issue 03: body of water
the forbidden fruit1gabriel chalfin-piney
I remember the first house, Diddell Road, in Wappingers Falls, the pond in the back yard next to the apple orchard. Technically it was the second house—the first was a loft on Hubert Street. At Diddell, you could smell horses across the street—stables where New York’s wealthy would pay someone to babysit the tamed through the winter months. Photo albums of my father in the snow, wearing nothing but boots, a cheeky smile on his face. Photos of me, holding up my toilet, tipping the contents onto my parents. The bathroom was down the hall from the front door, on the left, across from the stairs. It had a pull handle with a cord that disappeared into the ceiling. My first few birthdays—chocolate, snot, and tears caking my face—before we realised I had a tiptoeing fondness-aversion to chocolate. I remember, in my A-frame bedroom with the sloping ceiling, before I started going to school, touching my friend’s bare ass. “You’re too young.”
I remember another story from my first home, transmuted by my mother. My father rushing out of the house with a baseball bat, barrelling towards the pond, down the hill that curved out and down from where the house let out its belt. The heron who frequented our pond was fighting for footing, a snapping turtle’s jaw wrapped around its leg, pulling it under the water’s surface. My father with a wooden bat in hand, swinging at the turtle to free the heron. The trio miniatured by the mushrooming bow of the elderly willow tree that shaded the pond. I was told, the bat was a tree trunk from our yard. My father’s memory detailed my experience, “Daddy why don’t we go hit the heron again?” The next day we went down to the pond and the heron was gone.
I remember the following year in the spring we saw a heron flying over the yard with a broken leg: “Harry the Heron.” The same day, we went down to the pond to check on the turtle. As we approached the bank we saw its form, several feet from the water’s edge. The turtle had either vacated its shell or did not make it through the winter, I reached my puppety hands into the caved opening and was stopped by the fringed edges of paper. Forbidden Fruit,2 a tattered history stolen away into a turtle’s hull.
In 1641, we met Captain Thomas Chaddock,3 his son, Captain John Shattock, and his grandson, Captain Thomas Cammock.4
Chaddock’s family, all appointed captains of the East India Company, took and took from each island in the Caribbean.
We wanted to tell the story for you, so you know it was us—we planted the forbidden fruit—not Captain Shaddock.
I remember the second house: Kate Millet’s Christmas Tree Farm, in LaGrange.5 The pond in the woods—trio of houses, a chicken, a trumpet—and the tub on the deck. I remember Kate would come back from the store with two handles of rye. She would drink them alone in the barn, or with company—Sophie6—or her writing. Ingrained in grain—a functioning way to be consumed. I remember flying kites in between the Christmas trees, playing hide and go seek with Jasper and Josh, watching my mother paint in her studio. Our back deck, normal except for a large bathtub sunken into the middle. I remember my mother and I bathing in the turquoise-grey moonlight.
I remember learning what the middle finger stood for at that house—a friend from Hebrew school pointed it out to me. I had action figures from the show Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. I would play in the unfinished attic of the house, my asthma communing with the insulation. I remember watching Chuck “Rat Face” Knoblauch playing for the Yankees on the small TV. My father said his nickname was on account of his puckered face and skittish hand movements while at bat. My parents’ memories from this house both surround how many mice we had and the water's proximity. At the farm we shared a pond with a rotting deck sequestered strangely on the property, cattails and creeping jenny forcing a narrow entry path—green filament matting from beneath the fallen leaves and ended insects. I would go out to the deck and pull the scum around my toes, harlequin-lime green pigs in a blanket. In these moments I would remember the manuscript. Hidden in the insulation of the attic, guarded by mice.
In the early 1600s, the Chaddock-Shattock-Cammock family would ferry supplies between England, Bermuda, and Virginia. They had been gouging the ground on every island, and piling rooted trees on the beaches.
In 1620, the “Tear-Up Shaddocks” built the first structure to imprison people on the island of Barbados. The term “tear up” was coined to describe their actions.
I remember the third house on Main Street in Pleasant Valley, with the space to crawl under. The Wappinger Creek ran through our back yard. I remember an eel ten feet long swam by me one day when I was guiding a canoe down the stream. I remember my father making pancakes the day after my birthday sleepover—days after Y2K—putting one on top of A.J.’s head, cascading in all directions: a knight’s helmet of wheat.
