Plums by Anna da Silva

“How about you put the phone away while we eat?” I tell Beck.

My words float up, accidental question mark dangling. 

“Ma, it’s for school,” Beck says without looking up from under his basketball hoodie. “Besides,” he waves his hand at the empty place-setting in front of me, “are you even eating?”

The three of us sit at a round table in the center of a bustling Holiday Inn Express breakfast hall, boys’ jackets and backpacks strewn on chairs, their clunky boots jostling under the table. The air tastes like hot maple syrup. 

“Duh! She never eats breakfast!” Finn makes a face at his brother and turns to me with a well-practiced lament, “Why does he get to have a phone and I don’t? How is that fair?” He casts this line with maddening persistence, cheerfully unfazed that I don’t take the bait. 

By the window to the left of us, two men face each other across an empty table, each hunched over a hot cup of tea. The younger one speaks softly to the older man, foreign vowels rolling off his tongue. Outside the windowpane, murky residue of the winter hangs suspended in chilly air, beyond that—nothing but silos and fallow cornfields. One last stretch of the drive before we are home. 

“It’s not fair,” I tell Finn, “but he is a teenager and you are not,” as if that explains anything. 

Behind him, at the buffet station, burly men thunder about in work boots, heaving mounds of scrambled eggs onto their plates, piling on bacon and sausage, biscuits and gravy, waffles and syrup, like they are fixing their last meal. 

“At least you don’t have homework on spring break.” Beck pushes the hood off his head and puts the phone down beside his plate—a carnivore’s delight next to his brother’s sugar-monkey morning fix. They dig in with abandon.

I take a sip of my bitter, hot coffee. “So, what’s that school thing; I thought you didn’t have any homework on spring break?”

“It was just this one thing, a reaction paragraph on some short story.” Beck shrugs. “Remember that Martian book you made me read, it’s by the same guy.”  

“And what did you think?”

“First of all, it’s called ‘The Egg.’”

“Ha! ‘The Egg!’” Finn slams the table, water squirting dramatically out of his mouth. “Is there a chicken in the story?” He makes a high-pitched clucking sound, and I see Beck glance apologetically at the table by the window, but the two men with the tea mugs don’t even flinch at Finn’s exuberance. 

“You dolt!” Beck draws the infinity sign in the air with a piece of bacon.  “In the story, the whole universe is like an egg. And this guy keeps reincarnating. It’s kinda cool, actually.” 

“You know how to tell what came first? Chicken or egg?” Finn’s voice rings crisp and loud, and he doesn’t wait for us to answer, “Easy! You order both on Amazon and see what comes first!” He pokes a sunny side-up egg on his brother’s plate with a piece of French toast and cackles.

Beck and I do a synchronized eye roll. Beck swats his brother’s hand away. No one pays us any mind—there is a lot of chewing going on. The older guy from the window table gets up and shuffles toward the buffet, his puffy winter coat floating past us like an ice floe. 

“Your jokes are lame. It’s about reincarnation: like, this dude who just died in the story meets God and finds out he will come back as some peasant girl in ancient China next.”

“Eew, who wants to be a girl?” Finn is aghast.

“Well, that’s not even the point.” Beck toasts him with a glass of cranberry juice. “Turns out this guy in the story is all the people that ever lived. Just him reincarnating over and over, peopling the world.”

“But why?” Finn says.

I take another sip of coffee. Why, indeed.

Hands deep inside his coat pockets, the old man is inspecting the jam packets in a wire basket next to the conveyor toaster. 

“Something about trying to get it right, like when he messes up, he gets another life to live.”

“But he never does?”

“What, get it right?” Beck shrugs, “I guess not.” 

I consider the bleak prospect of spending eternity trying to get it right. Every incarnation—poking about, senseless as a newborn pup, hitting the same karmic speed bumps over and over. The only being in the Egg universe, besides God. All that loneliness, all that longing. 

Behind Beck, the old man is emptying the wire basket of jam into his coat pocket with shaky hands. I turn to look at the younger guy at the window table. Thumbs dancing over his phone keys, he doesn’t even notice.  

“And he is the only person in the world? Living out thousands of lives?” I ask Beck, my eyes on the old man. 

“I guess so.” Beck shrugs again, pushes his empty plate aside and leans back. “I am done, Ma. I’m gonna have some coffee.”

At the coffee station, the old man peels the foil top off a jam packet and holds it up to his face, shutting his eyes and inhaling deeply. 


I am transfixed, watching the old man tilt his head back, lift the jam packet high and jiggle the jelly out of the plastic container straight into his open mouth.   

“Papa, stoj!” the old man’s companion whisper-screams from the window table. So much anguish in his voice.  

The old man stands alone in the center of the room, his arms spread wide, his face upturned to the low-hung drop ceiling, eyes shut, savoring. I feel him, somehow. 

