Copyright is held by the author.
“CRAZY PINEAPPLE Lady come out to play, leave your pineapples you hoard all day. How many pineapples does she have? 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . .”shrieked the young girls as they skipped madly near the great house with the widow’s walk atop the upper storey. The girls would laugh and taunt the pineapple lady with their skipping game on their way home from the local school. Hiding behind a lace curtain high above in the window of the widow’s walk, the Pineapple Lady, whose real name was Elizabeth, watched them. She had never had children, but she knew that they meant no harm. Long ago she too had played these skipping games.
Children of the fishing village sang and taunted Elizabeth every opportunity they had. The Pineapple Lady was the wife of Captain James. She lived alone in the stately Victorian house overlooking the harbour. The top room was known as a widow walk because it’s where sea captains’ wives went to watch for the return of the ships. Elizabeth would watch the skipping girls and listen to their taunts, while longing for the return of James. If the children saw her they would scream and run away.
Everyone in the village knew Elizabeth kept one fresh pineapple by the door to welcome Captain James home should he ever return. As well, the children had heard their mothers speak about the house being jammed with pineapple figurines of every kind, including porcelain, wood and marble. There were thousands of pineapples now on window sills, in cupboards, on tables and on the furniture. There was no room for anyone to sit or even stand should they visit. But then no one visited Elizabeth anymore for they feared her mental condition was not stable. Such a sad and sick hoarder, the gossiping mothers would say. The mothers added that Elizabeth was crazed with grief. They spoke in hushed voices fearing for themselves when referring to the dead husband.
Elizabeth and James had once been the envy of all who knew them in this coastal town. Elizabeth was a beauty beyond words and James was a young successful sea captain wealthy and staggeringly handsome. They were a couple that fairy tales were made from. Elizabeth’s Aunt Florence had introduced the two at a summer church supper. Captain James had been in port unloading exotic spices he had brought back from far away. He named his schooner From Away.
The courtship of Elizabeth and James was short for upon the first meeting they knew they were meant to be together forever. For the next 10 years James and Elizabeth lived in a marriage of the deepest love. James had purchased the grandest house in town for Elizabeth — a gift befitting a prosperous captain to present to his bride.
Whenever James left port Elizabeth would run to the widow’s walk and watch until his ship disappeared over the horizon. She always kept a fresh pineapple in the house to give to him upon his return. James would return with a trunk of fine exotic gifts for Elizabeth from wherever he had travelled. Elizabeth would delight in silks, printed books, perfumes, fans, spices and fine china. Elizabeth never used these treasures. She kept the precious trunks in the widow’s walk. There were ten trunks in total. On foggy days Elizabeth would sit packing and unpacking the trunks slowly touching each gift James had brought her. She imagined James choosing theses perfect exotic presents. She tried on soft leather gloves, smelled the spice jars and teas and let her mind travel to these destinations that James had sailed to. She fanned herself with delicately painted rice paper fans from away. Always she carefully repacked the trunks exactly as they had been when James had brought them into their home. Some day she knew he would return with another trunk just for her.
It was 15 years since James had last sailed back to Elizabeth. The first year Elizabeth kept herself busy and accepted the absence as just part of the life of a captain’s wife. By the end of the second year Elizabeth feared the worst and began frantically collecting pineapples hoping these talismans would bring back her dear James. She passed the time packing and unpacking the trunks and touching each gift that had been touched by James. She spent hours and whole days sitting on the window sill of the widow’s walk room looking out to sea expecting to see his schooner. She refused to believe he would not return. She believed their undying love would never allow him to leave her a widow. Their love could not possibly end in her life time.
The collection of pineapples became an obsession. Boxes of pineapples came to her by mail and special courier. She travelled to the nearby cities for she had bought every pineapple figurine in her little town. Elizabeth even sailed herself to Boston to collect rare pineapples shipped from the far east. She hoped the exotic pineapples would have a special power to bring James back. Each week she had a fresh, real pineapple delivered to her regardless of the cost. The fresh pineapple waited on a small table by the front door to welcome James home. This had been their ritual since his first return from the sea.
At the beginning of the 16th year of James’ absence Aunt Florence called on Elizabeth for afternoon tea. In the cramped room, Aunt Florence came straight to the point.
“James is gone for good and that is that my dear. A woman of your breeding moves on. You must accept that.”
Elizabeth remained silent. The door bell rang. It was a parcel. Elizabeth opened the parcel straight way. Inside was a small porcelain pineapple. She smiled.
Aunt Florence grabbed the pineapple and hurled it across the room and smashed it.
“This too must stop. You are crazed Elizabeth,” Aunt Florence had screamed these words as she threw the fragile object.
Elizabeth rose quietly and began to pick up the pieces of the porcelain pineapple placing each piece back gently in the wooden box the pineapple had arrived in.
All the while Elizabeth picked up the pieces she smiled and whispered, “He is coming back I know now.”
Elizabeth did not see her Aunt leave. Aunt Florence could not bear to see her niece in such state of denial. Florence would see the doctor and look to having her niece committed.
For the next month Elizabeth ordered new dresses. She began to give away all the pineapples much to the dismay of all who knew her. She kept but two pineapples — the one that had been smashed to bits and the fresh pineapple by the front door.
Sixty days to the day the small parcel had arrived the front door opened as Elizabeth knew it would. There in the front hallway by the fresh pineapple stood a frail man with one arm missing, heavily bearded and leaning on a cane. Without a word Elizabeth ran to her husband. James had sent the package and she had known this despite the fact here was no note or explanation. James had been a prisoner in a far off country. A kind guard who could not read or write had secretly mailed the parcel after James’s escape.
After Captain James’s return the children of the town played a new skipping game, “Pineapple Lady your captain came home never never never more to roam , how many kisses does he have 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . .”
Elizabeth filled the house again, not with pineapples but with seven children who often played with the treasures in the trunks in the room atop the house. James never sailed away again. There was no need of a fresh pineapple.