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Wild Persimmon

Linda McMullen


Kunik By Hiokit Lao

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, daughter, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Over 200 of her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in literary magazines. 

     We were fourteen and drunk the first time we tried wild persimmons.  You had hugged the gin bottle while I toyed with the rum and various mixers.  We were staying with my Aunt Karen in the wilds of Virginia over fall break, and she’d taken us out to gather the juicy, pre-rotten ochre bombs.  But Aunt Karen, after a nasty divorce, preferred a drink with an insurance salesman named Dwight to an evening with us.  

    “Let’s try the persimmons,” you said, in the same tone you’d suggested our other activities of the previous hour, which consisted of raiding my aunt’s bedroom (which yielded $12.37 and a poorly concealed vibrator) and skinny dipping in the pond behind her house (free, and a poorly conceived idea; it was 49 degrees).  

    “OK,” I said.  Again.  

    Maybe it was the booze, or the heady knowledge of minor wickedness, or the mere knowledge that we were supposed to wait for Aunt Karen to eat any.  But that fruit – how can I describe it?  Sweet, piquant, solid and liquid, a workaday near-fig flavor elevated to the edge of the sublime.  Fruit of the gods, indeed.  

    I took one look at your face, your grey-green eyes huge, solemn, luminous – and I understood that you felt the same.  I hugged you, and we held each other for a shining moment.

After that we went to bed, solemnly, without brushing our teeth.  No manufactured mint flavor to distort that tang…


    We were seventeen and drunk at Homecoming our senior year, and you wore an orange-blush dress.  You smuggled in the shooters your older brother had bought for you.  “Bottoms up!” we giggled, as we downed them in the first-floor girls’ bathroom – the one furthest from the gym, where the music was already blaring.  We lurched toward the dance, swiveling our hips, throwing our hands in the air.  You found Jesse, or perhaps he found you; you ground against him, and he clutched your waist and pulled you closer.  You beamed.  You’d had a crush on him forever.  

    “He’s bad news,” I’d said.  Jesse had the airbrushed looks of an old-money family and a legacy lock-in at an Ivy League institution – and a habit of starting sentences with, ‘You should…’.  He’d dumped Anneliese, his previous girlfriend, during the fourth of July fireworks at Macarthur Park.

    You said, “I can handle him.”

    “Can you?” I murmured.  That’s a lie.  That’s what I wanted to say, but I had to run to the bathroom, the nearer one this time, because the shooters were churning in my stomach and threatening to make a reappearance.

    When I stumbled back, the bass throbbing in time with my head, I couldn’t find you.  I asked everyone; at last, Dina gestured toward the door.  The one that lead to the parking lot.  I drew lopsided pinpoints in the gravel with my heels as I peeked into parked cars, looking for the Starburst mix-color of your dress.  My vision telescoped toward a Lexus, where I spotted your skirt concealing Jesse’s head and shoulders…


    We were twenty and drunk when I came home from college for that fall weekend.  I was staying in your tiny one-bedroom apartment with you and Jessica, who looked just like her daddy.  His parents paid his child support, checks made out in stabbing ink.  You said, “Let’s go out.”

    “What about…” I said, gesturing to the smudge-faced cherub playing with a stuffed elephant in a desultory fashion.

    “My mother’s coming in twenty minutes.  Let’s get ready, girl!” she exclaimed, with a buoyancy that rang false, even at the time.  But we pre-gamed with leftover booze of dubious provenance.  Your mother, with her powder-caked face and violent mascara, declared, “I want you back by midnight!”

    We went dancing.  We lost ourselves in the beat, the lights, the swirl of irresponsibility.  You found a Brad Pitt lookalike; I settled for his monobrowed, but engaging, wingman.  The bar unleashed its fall house special, an unholy cocktail of vodka, persimmon, and absinthe.  The men bought us drink after drink.  You and the Brad double danced; his friend and I fell into an high-concept, low-sobriety discussion of postmodernism.  

    At 11:37 I gestured to you, then to my watch; you shook your head.  I summoned an Uber – we could pick up your Kia tomorrow, I assessed – and Monobrow asked for my number, which I gave him.  My phone pinged our Uber’s arrival.  I pulled on your elbow.

    “Hey!” you cried.

    “We’ve gotta go,” I said (slurred?).

    “I’m still dancing,” you said, exhaling fruit and ferment in my direction.

    “Your mom said –”

    “I’m not a child!” you exclaimed, and somehow all the booze and lipstick and high heels fell away and I saw you as I’d met you, the five-year-old beauty from three doors down.  “She’ll stay.  It’s fine.      If you’re so worried,” she said, with sarcastic emphasis, “You go.”

    I’d always said OK.

    But not that night.  I looked you right in your momentarily focused grey-green eyes.  You looked away.

    And I went.

    Your mom closed her weary eyes and leaned into the rocker you’d gotten for your baby shower.  I dozed in a sleeping bag on your daughter’s floor.

    The doorbell woke us.  The police officer bowed his head, told us he was sorry.  He informed us that they were uncurling your car from around a light post on Rose Street.  That at least you hadn’t hit anyone else.  I glanced toward Jessica, who slumbered on.


    I’m fourteen years sober today.  Aunt Karen went young – cancer – and Dwight didn’t contest the will in which she’d left me the Virginia property.  I lean against the door frame and look out into the crisp fall morning.  I’m taking my daughter Jennifer, and your daughter Jessica, to pick persimmons this afternoon.  Teaching them to relish their flavor.  Reminding them that the secret is to catch them just before they go over the edge.

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