Banana Flowers

I am a year older and the kitchen is pervaded by the smell of decaying flora. I am seventeen this week, a title I've worn for a sum of eleven days and so which I wear as one wears a new thing unaccustomed, with a sense of discomfort, a looseness about the shoulders.

There are slivers from where the flowers were before their decay became too pungent for us to bear; their yellow flesh has made dust the color of the saffron rice we buy at Whole Foods on the back of a textbook; shriveled petals abound in almond slivers rimmed with a ruddy brown.

The flowers didn't begin this way, and neither did I. They had been banana flowers those few days back; those few years back I had been a child with limbs frail as toffee sticks wearing boots too large for my frame.

When the flowers first came, I was disappointed to greet them on the counter how once is disappointed to greet some good for a wanted-after great, or some adequate substitute for some more than adequate demand—a selfish, entitled disappointment. Next had been a guilt when the great had followed, with a two-delay, in a bubblegum-colored card in the mail: $50 on a blue Chase bank check and an embarrassment that, in standing before the counter, the banana flowers should witness my ingratitude.

Yellow usually means alarm but the banana flowers instead were a calm, a salve, for they were a yellow born of jungle instead of street signs, yellow escapes cove and not streetlight, and though I met them with my embarrassment, my nose downturned as my fingers unknotted the envelope, it was a calm embarrassment in which thrashed none the sting of surprise.

My father turned fifty this year, his birthday on the heels of mine, and the occasion, like the banana flowers’ presence, struck me as both sad and strangely unobtrusive. When my mother rented out an overpriced restaurant room, a room with walls the color of pale tangerine and honey mustard with oyster-shell shaped sconce lights a translucent aquamarine robbed clear toothpaste, we watched his life on a projector screen and a shoddily-amplified soundtrack.

One of the photos featured my father in dark hair and a buttercream colored sweater; his face was downturned, Thinker-like, in the direction of a turquoise span of water, some great fountain or pool. He looked so alone, my father, solitary in his life’s weight. I thought how when the banana flowers arrived they looked like that, too, solitary in their parakeet-hued overabundance, lonely like my father.

It is strange to be seventeen, to know my father as fifty. I remember cul-de-sac bike rides with purple handlebar grips and a dog whose paws made rain patter on the hardwood, a pair of Finding Nemo pajamas and how he used to change the batteries on my nightlight, but now we are different people with the same relation to each other with only frozen bits of those selves—VCR tapes, silver-framed Kodak prints in the space on the shelf beside a hand-burned wood-block bearing the letters REINECKE, the sounds of our name—to assure us any claim to those past bodies whatsoever.

He still tells the same family stories he told ten years ago, and probably twenty years before that and probably as he lived them, still has the wide mouth which mine owes its genesis, but I am no more the child who gave him a box of air wrapped in pink tissue paper than he is the father buying Olivia and I mint chocolate chip flavored energy goop in the bike store; he’s practicing Buddhism in his basement office when I go down in the morning for the stapler, and I’m studying when he calls me to dinner. He has the same features, the same spirit, and yet he is different now. We are different together. Things are now expected of me: A’s, test scores, a willingness to push out my passenger side door to take in the orange plastic covered roll of the newspaper, speckled and soaking from the rain.

This is what I realized at dinner, conversing with my father’s friend at dinner, neglecting a bowl of tomato soup to ruminate over politics. It was a conversation removed of my father, a conversation with no pre-set jumping off point—the mention of a speech contest, a ballet recital, a juvenile soccer game in which I’d had some role—but one substantiated with rosemary-studded bread and mutual interest.

This conversation, which reminded me of a floating dock we had seen at a jet-ski club in Nice, a platform you swim out to which lacks the land-connecting stretch definitive of such protrusions, reinforced what my camel-colored pump shoes, my blue-smelling cologne, and jet mascara already told me: that despite my efforts to convince myself otherwise, my attempts at suppression, my failure to obtain my driver’s license, the plush tiger guarding the books on my desk, I was an adult.

It was then that the significance of the banana flowers, their almost synthetic hue, the wet quality of their accompany scent struck me. I came home today to counters cleaned of saffron dust and wilted petals, to counters stacked with my father’s age apparent in goose-necked whisky bottles and a set of cut-glass tumblers—a household addition my mother, in deeming them an “old person’s gift” had deemed appropriate. I came home today and remembered what I had for two weeks forgotten, and was relieved at it, the way one is over a rediscovered cardigan, a previously fumbled over but now found set of keys.

It was an overpriced loaf I was thinking of, bread from Dean and Deluca. It was Israel bread, the bread of a people displaced before they were settled, a dense bread marbled half dark and half light. It was what my mother had said to me over the purchase of this pastry, her credit card and nerves posed at the death of a friend: that while flowers were a Christian tradition, to mask the smell of dying flesh, it was a Jewish one instead to make a “contribution to a synagogue or hospital, or to a medical research association,” or to send food for sitting shiva.

While the banana flowers had been removed, and this bread ordered months before, its memory discarded soon after, something in the kitchen reinforced these past objects message; the goose-necked whisky bottles seemed to honk it, and the Waterford tumblers, throwing up bits of afternoon light in exaggerated rays, similarly spoke.

The smell of decay played even under cleaning fluid’s faux-evergreen mask, and I understood them, then, these banana flowers, that bread, the harrowing thing they had set out to clarify: that I, too, content with my SAT score, resplendent in my birthday earrings, had been and would be, no more and no less indelicately subjected to such infidelities, such betrayals of time.