And then a strange thing happens. 

I am pulled, unmoored, untethered from myself. Sucked out of my own body by some hurricane force and hurtled into the old man. I—some part of me—smashes into him, pulled by the vortex of his ambling mind and through the tunnels of time. I am him, only a long time ago. I am a child. 

I feel everything at once.

Sweetgrass is slicing at my feet as I run, panting, in the afternoon heat of an endless July. The low lilac skies, the thunder of Mother’s voice behind me, “Pavlik, stoj!”

I don’t stop though, I run faster, spurred along by the horrendous whooshing sound that the willow switch makes as Mother’s arm slashes through the air with her every stride, gaining on me. The path unfolds in familiar twists, lined with pebbles and clover under my bare feet, but I veer off it and into the sweetgrass again. I take a desperate, lunging leap over the horse fence, get clipped, tumble into the rosemary bushes, instantly smelling like Mother’s herbed roast. I scramble away just as her callused hand reaches for me over the fence.

“Pavlik, stooooj!” she wheezes, breathless.

I don’t stop.

I am not an idiot—my bottom still burns with the phantom pain of all the previous whuppings. And even though her angriest blows are half-hearted at best, I run, nevertheless. Giddy with the horror of disobeying Mother. 

I scamper up the hill to the crumbling stone wall where the old plum tree marks the edge of my whole universe.  

This tree is so far from everything that nobody bothers to harvest from it. Fruit piles up in the grass in boozy heaps, ravaged by blackbirds and thirsty coyotes. The air is syrupy and electric, vibrating with the hum of a thousand bees. I scale the scraggly trunk and perch myself on a thick branch, just out of her reach. She is walking fast toward the tree, cutting through the green grass waves like a fishing sloop, probably recounting my most recent sins. 

Did I not leave open the gate to the chicken coop and flood the feeding trough? Did I not tear up my good linen pants and lose the well bucket in the icy throat of the brook? Did I not throw pebbles at the old fishmonger’s tin roof until he shook his pellet gun at me from the window? And as if all that was not naughty enough, did I not sneak away from the farm and run wild in the fields well past the evening milking?

I know what’s coming. 

I feel such deep sorrow for myself; I feel its tragic salty tang in my mouth as the first tears run down my cheeks. Mother stands beneath the tree, arms folded across her chest, the willow switch sticking out at her side like a sword.

Lazy bees, plump with nectar, buzz drunkenly around me, alighting on my scabbed knees and muddy feet, getting tangled up in my hair. I fix my eyes on hers, make the meanest face, pluck an overripe plum, and smash it into my mouth. 

I don’t know why, but she laughs.

In the deepening dusk, her teeth gleam the color of skimmed milk on her pretty, sun-kissed face; stray strands of hair so dark against the white satin band tied round to hold up her curly mane.   

I don’t make a sound when the first bee stings me, foolishly giving its life for another shot of that plum sweetness. I wince when the second stinger pierces my skin and howl as the swarm turns on me, all at once. 

I hear Mother gasp and then I wail in earnest, flailing at the crazed bees, hollering for her. And just before I shut my eyes, I see the willow switch tumble from Mother’s hands into the emerald grass and her strong arms swing up to cradle me when I leap. 


Beck’s voice yanks me back, and it takes a moment for me to reunite with my body. I am still vibrating—a wave, a particle, a cosmic swirl. The air is thick with maple syrup. I feel an inexplicable, melancholy loss.  

“Ma, you crying?” 

I sniffle and touch my tear-streaked face with my hands. My fingers are icicles against my own burning skin. 

The old man is still standing at the coffee station, a petulant look on his creased face. The young one is by his side, though. His right hand keeps dipping into the other one’s coat pocket, bringing out the jam packets and restocking them carefully into the wire basket. 

“Ma, you ok? Your eyes are all puffy.”

My skin is electric, tingling. I try to clear my constricting throat and manage to croak out, “I think I am having an allergic reaction.”

At the coffee station, the young man leans in to talk to his Papa softly again, their faces almost touching, so close. He turns him gently by the shoulders and points him towards the exit, nudging along. He nods and mouths a gentle excuse, please excuse to anyone who meets his gaze, as they shuffle in step out of the room, conjoined by his hands on the old man’s shoulders. 

“Reaction to what? You didn’t even eat.” Beck declares, leaning back, arms draped over his chair. “Are you even allergic to anything?” 

 Finn glares at his brother. 

“You are the dolt! Plums!” he intones triumphantly. “Don’t you know she is allergic to plums?” 

Anna da Silva is a writer, sociology professor at Lehman College (CUNY), co-founder of The Salty Quill writing retreat and Vice-President of Off-Campus Writing Workshop. Her short stories were recently published in JukedOn the Run, and the OCWW anthology Meaningful Conflicts. She lives in Chicago and is working on her first novel.