At age fifty, after three decades of rejection, Eldon marries an onion. Before the onion, Eldon had fallen in love with hundreds of women. They were always young, slender, and charming. The first woman he ever proposed to was named Lita, she had red hair and wore a pointy bra under pink angora. He said to her, “Lita, I love you. I want to marry you.” To which Lita responded, “That’s nice.” He was twenty then. His sisters told him it was because he kept going for young and beautiful, and young and beautiful only want rich and richer.
Eldon picks apples and pears and sometimes cherries. He takes home the bruised apples and pears that cannot be sold. He saves boxes of them for winter. He carves apples into little half-moon shavings for dessert. Eldon believes that one day, a beautiful woman will love him because he’s a hardworking, honest man. He believes this woman will listen to A.M. radio in the evenings with him, eat apples with him, and that life will be simple and good.
Eldon begins wearing hats because he thinks it will make him look sophisticated, distinguished and that women will like it. It works at first. When his face is shaven and his clothes are clean, Eldon doesn’t look so bad, and with a hat putting on just the right amount of shadow over his eyes, well, he’s damn attractive. At least, this is what Kathy and her friend Vivian think, as they watch him walk through the park, picking cherries from a paper bag, and popping them in his mouth. The two girls ask Eldon to drive them places. Once, even to Montana to visit Vivian’s diabetic aunt. But when Eldon tries to kiss Vivian-he put his hand to her face right before-Vivian steps back, she asks to be taken home.
These scenarios continue into Eldon’s thirties, and forties. Apples turn into applesauce. Eldon’s hats begin to slump like sad little mushrooms. Finally he leaves apple orchards for the onion fields. He desires something less sweet. When the onions stop growing they lose their color, weaken at the top of the bulb and flop over. Less experienced gardeners ask, “What’s wrong?” Not Eldon. He knows this is Nature’s plan. The leaves have put the last of their energy into the bulbs. Eldon also knows that there is no wrong time to pull an onion, as onions always have something to offer.
Eldon brings home the surplus. When he chops onions into cubes for soup he doesn’t fall for the sting. His eyes do not well up with tears. But as he pulls the last onion, removes her brown, papery skin, he reveals a luminous, pearly white face. Her eyes search her new surroundings. Eldon runs his finger down the side of her face. She doesn’t complain about the coarseness of his hands. Take me, her eyes say.
Eldon does just that. He says his vows and takes her to bed. He points out the window at the night sky and tells her the stars are hers. He kisses her tiny mouth. They fall to sleep in purrs.
Eldon is sixty. He keeps his wife inside his hat. In the evenings, he puts her in his lap. For dinner, always soup and tea. But this night stirs with the unexpected and Eldon sets his wife on the counter and answers the door. A woman in rags stands before him, her head bowed, her feet bare.
“Can I help you?” Eldon asks.
She lifts her eyes, just barely, and says, “I was young then. I didn’t know.”
Eldon recognizes Vivian beneath the sun-damaged skin, the faded gray color of her eyes.
Vivian presses Eldon’s hand to her cheek. “Take me,” she says. Meanwhile, Eldon’s onion-wife rolls off the counter, splitting into perfect, half moons.