was determined that this wouldn’t all be for nought.

It might also help to understand that I once owned a dwarf grapefruit tree in a hefty pot that I bought on a trip to a local garden spot with my sister several years ago. I named the tree “Greyhound” and settled her into a corner of the house that I didn’t know hadn’t been properly insulated during construction (there are three rooms affected by this negligence, one of the many unfortunate aspects of our house that resulted from its being built by people in the employ of what is absolutely the most inept, corrupt, criminalistic construction company in human history, but that’s another story). I didn’t know why Greyhound was unhappy, but her leaves began to brown and curl and fall, one at a time, though she valiantly bloomed and fruited a total of four beautiful chartreuse globes before succumbing to significant leaf loss. I finally realized the problem and relocated her to a warm spot in the dining room, but by then it was too late for her to recover because there just wasn’t enough chlorophyll-imbued surface area left to manage photosynthesis for a plant of her stature. When it was clear that no salvation was possible, I mourned by sawing a footlong portion of her trunk and whittling off the bark to make a smooth, nearly-straight blonde wand that I keep on my desk in the company of other talismans.

Perhaps Greyhound in memoriam, and the knowledge that (though she’d done her best to communicate discontent) I had failed to recognize signs of plight in time to save her, combined with the fact that I’ve had two actual miscarriages, made it feel that nature was holding me accountable for doing what I could to give this little fighter a chance to manifest what it was trying to become, despite all odds. Here was my little ruby red rainbow baby, and I owed it to it and its mother fruit looking up at me from the counter, her halves like two round, weepy eyes, veined with red and rimmed pitifully with pith, to try. It was the least I could do to honor this poor piece of produce, her membrane-encased juice vesicles laid bare in the light of day, who had unexpectedly deposited her foundling on my doorstep without so much as a note. (But who could blame her? She’s citrus x paradisi, hardly homo sapiens.)

Friends, here I introduce my very low-tech but specifically customized hydroponic citrus nursery, currently at single occupancy capacity:

Please keep us in your thoughts.

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