The stories in The Apple's Bruise take a smart and unflinching look at love, frailty, and happiness and prove beyond doubt that Glatt is a modern master at blending heartbreak and hilarity. In "Dirty Hannah Gets Hit by a Car," a seven-year-old girl bullied by a neighbor across the street gains strength after a serious accident; in "Animals," a zoo veterinarian from a family of butchers tries at once to deal with his marital problems and the high rate at which his animals are dying; and in "Soup," a young widow tries to reconcile her feelings for her teenage son's friend, the town delinquent.
With tenderness, insight, and humor, Glatt casts her gaze simultaneously on the beauty and the absurdity of our humanity, creating unforgettable portrayals of unusual characters and the complexities of desire and fidelity that compel them.
|Simon & Schuster
|5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)
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Chapter 1: Dirty Hannah Gets Hit by a Car
Hannah lives in a Southern California beach city without sidewalks, with lawns and flowerbeds that go right down to the curbs, and today, because it is Monday, trash day, those curbs are lined with fat green bags and reeking metal bins. And today, because her parents are fighting, she will walk across the street, stand on Erika Huff's porch, and knock on the front door. And today, because Erika is sick, Hannah will walk to school alone.
Erika is two years older than Hannah and only talks to her when no one's looking. She's more doll than girl, Hannah's decided, with her huge, gray eyes that rarely seem to blink. Her hair is long and blond and shiny. It swishes when she walks. Hannah's dark, tight curls do not swish.
On mornings just like this morning, Hannah has stood on the Huffs' porch, waiting, staring down at the welcome mat with her bagged lunch knocking at her hip, overhearing Erika's protests. "Not again. Forget it. I won't touch herwe look like lezzies." And she has heard Mrs. Huff groan and beg. "Please, Erika. Please, honey." And Erika responding with no, no, no, and then the words that echo down the foyer. "She's dirty, Mom. I won't hold her hand."
"Not so loud, Erika. The poor girl will hear you," Mrs. Huff scolds.
"She's dirty," Erika insists.
Always, Mrs. Huff says then, "The girl is all alone in the world" or maybe she says, "all along in the world" but either way Hannah knows from the woman's tone that all along or all alone makes her a girl to be pitied.
She has glanced at her plastic watch and feared Mr. Henderson's reprimand about being tardy, imagined him bending down, face inches from her face, saying, "Hannah Teller, you're late. Again, Hannah Teller." She has peered through the crack in the front door and into the kitchen where Mrs. Huff stands with a hand on her hip, sighing loud enough for Hannah to hear. She's watched the woman move out of the room, out of her view, and return within seconds, clutching her red purse under her arm. She smacks the purse down on the counter, unzips it, and pulls out her wallet, saying "I'll pay you. You happy now? Feel good about yourself? What kind of a girl are you?"
Erika shrugs and sneers even from the doorway, Hannah has seen her shoulders rising, her lips twisting.
Mrs. Huff snaps open the wallet then and the green bills move from her hand into her daughter's waiting palm. "You're a Christian girl," she says. "You should behave that way."
Soon, Erika joins Hannah on the porch and defiantly snatches her hand, muttering under her breath, almost dragging her down the driveway. And Mrs. Huff shouts after the two of them. "Be nice, girls. Be good girls."
When they get halfway down the block and out of Mrs. Huff's view, Erika drops her hand and wipes off her own, slapping her palm against her skirt or jeans as if whatever makes Hannah awkward and unpopular might very well be contagious.
Today, though, Erika is the one who's contagious, sick with red blisters on her face and body that Mrs. Huff describes to Hannah in theatrical detail. "There's one the size of a pancake covering her belly, and four shaped like almonds on her face. It's the strangest thing. They go like this," Mrs. Huff says, using a manicured nail to sketch a perfect C on her own cheek.
"Oh," Hannah says quietly.
"And she won't stop scratching," she continues. "You know Erika she does what she wants. It's what she wants or it's nothing at all. She's like her father that way. When she was little she wouldn't even eat ice cream. Imagine that."
Hannah's nervous, biting her bottom lip.
"Anyway, now she's making herself bleed. The sores are oozing the rash spreading. It's terrible."
"Sounds bad," Hannah says.
"The doctor says it's not chicken pox and they're not any hives he recognizes. What do we pay him for?"
Hannah looks at her blankly.
"You know Erika," she says. "You know it's her way or the highway. If she wants to scratch, she's going to scratch. You know Erika," she says again.
"I guess," Hannah says quietly.
Mrs. Huff wipes her hands off on her apron and bends down. "Look, honey," she says, "I know your mother and father are having...well, problems." She says these last words in a whisper, leaning closer, even though it's just Hannah on the porch. "Maybe your parents can take you to school. Tell your mother that Erika is sick and can't walk with you today. Tell her about the rash. Okay, sweetie?"
