The following little story, which reads like a fairy tale — and would be, if every word of it were not true — is an old favorite of mine. Written in 2002 as part of No Time to Cut My Hair, it subsequently appeared in Ararat Quarterly in 2003; in Armenian translation in The Old Language in 2005; and in The Armenian Reporter in 2008. The accompanying image is from the Reporter’s Arts and Culture page.
A Lesson to Remember
How did it happen? I will tell you. One day, while I was walking in the village, I met a beautiful young woman selling pears. When I asked her how much she wanted, she stated a ridiculously high price — so high, in fact, that I had to laugh. Either you’re crazy, I said, or your pears are made of gold.
The young woman smiled. I’m not crazy, she said, and they are made of gold. Now, go on. Leave me alone. You aren’t worthy of my pears.
Amused by the woman’s bold attitude, I said, Very well, then. I will buy one of your gold pears. How much are they, really? I reached into my pocket and took out a handful of coins.
Instead of answering me, the young woman hit the back of my upturned hand and sent the coins flying. Keep your filthy money, she said. I already told you, you aren’t worthy of my pears.
Is it your idea to starve, then? I said. I assume you are selling these pears to earn a living, and not to make conversation. Therefore I will forgive your rude behavior and repeat my offer. In fact, now I have decided I want two pears instead of one.
I don’t care how many pears you want, the young woman said, raising her voice. Or how much money you have. I would rather starve than see you walk away with one of my pears.
Starve, then, I said. I’m too busy to stand here and argue. I have other things to do.
Good, the young woman said. Then you’d better go and do them.
Each of us dismissed the other with an impatient wave that looked as if we were chasing away a fly.
After that, I continued on my way. When I got home, there was no one there but my blind grandmother, so I told her about the strange young woman I’d met, and about the pears she had said were made of gold. Much to my surprise, my grandmother was not amused. You are a fool, she said, staring at the wall behind me. Why must young men always be donkeys?
Donkeys? I said. What are you talking about? I told you, she was crazy. What kind of person stands by the road refusing to sell pears and claiming they are made of gold?
My grandmother moaned. Is it a crime, she said, for a young woman to have a mind of her own?
No, I said. Of course not.
And is it a crime for her to ask any price for her pears that she pleases?
No, I said. Of course not.
And to claim they are gold, if that is her wish, belief, or understanding?
No, I said. None of those things are crimes. And I’m sorry I brought it up. I only thought you’d be interested, that’s all.
But my grandmother didn’t answer. Instead, owing to the fact that she was very old, she fell asleep.
Since there was nothing to do at home, I decided to take another walk. But this time, when I came to the road, I went in the opposite direction so I wouldn’t have to see the young woman and her silly pears.
Oddly enough, however, my plan didn’t work. After walking several minutes, I met the very same woman trying to sell the very same pears. What on earth are you doing all the way over here? I said. I thought you had cornered the market on the west side of the village.
Very funny, the young woman said. For your information, I grew tired of selling pears on the west side, so I decided to come here, to the east side. I sincerely hope this is all right with you. Or do I need your permission?
No, I said, you do not need my permission. I am not the minister of local affairs. I am only a young man out for a walk on a beautiful autumn day. Tell me. Have you sold many pears since the last time we met?
Not a one, the young woman confessed. But I will, and soon. Very soon.
How can you be so sure? I said. It seems to me, everyone has all the pears they need.
That’s possible, she said. But they don’t have my pears.
No, they don’t, I said. And at the price you’re asking, they aren’t likely to.
Then, rather than get into another argument, we dismissed each other with an impatient wave that looked as if we were chasing away a fly.
I continued on my way. The weather was so fine, when I came to the end of the village, I followed the road until it led up into the hills. After walking for about an hour, I saw someone in the distance, standing beside the road. It was the young woman again, selling her high-priced pears. Good afternoon, I said when we were finally face to face. This is becoming quite a habit.
It certainly is, the young woman said.
Pardon me for asking, I said, but have you sold any pears yet?
No, not a one, she said. But I will.
Of course you will, I said. In the meantime, I was wondering. Would you consider selling one to me? I’ve been walking for a long time and am quite hungry.
I might, she said. It all depends.
On what? I said. The price?
No, she said. On something else.
Oh? And what might that be? I said.
The young woman smiled. Instead of answering, she reached into her bucket and picked up one of her pears. She bit into it, then offered the fruit to me. Go ahead, she said. Taste it. You will be amazed at how good it is. Happily, I took a bite from the pear. Without a doubt, it was the sweetest I’d ever had.
Then, suddenly, something strange happened. Before my eyes, the beautiful young woman turned into an old woman who looked very much like my grandmother. At the same time, I, too, became old.
It was the most frightening moment I had ever experienced. Trembling, I asked the young-old woman what she had done.
This is who we are, she said. This is what we will be. Before we marry, I wanted you to understand. I will not always be beautiful, and you will not always be handsome. It is our love for one another that matters, and nothing else.
And then, by some miracle, we were both young again. And I did understand. I understood my grandmother’s words, and I understood why the young woman wanted so much for her pears. Most important of all, I understood that young men really are donkeys, until they meet just the right young woman, whether or not she is beautiful, and whether or not he is handsome.
And that, my dear grandson, is the story of how I met your grandmother. Now, come to the table, and we will eat one of her bright, golden pears.
No Time to Cut My Hair, Author’s Press Series, 2009
Story 55 of 70 written in 90 days, 1,180 words, October 12, 2002