I remember entering the new millennium at that house, gold and fluorescent green decorations in plastics. I remember soft clothing was a requirement then, pawing every top at JCPenney and Kohl’s. I settled for bright graphic silk shirts adorned with lazily appropriated designs. I needed something to hold my skin in. I would rip or nibble the tags out, digging a hole in everything I wore, disregarding the parental suggestion of scissors. “You’ll break your teeth on that.” Jay broke my mother’s favourite vase with a wiffle ball bat while we reviewed cards embossed with spells. Another look at the manuscript—siloed within—masked the secret with a gestural façade of noisy blame.
One evening in 1649 we were blown by Barbados
and began to circle the island, winding round, searching for a clearing.
We landed on a beach and started to dig in the shallow water, depositing the seedlings we had collected.7
The seeds grew in the light of the day, from underneath, spreading into the unspeakable enclosures of the jailer’s compound.
The forbidden fruit dropped to the ground, crushing each wall, clearing the halted pathways, removing what was deemed punishment.
I remember The Barn—our fourth house on Spackenkill Road, in Poughkeepsie. We shared the building with four families at Oakwood, a Quaker boarding school. My mother was the head of the art department. The summer we moved into the apartment, they shifted all of the dirt from a large area to build a baseball diamond and soccer field. They piled the dirt in the woods next to our home. Mountains of dirt, perfect for nine-year-olds. I played in that dirt for the better part of six years. I remember sledding down the hill and hitting a hay bale, knocking the wind out of me. Past the dirt pile was an area of the woods the rain would fill. In the winter a perfect ice skating rink emerged, dotted with vertical monkey bar trees breaking through the top layer. In the spring I found a dead deer under a raspberry bush, frozen on the outside, moving with rhythm on the inside.
I remember the house at Meyer Avenue, in Poughkeepsie. Day after day I would sink onto this rusted lawn chair pulled in by cream vinyl strips, baking in the sun, reading Kay Larson’s Where the Heart Beats, staring at the bird bath left by a former renter. I would put new water in the trough and it would grow cloudy throughout the day. Larson’s book is fused to my memory of that house. I would read it during the days and Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart in the evenings. The two books sandwiched my health together. I was hoarding then, driving around the Hudson Valley picking up scrap metal for sculptures, piling the rusted collections in the garage. The time at this house was dry, dehydrated; there was not nearly enough water to cycle through my body. Something was not working.
In 2020, we were blown to a different set of shores. Here, too, were jails and prisons. Walls built high with whole communities inside. There were no trees, no fruit, so we planted the forbidden fruit tree in the courtyard. As night came it grew, it flowered and bloomed. It grew and grew until its roots moved over the tops of the walls. It grew and grew until every wall was flattened, every container opened.8
I remember the first house on Kimball Avenue, in Chicago. The first time I went to the Lake alone I took the 72 North bus. When I arrived, I looked for a place to stop. I walked and walked. It grew dark. I came upon an empty beach that grew in fluorescence as the heat passed into my feet. It was a curve, revealing more as the terrain slinked into the vanishing. I noticed the form of a boat out on the lake, sinuous, carving back and forth just past the shallows of the beach, water muddied with clay. A crowd on the beach was watching the shadow slink nearer to the shore. As it grew closer, I knew it was no ship, but a specific, cartilaginous form: the pond’s snapping turtle from so many years ago. I was small again in comparison; we had both grown, hydrated. Its clawed foot beckoned and I knew it was here for the manuscript, for me. No one on the beach packed anything—all were sitting, waiting for the final scene, teeth and fingernails sunken into forbidden fruit9 skins10—
—not planted by Captain Shaddock.
Let it be clear that the forbidden fruit was planted by us. It lives with us. It is planted in every courtyard where people are unable to leave.
Not every tree grows at the same rate, for there are many more courtyards, compounds, enclosures, and cells than there were.
Yet this fruit will grow. It will grow until it encases the earth.
It will spill, wet and judgeless across the planet.
For those who continue to eat the fruit, before it is ripe, remember.
For those who eat the fruit, but do not plant it, remember.
For when it washes ashore, and we do not throw it back, remember.
1 “Forbidden fruit” (or “fwee dayfwandee” in St. Lucian creole, translating to “fruit forbidden”) has held various meanings, either indicating the grapefruit or pomelo of the citrus family or indicating a citrus similar to the grapefruit, no longer in existence or unknown by botanists outside of the Caribbean. Kim D. Bowman and Frederick G. Gmitter, Jr., “Forbidden Fruit (Citrus sp., Rutaceae) Rediscovered in Saint Lucia,” Economic Botany 44.2 (April–June 1990), 167.