And Hannah lies and nods and tries to smile, then turns away from Mrs. Huff and heads back across the street to her own home, where she's certain that her mother and father are deep inside their argument.
Her parents' fights are so loud and physical and public doors slam, plates or cups take flight, her mother screeches away in the sedan, and two Saturdays ago, her father punched a hole in the living room window. Hours later, with one hand bandaged, he pulled strip after strip of duct tape, stretching those strips from one jagged edge to the other until the hole was covered. He muttered about temporary solutions, trapped birds and bad weather, then turned to the couch, where Hannah was sitting with an open coloring book in her lap.
"This won't necessarily keep the killers out, but it'll at least cut down on the chill," he said.
She looked up at him, afraid.
"Don't listen to me," he said.
"I meant to say thieves the ganif."
"What killers?" she said again.
"The new window arrives tomorrow morning," he tried.
"Sometimes thieves are killers, too."
Her dad laughed then. "You're just too smart," he said. "I'm sorry, Hannah." He stood there with his back against the patched-up window, shaking his head. His injured right hand hung at his side and he wore the cardboard roll like a bracelet on his left wrist. "I'm sorry," he said again, coming over and sitting down next to her. He let the cardboard roll slip from his wrist onto the coffee table, where it bounced a couple of times before ending up next to her box of crayons. "Sometimes you accept your life, what you've made of it, your choices, and sometimes, well " He stopped himself and looked at the open book in her lap. "What do you got there? What are you coloring?"
On the page there was a sun Hannah had colored bright blue. There was a girl jumping rope whose skin she'd made green. And there was a trio of trees she had just begun to think about. "Interesting," her father said. "Not the colors I'd expect, but you're good at staying in the lines, Bubele. You're careful, cautious."
And Hannah will need those very skills today when she crosses the streets on her own, but right now she's heading up the driveway, alongside her mom's sedan, hoping that when she turns around, Mrs. Huff will have closed the front door and disappeared. She has no intention of actually going home, of walking inside the house and interrupting her parents, but when she turns around and sees Mrs. Huff with her hands inside her apron pockets still looking at her, she grabs hold of the doorknob and twists. And only when the door opens does Mrs. Huff give her a wave and finally go away. Still, Hannah doesn't enter the house, just pops her head and neck inside, like a criminal, like a thief or killer casing the place, or like a girl who doesn't even live there with those people but wants to know what all the ruckus is about.
Her parents stand in the kitchen, screaming, her mother repeating that forbidden word, "fuck, fuck you and fuck your lies and fuck your shikse. Fuck your train ride. You needed to be alone. You had to be alone. Who's alone in wine country? Who takes a train to Monterey and sips expensive Cabernet by himself? What kind of a fool do you think you married, Asher?" She has the hand-painted bowl they brought home from Ojai last year in her hand, holds it high above her head and aims it at the wall or maybe at Hannah's father, whose head Hannah can only see half of, but whose voice she hears whole; it booms out of his mouth. "Put down the bowl. Stop this mishegas. You're crazy," he screams.
She closes the front door quietly and decides to walk to school on her own. She knows the way to Washington Elementary. Three blocks straight ahead, cross one street, pass the cul-de-sac, cross another street, and make a quick left.
Mrs. Huff was right about one thing: Hannah knows Erika or maybe it's that Erika knows her. Last month, because Erika's best friend Millicent was away for the weekend, Erika knocked on Hannah's front door with a bag of chocolates and asked her to play. It was mid-afternoon, a Saturday, and Erika Huff was on Hannah's porch, and behind her the sun was a fat, yellow ball. The sky was clear, blue everywhere, not one cloud. Hannah could even see the mountains from behind Erika's head.
"My dad just cleaned the pool. Let's go swimming," Hannah suggested, excited.
"I've got a pool of my own, Teller."
"I don't need your pool."
"How about " Hannah began, but Erika cut her off.
"Let's go somewhere dark. I've got chocolates. We can sit somewhere and tell ghost stories."
"It'll be fun."
"Swimming is fun, too."
"Not as fun as telling stories in the dark. You like chocolates, right? All girls like chocolate."
So Hannah led her into the garage.
All afternoon she lay on an old cot while Erika ordered her around and did things to her. She told her to lift up her shirt, and Hannah obeyed. She told her to leave the fabric over her face, and she did it. She told her to stay quiet while she pinched Hannah's skin, her neck, her shoulder, the baby-fat fold where her underarm meets the side of her chest. She told her to take off her jeans without sitting up, and Hannah wriggled right out of them. She told her to open her legs so she could get to the tender skin inside her thighs.
"Stay still," she said. "Don't move, Teller."
