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A Day, A Cherry

8 August 2018

One cherry went in the box. I picked up another from the crate, and put it in the box. These ones were mostly plump and round, deep red and juicy. A good premium bunch. The pickers must have loved finding this lot, gleaming out there in the sun, in the orchard.

It was Christmas time and the sorting shed was humming with jingle-bell tunes. Lennon was singing on the radio, and then Mariah Carey. Some of us sang to ourselves, though Pete and Kerrie were musicians, so we let them sing unaccompanied when they wanted to. The cherries, when they were delivered in their boxes, sang to people too. Two kilograms—or more—went to the cheeky ones who promised: “It’s not all for me!”

We were checking the cherries for size, colour, rot: a quick spin in the fingertips for a look, then roll them around like little red marbles on our palms. The best ones had those dark tones which made us ooh and ahh, and often those cherries would roll down inside us, and we’d pop up their remains into the rubbish bucket, an uncoordinated pip spit. Sometimes in the process we’d make awkward eye-contact with customers, dribbling the greedy remains of the fruit into the bin.

“Smooth!” said Mimi.

Mimi was standing across from me as we were sorting a crate together. Cherry check, spin, the top, sides, bottom. Mimi had round-rimmed glasses and two brown, quietly excited eyes that glanced up at you when you spoke. She laughed easily, and called it her nervous laugh, but it was really sweet: her piercings on her lip and nose momentarily moving with her mouth.

Around the room was an assortment of sorters sorting cherry after cherry. The sorters were picked from around the country through familial connections, or friendship with one of the Arthur family. I was a coincidence, there because of Jasmine, who was their friend. Jasmine also happened to be taking the Modern and Contemporary Literature class I was in at the University of Melbourne a few months prior. I happened to question her further when she mentioned the words “summer”, “work” and “fruit-picking” in class. She was boxed up in Port Lincoln for the summer though, so I was there on my own. An earnest imposter doing her work. Not a Stella, or a Lapin, but a different variety: an odd Melbourne/Adelaide mix camping in the gentle soils of Yundi, South Australia.

It was about time for a break, too. Uni felt like an endless news story by the end of the semester, what with the theories, the politics, the essays. The only result seemed to be a smog of uncertainty and frustration. I couldn’t figure it all out: how to filter this stuff, what to do with all this information. I suppose that’s what led me to the farm: a respite from questions.

There were breaks from this work too. We’d have them several times a day—for smoko, lunch, the afternoon cuppa. Today was no different: the pickers, sorters, food-preparers, front-counter managers all passed through the kitchen, snacking, chatting. Even Shadow, the dog, came and went, nibbling here and there, carrying on. As the light dwindled, we slowed, got sleepy. The conversations from earlier on gradually phased out, and we fell into in our own little worlds.

“Let’s call it a day,” said Kerrie.

Each of us wandered back to our respective swags and caravans, where we stayed until dinner. I sat outside during this time, and those thoughts I had in Melbourne came back to me: how to exist there, what my place was, whether things would ever start getting clearer. Maybe tomorrow I would overturn a cherry and it would reveal a belief that I’d miscalculated, like Descartes’ bad apples.

Despite these vague worries, dusks were soft. Brown hills covered with lightly scattered, deep green forests stretched around the farm. Birds passed overhead. A ute would drive by, occasionally. Sometimes I’d drift between the raspberry patch and the cherry orchard. The sky was a sort of grey, but not oppressive enough to be called so—existing just enough to be called a sky. Some curious bugs flitted by, enjoying the summer warmth, like me.

Surely nothing could be this good?

The sounds of a boy calling us for dinner came. All echoed grace at the table. I couldn’t seem to believe in God, no matter how much I thought about it. What did it mean to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and benevolent simultaneously? The logic behind it didn’t make sense. Here, however, God wasn’t about church, or strict bible readings, or youth camps. Pete’s dad, more commonly known as K.A., had whispered to me once:

“God is grace.”

And they seemed so happy. They were pretty successful musicians, fruitful orchardists, and relaxed and benevolent people. Their lifestyle seemed impossibly good, being in such a beautiful place, and shaking things up with new adventures when they felt like a change. God seemed to be so contradictory, but did that matter? To them, there was no contradiction.

Maybe it wasn’t religion, but being in the country that made their lives so great. Nature could massage anyone. Perhaps it was the consistent music making. Jacob and Jesse’s band, Ripcord, had gigs every week or so, and heavy rock was in their blood. Maybe it was all of them being super laidback. They had a little house, but they didn’t seem to care for anything huge, or super-fancy. It could’ve just been watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine every night, and being able to laugh at the antics of Holt, Diaz, Boyle. This particular night, as an episode was ending, the conversation ambled, and Pete spoke up.

“Cos we want to provide good fruit for people. And why wouldn’t we? That’s what it’s all about, like, the smiles on people’s faces. And all the pruning, the rot, the year’s wait… is it worth it? For that, I mean. Yeah. No question about it.”

I don’t think the self-service checkout at Woolies had ever said something so nice.

I was sorting with Mimi again the next day, and I was thinking dully about her life, and what had led her here. I’d caught her drawing a nun in her sketchbook, going over the pencil with thick black texta until most of the page was covered with a habit. She would peer at me through those lenses of hers when she sorted cherries, but through them she saw that religious figure, too, and so much more, so differently. These thoughts came and went, swelling like an endless crescendo, decrescendo, over, and over, filled in with the ambient noise of the shop, or pop songs on the radio. A cherry would go by, and a crate, a box, a label, a bird, a smoko, a sunset. Time passed like a transient, waking dream. The farm was unbelievable; all I could do was enjoy the meantime.

Before I knew it, the New Year was upon us, and it was almost time for me to leave. Melbourne would come again, and I’d go back to writing essays, learning stuff, having a stance. I still don’t know what to believe in. For the moment, though, there is a God, and that God says that I don’t need to constantly be on-the-go, or have all the answers, or be forever proving myself, like a good city boy. Here, out in the gorgeous Adelaide Hills, all I need is faith. Faith in the farm, the people here, the work to be done. Nothing else matters. And I think I can live with that.


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