I come into the kitchen to fix a snack for little O. J is balancing on the counter, his knobby nine year old left knee up on the granite, right toes in their gym socks dangling close to the floor. He reaches with one arm and steadies himself with the other.
“Can I get that for you?” I ask him dryly. He turns to me with a toothy grin and pushes himself down, landing on the hardwood with a thump.
I take down the paper lunch sack from the shelf, opening it to sniff. The faint, grassy tang of a not yet ripe mango rises up.
J peers into the bag, looks up at me quizzically.
I take it out, give it a squeeze. The skin is smooth, green, just blushed with rose and gold. The flesh underneath firm, but not hard.
“Is it okay?” J asks.
“I think, for us, it’s perfect,” I answer.
“Okay,” he says earnestly, “I was worried it was too late.”
“Get me a plate?” I ask, and he gleefully complies, humming under his breath, mangomangomango.
I grab a cutting board, knife, my familiarity with this kitchen superior even to my own. I have been using this one longer.
Two slices, straight through, alongside the broad seed, two quick pares to pull the flesh off its outer rim. I slice the skin from the slim arcs, dropping the pieces onto the plate J slides alongside me.
Three slices, diagonally, left to right, three slices, diagonally, right to left, cradling the oblong bowls of fruit from the sides, careful not to split the skin. Invert the flesh, slide the knife along the inside of the skin, and the pale yellow chunks drop onto the plate.
Hands sticky, I snag a cube. Still a hint of crisp under-ripeness, a sour note to balance the cloying, fragrant sweetness.
J looks up at me, eyes bright, smile anticipatory.
“It’s just right,” I say. He grabs the plate, taking it out to the table where his homework binder waits.
His little sister cruises into the room with her Polly Pockets in tow. She spies the plate of mango.
“Can I have some?”
“Nope,” grins J. “It’s not ripe. You don’t like it. C and I like them crunchy.”
Confession: mangoes are not my favorite fruit. But when I thought about fruit and memories, this little scene came back to me, a little moment with a child who, while not of my body, is certainly of my heart.