Hannah heard her unwrapping the piece of chocolate candy, the crinkling of cellophane. Though her face was covered and the garage was dim, she saw Erika's shadow as she popped a piece in her mouth, her cheeks fat with sweetness then, and she was talking through the candy, saying, "None for you, Hannah. It's all mine."
Hannah smelled gas, and on the shelf to her left she could barely make out the red can her father kept for emergencies.
"Delicious. None for you," Erika said again.
Hannah wasn't even that hungry. She'd get a treat from her mother later. Maybe her dad would take her out for ice cream.
"They're special chocolates, from France," Erika continued, "and they're only for girls like me."
Early the next morning Hannah's mother stood at her bedroom door with the laundry basket balanced at her hip. "Where did those bruises come from?" she said.
Hannah rubbed her eyes. "Huh?"
"On your arms." She set the laundry basket down and moved toward Hannah's bed.
"I fell off my bike," she lied.
"You okay, honey?"
"When did this happen?"
"You didn't go for a bike ride yesterday. When did you have time?"
Hannah said nothing.
"I picked you up from school and we went shopping, honey. I bought you new shoes and socks, remember? That pretty white blouse?"
"Maybe it happened a couple days ago."
Her mother looked at her, confused.
"It doesn't matter," Hannah said.
If she were a better girl, honest, Hannah might have told her mother the truth, that all she wanted was a friend, but she stayed quiet, pulled the sleeves of her nightgown down over the bruises, and felt her eyes welling up. She turned from her mother and stared at the wall.
"It's okay," her mother said again, her voice soft. She leaned down and smoothed the hair away from Hannah's face. "You'll be more careful next time I know you will," she said.
Today Hannah's trying to be careful, avoiding those fat trash bags and metal bins, walking on the neighbors' lawns, stepping as lightly as she can. And she's okay, feeling grown-up and independent. Perhaps she is what Mr. Henderson says she is: a problem solver. Perhaps she will, as her mother has promised, grow into someone confident and graceful. Perhaps her house will fill with girls who do not want to pinch her girls who will want to go for a swim.
As she's nearing the intersection, she hears her. "Little girl, get off my lawn," the woman yells.
Hannah pretends she doesn't hear her, though, the way she sometimes sits with her back against her bedroom door, pretending not to hear her parents, the way she pretends she doesn't hear Erika call her dirty. With only a few feet left, she thinks she can surely make it, one step and then another and then a couple more, but now the woman's voice again, gravelly and thick, louder this time, so loud it demands Hannah turn around and face her. And there she is in her pink robe, holding the front door open with a plump hip. There she is with a cigarette between her lips, the cigarette bobbing up and down as she yells. "Get off my lawn. You hear me? You deaf?"
And Hannah is many things, but deaf is not one of them.
She is fearful, afraid of dogs and bugs and even some plants. The dark green bushes in front of her dotted with red berries they're scary. And across the street that huge German shepherd chained behind the picket fence is scary, too.
She is short, the second shortest in her class, only taller than Eddie Epstein, who's confided in her that he's on medicine that's supposed to help him grow. Eddie is a nice boy, a boy that asks about her weekend, but still Hannah's very afraid that those pills might work. While Mr. Henderson writes the spelling words on the chalkboard she often stares at Eddie, who sits right next to her. His little tennis shoes and jeans, his T-shirt, his delicate shoulders, the miniature denim jacket hanging over the back of his chair. She imagines Eddie growing and growing, sprouting right out of his desk, taller and taller, passing the huge and handsome Tyler twins, passing the chalkboard, passing Mr. Henderson too, until Eddie's head brushes the ceiling, until he leaves Hannah behind.
She is timid her mouth is like that broken window, sealed with duct tape. She doesn't shout out or complain when she should. Like right now. Like that woman's voice again. "Get off my lawn, little girl." Hannah knows, like she knew in the garage with Erika, that to shout back or speak up is the right thing, the only thing to do really, and still she remains quiet, her lips shut as if with paste.
And here, in front of her, are her two obedient feet, one black, shiny shoe stepping out and the other one following. She accidentally steps on a bunch of those red berries she's afraid of, smashing them, leaving a red footprint with each subsequent step. And the dog barks and barks, he growls and runs toward the fence, but the chain yanks him back into the yard, and for a second he's on two legs, dancing and more fierce than ever. She steps off the curb and into the street, aware of her heart and lungs, her own breathing. She's aware of the wind too, which has picked up and her face damp with sweat. She walks around the trash cans, curling around them carefully, despite their smell, her body so close without actually touching them. She's wearing her blue plaid jumper and new cotton blouse, little white socks with lacy edges. She has a stretchy headband on her just-washed hair. What is Erika talking about? she thinks. She's not dirty Hannah. She's not dirty at all.
Copyright © 2005 by Lisa Glatt