Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup
by Amy Gerstler
Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled “the space age” in honor of some longed-for, supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween. With its striped triangular “kernels” made of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days when humans grew, rather than manufactured, food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret meaning? It glistened as though varnished. Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple chunks, and squares of bleached peach and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s finger painting, masquerading as happy appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled. It meant you’d pretend semblances, no matter how pathetic, were real, and that when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth. Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny that ghosts whirled throughout the house and got sucked up the chimney on nights Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.