Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Murray Bail's Book, Eucalyptus

In Murray Bail’s book Eucalyptus there is a wonderful story about an Italian fruit shop owner in Carlton. He reckoned he was the first shop keeper in Melbourne to call himself a FRUITOLOGIST which was painted in green letters outside his shop.

His shop in Carlton was famous for its displays of fruit. Not the usual pyramids of apples—instead he did detailed maps of Italy using green and yellow peppers, the state of Queensland to celebrate the mango season. National flags, football, clocks and cyclists were some of his memorable subjects.

As he got better he turned to fruit sculptures of nativity scenes, Ayers Rock using red Tasmanian apples, anti-war scenes using custard apples, cantaloupes, and pineapples. It was good for business, it gave great pleasure to customers and people would come by each Monday and say, "What have you dreamed up for us this week?"

Working next door in the cake shop was a young woman. Occasionally she stepped into his shop to buy a bunch of grapes but she'd barely say ‘thank you’. Whenever she passed, he paused to look at her. Never once did she acknowledge him. Never once did she take an interest in his fruit displays.

This woman had extraordinary blue eyes — eyes like those of a Persian cat. Even more extraordinary was the way she was always looking at herself — every time she passed a mirror, a window, a shiny car bonnet or even a puddle — she would look and preen herself. Here was self-absorption to the extreme.

The fruitologist was not very handsome but he became obsessed with her. He'd love to develop a friendship so he spent all his time trying to catch her attention. One Sunday he drew up a list of exotic fruit. He went to the market and selected each item for weight, shape and evenness. Then on Monday the customers gathered when he raised the shutters. He was like a politician unveiling a bronze stature. All the tourists were clicking their cameras and a lecturer in Art History at the nearby University called it a masterpiece.

Then she appeared. As she arrived in high heels he left his customer in mid sentence to move to the front of the shop. She was in a hurry but she looked at herself in reflective surfaces. She walked straight passed the window without noticing anything special. On her way out her attention was caught not by this fruit sculpture but by the side mirror of a parked truck.

But there she was — modelled in the window, her head on bare shoulders, pictured in this amazing fruit mosaic. It had her peaches and cream complexion, there was sliced apple and dates for her nose, paw paw for her forehead, a banana for her chin, pomegranate to display her glistening teeth, kiwifruit fur for her eyebrows, luscious, juicy plums for her lips, a bunch of guavas for her ears, pears formed her shoulders and other bits and pieces too subtle to immediately recognise contributed to the whole.
With a split in the forehead and a delicate placement of nectarines and figs he had even captured her self obsession.

It was all there in loving accuracy, all except the eyes. He had been unable to find a light blue fruit. For without the eyes she apparently could not see herself.

Geoff Pound

Source: Murray Bail, Eucalyptus, 119.