Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Drops: An Excerpt from Inferno (a poet's novel)

Written by Eileen Myles
  I read an ad in the New York Times looking for people to pick apples upstate during harvest. At the time I was making a meager living working at a bar, so I decided to get up the next morning and go to Milton, New York to find work. I figured at the very least the trip would give me something to write about. I was 24 or 25. 
I read an ad in the New York Times looking for people to pick apples upstate during harvest. At the time I was making a meager living working at a bar, so I decided to get up the next morning and go to Milton, New York to find work. I figured at the very least the trip would give me something to write about. I was 24 or 25.

I set my alarm, and overslept and missed the first bus. I refused to speed up and was sitting in the tub smoking a cigarette when I realized I had missed the second one as well. I got on the 1045. I sat next to a woman who slipped out her Newports at the same time I produced my pack of Gauloise. Where d’you get those, she asked. Here, I shrugged (indicating the City) and we both laughed. She lived upstate. I told her what I was doing and she nodded silently. I’m going to Marlboro, she said. Milton’s right after. You just get right off after me. And she gave me a protective nudge. When she got off the bus she performed an elaborate mime with her face: winking and pointing to let me know it was soon. Since I was already looking out the window in a continual dream, her excessive help was actually crucial. I did get off and walked into a little store right there. Excuse me, I said to the man behind the counter who wore a baseball cap. There was a woman standing beside him and she had on a tight slightly tattered cowboy shirt. Both of them were smoking. Uh-huh the guy said. But his body didn’t move. I’m looking to get work picking apples I told him. My hair had recently been cut short, and that morning I had put on a light blue work shirt and a pair of jeans and I wore deck shoes on my feet, red ones. I probably looked more like I was going to Nantucket than to work in the harvest. I probably believed I was going to be singing folk songs for a few weeks. I wouldn’t make a lot of money but I would have a different experience of work.
You a boy or a girl. The guy stubbed his cigarette out and grinned at the woman. Her face was impassive. A girl, I replied. At this the woman decided to talk to me. You’d probably do your best going to Hepworth’s. They’re up the road, but Conn’s is even closer and they hire people too. They’re the first fruit stand, about a mile down the road.

Thanks, I said. Maybe I’ll get a drink. I walked over to the cooler and pulled out a Tab. I don’t know where you’re going to stay, however. Then as an afterthought she added. There’s plenty of work.

Stay? I’d figured I’d stay with the workers.

Well, most of the women who pick during the season are local girls so they just go home. My sister does that. Most of the men in town already have jobs—at that, she turned and elbowed her sidekick, and began talking to him. And some of them don’t care. Jamaicans do it. Lot of Jamaican fellers get brought in and they house them. I never heard of them housing any women. I struggled with my Tab, trying to open it. I used the tail of my work shirt and then it was a little wet and gross. Well, okay. You go to Hepworth’s. Just down the road the man chimed in smiling and his teeth were bad.

Then I was standing outside thinking they felt mean and my idea was over. However, there I was and I had to do something. I had just come back from Europe (about two years ago) and I still thought of my life as traveling. My life in New York was traveling. In Europe we learned that our trip would have been better if we actually were doing something. If we were buying doorknobs or really liked art. Really knew it or cared. Something. But I had  fallen into a thing now, (writing) more or less so I just had to fill in the details all the time while I was doing it. To make it real. I usually moved around with envelopes and paper and stamps and was likely to stop at a café or a coffee shop and shoot off a letter to my friend in Boston about what was happening to me now. I was thinking of him while I was walking down the road. It hadn’t occurred to me yet that this was my life. It was professional.

Want a ride said a guy in a mustard colored van. Okay I said stepping up. I’m going to Conn’s, I said. It’s right. . . He grinned broadly and moved the van’s flat steering wheel like a boat. He had a cigarette in his mouth. I know  where Conn’s is. So what are you doing here? He was looking up and down my legs. I could really feel it. I put that in my letter. He thinks I’m a fag. Picking apples. I don’t know if there’s anywhere to stay for a feller like you. What’s a young guy like you doing up here. You should be in the city, meeting some girls. My chest, my crotch. He’s really looking me over. He had a hula girl on his dashboard. I gave her a little shove. I’m glad I did that.

