Wednesday 29 November 2023

Pomegranate by Gal Podjarny, Bailey's

 Nothing like an afternoon light to soften childhood memories. Last week, I opened a pomegranate. I decrowned it, made two circular cuts all around, and opened it into quarters. The red seeds huddling sent me to the past.

Here I am, a scrawny kid, wavy brown hair tied tightly back, sitting on my heels so I can reach the kitchen table. The windows are open, and I can hear the pigeons cooing outside. On this side, beyond the window glass, there are only laundry lines, rows and rows of them. On the living room side, past our balcony with my grandfather’s cards table, Mrs Levy is cleaning her living area. Threadbare carpet rolled up on the sofa, brown chairs upturned on the blue Formica table, the tile floor expansive and sterile. Mr Levy isn’t back from work yet. She has a few more hours of peace.

My mother places four neat pomegranate quarters before me, saying my little fingers are better for the job. The table is covered with blue chequered lino cloth. My mother brings to the table a crisp, bright cucumber and a tomato with the stem still attached, smelling like sunshine. She cuts them carefully. She won’t cook dinner; she never does. Grandma will be over soon with some pots. Into the enamel bowl the seeds go, their deep red discordant to the sickly pale green plastic.


Don’t get a stain on your shirt. It won’t come off.


Back in my new, gleaming kitchen, the memories spill from me, little fingers prying them loose one by one:


Don’t twirl. You might break something.

Don’t be so loud, the neighbours will complain.

I can’t talk to you when you cry. Go to your room and talk to me when you’re calm.


Each of them a ghost of my mother, of me as a child. I’m tethered to these ghosts. Up ahead, I can see the horizon, the soft light of the sunrise. But I can’t reach it. The ghosts of my past hold me back.

Ghosts have no body. That is why anything sensual offends them. The smell of the pomegranate, sour with regrets. The colour of the seeds, a deep blood red. The resistance against my fingers as I pry the seeds loose sends a tingle up my arms then down my back. She was right. Little fingers are better for this. But gentle fingers, wiser fingers, coax the seeds off so they are almost happy to leave the womb of the fruit.

The seeds are all in the bowl. Two small hands raise the pale green bowl like an offering. My mother takes the bowl silently, not even a thank you, let alone a well done. The little girl I was thinks it’s because she noticed I had sneaked a few, no more than three seeds. Perhaps that is why I return every year, a Persephone tied with black magic and ghosts of memories, to my mother’s home, in the desert, where the pomegranates, when you can get them, are always sweet.

I’m old enough, I’ve been through enough, to understand that she can never be what I needed her—still need her—to be. She cannot say thank you. She cannot say well done, I’m proud of you, you are doing well. These shackles, I can see now, not only moor me, but my children. And that I cannot accept.

And so, I murder the ghosts. Slay them with the kindness my mother was unable to show me. I throw a glass to the floor, the delicate one with the painted flowers, one of my favourites. Then, with great care, I clean up the shards, sweep them off the wooden floor with a thick-haired brush.


See? I broke something, and everything is fine. I’m still ok.


I sing at the top of my lungs, one of the old Rock songs, defiant, rebellious. At my mother’s house, we could hear Mrs Levy’s screams even when we closed the windows, but we never complained, although I did ask her once why won’t she hide Mr Levy’s belts.

And I cry on the bathroom floor, lying on the modern harsh tiles, letting go of the tears and with them these ghosts, the unkind words, the admonitions, the restrictions. Cut the cord.

Here, now, there’s a thread of sourness to the seeds. Maybe this pomegranate wasn’t quite ready to be opened. Or maybe this is the price I pay for living so far away from my mother. There is a red stain on my apron. I always put on an apron when I go into the kitchen, even to check the oven. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

The murder scene is bloody with pomegranate juice. I wipe the white stone counter, wash my hands. It’s like it never happened.


About the author

Gal Podjarny is a student of the human psyche and condition. Her fiction explores the intricacies of identity within the tapestry of relationships. Her first short stories collection, Human Fragments, is now out in digital stores, and you can catch her musings on her blog at


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