2 It has not been confirmed if there is an accurate accounting of the Chaddock-Shattock-Cammock family tree. The entire history is speculative at best. Perhaps Forbidden Fruit—this found manuscript—is the most authentic retelling of the citrus’s life and the people who were involved with the fruit. These are the facts I have gathered; you are invited to fill in the details.
3 Captain Thomas Chaddock was the sheriff of Bermuda from 1630 to 1637 and governor from 1637 to 1640. Philip Shaddock, “The Myth of Captain Shaddock and the Forbidden Fruit,” Shattocke Family History, accessed 11 December 2020.
4 According to the Shattocke Family History, there was a good deal of confusion surrounding Thomas Chaddock and Thomas Cammock. A lack of evidence makes it difficult to tell how these men were related. A possible descendant of Captain Thomas Chaddock, Philip Shaddock, writes “No Chaddock tested so far has shown to be related to Shattockes. Although the two names are often confused as the legend of Captain Shaddock and the Forbidden Fruit proves, Chaddocks who trace their ancestry back to northern England have so far been tested to be unrelated.” Philip Shaddock, “The Myth of Captain Shaddock and the Forbidden Fruit.”
5 Also known at that time (1998) as “The Farm” or “Women’s Art Colony and Tree Farm,” the colony is now known as the Millett Center for the Arts. First-hand accounts indicate Millet bought the farm in the 1970s, and selling the Christmas trees on the Bowery in Manhattan was the main source of her income for a number of years. By the time we lived on the farm, it was clear that the trees were overgrown and lacked pruning, and the business seemed to have halted, aside from the occasional local who would stop by for a December treat.
6 Sophie Keir (wife to Kate Millet). My mother recalls Sophie as the kinder and gentler half of the couple. Sophie was writing a lot of poetry while we lived on the farm. When asked about the farm, my mother fondly remembered Gloria Steinem books strewn around our rented houses, a perfectly curated collection that she ate up.
7 There is a degree of mystery associated with the historical origin of the grapefruit, stemming from what has been characterised as a disparity of information. A variety of incongruencies exist between the written colonial records and that of the oral histories of the independent islands of the West Indies. The shaddock is known to be one of the maternal progenitors of the grapefruit: “Attempts by the early colonial settlers of Barbados to plant orchards of shaddock (pummelo, Citrus grandis) from seedlings gave rise to the grapefruit (C. paradisi), an apomictic hybrid. Early botanists misidentified the grapefruit as a variety of shaddock, confusing it with a second hybrid growing in Jamaica.” James Macfadyen—the botanist who claims to have first named the species—appears to have described the wrong fruit based on such misidentifications: “Citrus historians of the 20th century have been unable to confirm the existence of a legendary Captain Shaddock, said to have brought the first seeds of the shaddock to Barbados. The present authors have found a basis for the legend, identifying a Captain Chaddock...”—our jailer—“...who traded in the West Indies in the 17th century. In addition, they have rectified the misidentifications of the grapefruit by early botanists that have confused the literature up to the present.” J. Kumamoto, R. W. Scora, H. W. Lawton, and W. A. Clerx, “Mystery of the Forbidden Fruit: Historical Epilogue on the Origin of the Grapefruit, Citrus paradisi (Rutaceae),” Economic Botany 41.1 (January–March 1987), 97.
8 It is unclear, based on any colonial botanists, what the forbidden fruit was, or if it exists today. The forbidden fruit that Griffith Hughes described, based on gustatory and visual descriptions, cannot be the grapefruit but, according to his writing in the 10-volume 1750 publication The natural history of Barbados, perhaps could be attributed to the golden orange tree: “This tree differs not in either its trunk, leaves, or flowers from that already described [The Sour Orange-tree]. It bears a fine orange of a deep yellow within; from whence it derives the name of a Golden Orange. The fruit is neither of the Seville or China kind, tho it partakes of both, having the sweetness of the China mixt with the agreeable bitterness and flavour of the Seville orange.” Clerx et al., “Mystery of the Forbidden Fruit,” 104.
9 In 1750, Hughes described “the most delicious fruit” in Barbados coming from the “Forbidden Fruit” tree. Some research suggested that observers have confused the grapefruit with the forbidden fruit. Clerx et al., “Mystery of the Forbidden Fruit,” 100.
10 “When Saint Lucians were asked about the origin of the name, the only explanation they gave was that forbidden fruit was the fruit described in the Bible, book of Genesis, as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Bowman et al., “Forbidden Fruit (Citrus sp., Rutaceae) Rediscovered in Saint Lucia,” 170.