He leaned across to let me out. Good luck. I don’t know where you’re gonna stay, but I guess you can always try.

I’m thinking try what, thanks I waved straight ahead as I jumped down. That felt weird. Do you hire people to pick apples. I was in a slightly nice fruit stand. The man working there couldn’t seem to focus on where I was standing. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve as if he were eating something. Which people. Excuse me. I’m just finishing my lunch. Me, I want to pick apples. Where are you from. The city. The city. And you want to pick. We’re all set. We get our local girls. We’re not that big an operation. You should go to Hepworth’s. You know Hepworth’s. I do. You do. Well, I heard of them. That’s good, he said turning to his sandwich. Yeah, go to Hepworth’s. I’ll do that. Do you have any of that maple candy. I was thinking when I went to the country with my mother on Sundays we would get that maple sugar candy. I loved that candy. No we don’t do that here. Indian corn, apples. Want some apples. He indicated with his back. Lots of apples. I was standing outside lighting a cigarette and then I was walking down the road. Milton was pretty depressing. I actually kind of hated Gauloise. They were worse than cigarettes in that only about one a day tasted good. And you had to get everything right. Be fed, feel well. Have coffee, some sugar. And not be sick. Then a Gauloise would taste really good. Mostly it was like all the acidy parts of your mouth would come screaming forward and you’d be sucking on that. It was much more about smell and looking at things. You were bringing this smell from some place else into the world. And then the blue. I loved that deep blue. The little drawing of Hermes on the pack. It made me feel safe. It was interesting that all of those gods survived as commercials. That was cool. I loved those gods when I was a kid. Anything but catholic. Puff.

I didn’t even go inside Hepworth’s. We house our men over there. The girls are local. But sure you can start on Monday. We don’t pick on Saturday. I guess you could stay at a motel. Monday at 8. We’ll see you then. Whenever I keep walking through something that I know isn’t going to happen I feel like I have a really thin mask on. It. This was a hard day because I spent nineteen dollars on the bus and now I had to get a motel room. They told me how much I got for picking a bushel of apples and maybe it was twenty dollars but the room was nineteen and so I would basically be spending every cent on rent and I already had an apartment in New York that cost a hundred sixty dollars so it was like I would be paying to pick apples not only that but losing money and part of what I had wanted was to make money. And then maybe write an article about it for the village voice. I needed to make money. I remember in Europe kids turning their noses up at us eating escargot -- going to French restaurants cause they were living on granola. It was always these same kids who wired home for money. I was not them. And I wasn’t leaving my home in the morning to go pick apples. I was not a local woman with a child. I didn’t know how the men from Jamaica got here. I did not come on a plane. I did not come on a boat. I paid for my own bus ticket. I did this to myself. There was a bar next to the motel. I remember sitting in the bathroom which was knotty pine and cold with the window open. If I wasn’t writing to Jack I just felt like a fool. I looked at myself like my family would see me. I didn’t look like a woman or a man and I didn’t live here or anywhere. In Hepworth’s I asked what are drops.

Beautiful apples were arranged in baskets all over the store and then there were these other ones, actually fatter in baskets to the side with no price on them. Just what it sounds like. No one picks em. They just fall. Take some. They’re good apples. People just don’t like the idea. But they’re good. I stuffed three in my bag. I took four. After the bar I went and got another three. It was getting dark in Milton and the bar felt a little scary. I didn’t tell people anymore that I was there to pick apples. By the time the Monday came I would have been broke. I was kind of broke now – after lunch and breakfast and two bus tickets and three drinks sitting at the bar writing letters. I was lying on my skinny bed in Roger’s motel where I wouldn’t live and I ate the apples one by one. That was my dinner except for peanuts in the bar. I was thinking it was 560 calories. I was sick of them by the time I had three but there was nothing else to do so I kept biting and swallowing and I got them all down and finally I fell asleep. I just don’t know why they would have advertised picking apples if there was no place to live. I fell asleep thinking about that.

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