Her self insisted upon a daily dose of incandescence in the form of ruby seeds. Her mother packed half a pomegranate in the squat jelly jar that happened to be the perfect size. Unabashedly, Cora ate from bent and twisted and torn rind but before she bent and twisted and tore, with her tongue she delicately extracted every seed left bleeding at the cut.
Antony watched pomegranate juice saturate Cora’s lips, its color, texture, and finish more pleasing than lipstick. Antony had been watching the lips of women and girls for a long time. No one possessed lips like Cora’s, too thick and a little too beautiful.
School debased. Pomegranate seeds cleansed. They punctuated the tedious hours away from home and mother. Cora ate morsels of stained glass fruit one by one.
Antony watched the incomparable Cora. She did what she was supposed to. She got good grades. She avoided the principal’s office. The other kids liked her well enough: they never made fun of her for the seeds. She seemed to like them back well enough, too, but she spoke little. Sometimes Antony thought Cora’s body came to school but not the rest of her, so she didn’t notice that she was different. Instead of a backpack, she carried a leather briefcase. In Antony’s neighborhood people did not carry briefcases yet, somehow, as soon as he saw it, he knew it was expensive, too expensive for a kid. He wondered where it came from and whether that place was the place the rest of her self inhabited while her body was at school.
Her father crafted things from leather. He loved good leather. He loved old, good leather when it became supple. He gave Cora his own briefcase once the leather matured to perfection. It worked itself in, he told her, as if it were an animate object, capable of self-improvement. In loyalty to him, she used the briefcase every day. It transported pomegranate seeds to school. She learned what he meant by the merit of old leather. The briefcase bent and molded for her, to her, but never looked lumpy, even when filled with oddly shaped lunch.
The chasm between Antony and Cora was what adults call love. Antony braced himself to keep from falling in.
Cora preferred home in the studio filled with her mother’s sculptures larger and more important than Cora, huge pieces of plaster or marble demanding and receiving close attention unavailable to a mere girl. Or, Cora found contentment at her father’s workshop in Vermont. It was he who introduced her to pomegranates. He said the seeds were nature’s stained glass. She believed him. Her mother said Cora’s longing for proximity to her parents was longing born of and borne by her parents’ separation. Parental love and rifts drifted meaninglessly alongside Cora as did the silliness and tediousness of classmates.
Antony knew nothing about girls. He knew something about women because of those who came to his apartment to smoke and drink beer and play pinochle with his mother. They tried to talk to him. They tried to make him smile. They tried to be good to the boy stuck in the midst of them all. He sat quietly drawing while they played and talked. He learned what they didn’t like in men: a lot.
When school days were least bearable, Cora extracted one seed and pressed it between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. She pressed the stain into the palm of her right hand. Before she did the opposite and pressed a stain into the palm of her left hand, she stopped. She knew teachers’ interpretations of student eccentricity never ended well. Imitation of the stigmata would lead to grievous consequences.
Great Aunt Myrtle tried the hardest to get Antony to smile. She kept candy in her big snap-to-close pocketbook. Usually it was chocolate covered peppermint creams, not the fancy ones but the cheaper ones Myrtle bought at the Dollar Store. Antony liked them better. They had thicker chocolate coating and the mint was less minty.
Antony kept his feet grounded. He wore heavy boots and kept close to home. He did not intend to leave Brooklyn.
During the summer, Cora and her mother lived on a solitary island in the Saint Lawrence River. The only way to get there was by boat, and they were thankful for any day the electricity worked. Cora ate no pomegranates on the island. She helped her mother. She painted tiny watercolors of birds. Once her father kayaked over from the shore. It was a long paddle. He stayed the night and slept in her mother’s room.
Antony wrote an essay, once in which he claimed his identity as a city boy by describing a fanciful allergy to green. The teacher sent him to the school counsellor.
Cora liked white. She liked her mother’s sculptures. She was too smart to tell anyone at school.
In late autumn when nothing was green or white, Antony walked over to Cora. “One time, could I try those red kernels you eat?”
“Thank you,” he said and drew her hand into his. Before he knew it, he kissed her lips. She did not pull away. She did not return the kiss. Before he knew it, the other kids were hooting and yelling, “Antony and Cora sitting in a tree.” Cora plucked one seed from the fruit’s fibrous chamber and slipped it between Antony’s lips.