Karen Gleb was a disagreeable old woman. Every fold on her wrinkled face contributed to her resting scowl. And yet, the yellow bananas greeted her as she passed through the produce department like a hundred sunny upturned smiles. It made the town’s resident battle-ax sick with disgust. Mrs. Gleb glared at a woman loading her cart with bananas. Freak, thought Mrs. Gleb. Sure, the fruit tasted okay. But only a dippy clown would want such a goofy-looking thing sitting in her kitchen all week long. Instead, Karen loaded her cart with radishes, chard, liver, and brine. The natural opposites of bananas and happiness.
The cashiers eyed each other nervously as the crotchety old woman approached the check-out counters. Who was going to be the lucky winner this week? Please, God, not me; they prayed with sweaty brows. The clerk at register two made eye contact for just a second too long. Mrs. Gleb locked in on his gaze and approached his check-out line. She’d teach him to stare at an elderly woman.
As the clerk placed the groceries into a paper bag, he crushed Mrs. Gleb’s liver with her box of brine.
“Do I need to call your manager over here to teach you how to pack groceries?” asked Mrs. Gleb.
“My apologies, Ma’am,” said the clerk, “I guess you can say that I’m one banana short of a bunch today.” He wondered if the woman would soften with the old expression.
“I wouldn’t say such a thing,” said Mrs. Gleb, “I. Hate. Bananas.”
“Oh, my... well…” the clerk floundered. He had never met someone who hated bananas. Even if you don’t eat them, it’s still a fun word to say, thought the clerk.
“Have a nice day,” he said as he handed the old woman her change.
“Have a nice day, Ma’am,” corrected Mrs. Gleb. She tore the paper bag out of the young man’s hands and shuffled out of the store.
On her walk home, she passed a Banana Republic outlet. Now, that’s a stupid name for a store peddling blazers, thought Mrs. Gleb. She noted bananas as the annoying theme of the day. The storefront was the third encounter, and it annoyed her how difficult it was to think of anything else besides bananas. She crossed the street and came upon a busy ice cream parlor. A dozen outdoor tables with red and white striped umbrellas littered the patio. However, the first thing that caught Mrs. Gleb’s attention was a banana split shared by a young couple. One banana sliced lengthwise into two upturned smiles; ice cream and a cherry on top. What kind of imbecile came up with that travesty? Frustrated, she crossed the street again, not paying any mind to traffic. Cars screeched to a halt and honked at the jaywalking woman, who neither batted an eye nor picked up her pace. A fortune-teller sat at a table outside her shop and watched the old woman cause pandemonium in the street.
“I think a tarot card reading would benefit you today, my friend,” said the seer.
“I’m not your friend,” said Mrs. Gleb, “but if I were, I’d advise that you get an actual job. You antique hippie.”
“I’m getting a lot of negative energy from you,” said the seer, her hands hovering in the air between them both.
“Well, aren’t you insightful,” said the old woman.
“Watch the bananas. They will be the death of you!” cried the seer, as though inspired.
Unwilling to give the fortune-teller the satisfaction of her piqued interest, the old woman growled, “Seems about right.”
Alarmed by the seer’s warning, Mrs. Gleb counted the banana references she encountered that day. It wasn’t just a few. The bananas were piling up. She wondered, can a fruit actually kill someone? Her eyes scanned the ground for banana peels as she walked up to her condo. The property had a shared pool in the center of the complex. The pool boy, Todd, was performing his daily duties in his bright yellow banana print banana hammock. Oh, that is just blatant and sick, thought Mrs. Gleb as she unlocked the door to her unit. Before she could step inside, her landlord, Ralph, approached.
“Mrs. Gleb, remember, you need to be out of the apartment tomorrow. Exterminator’s coming,” said Ralph.
“And where do you suggest I go?” said the old woman.
“Maybe you can stay with family,” suggested Ralph.
The woman glared.
“Or a friend?” tried Ralph.
“What if I stay put? Will you call the police to haul me out of my home?”
“No,” said Ralph, “but it would complicate things. Sammy said everyone needs to be out of the building. And he’s the top banana.”
“Come again?” asked Mrs. Gleb.
“Everyone needs to be out,” he said.
“No, after that,” said the old woman.
“He’s the top banana? You know, like the big cheese.”
“Well, which is he? Cheese or a banana?”
“Does it matter?” asked Ralph.
“Yes. That’s why I’m asking,” said Mrs. Gleb.
“Sammy’s a banana,” decided Ralph, after some consideration.
Mrs. Gleb massaged the bridge of her nose and exhaled. “Fine,” she said as she entered her unit and slammed the door in the man’s face.
The following day, Mrs. Gleb boarded a bus and left town. It was true she had no place to go. But the more distance from “top banana” Sam and his chemicals, the better. A young girl wearing headphones in the row behind her was listening to Gwen Stefani so loudly the song could be heard rows away. Oh no, you don’t, thought the old woman. Arriving prepared for such an occasion, Mrs. Gleb jammed plugs far into her ears until they muffled out all auditory signs of life.
She took out a copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Finally, she thought, something of substance. Mrs. Gleb wasn’t a connoisseur of literature. She only bought the book because she liked its title. As banana symbolism presented itself in the text, her face contorted in shock. Ears still plugged, Mrs. Gleb shouted, “WHAT THE HELL IS WITH YOU PEOPLE AND BANANAS!” Mrs. Gleb barged off the bus at the airport, convinced that traveling to the next town wouldn’t cut it. She would need to board a plane north to escape this fruity blight on the map, once and for all.
She purchased a seat on a non-stop flight to Maine. Lobster. Now that is serious food, she thought. I’ll take a sea cockroach over a banana any day. Before getting comfortable, she thought it best to cover all bases. She waved the flight attendant over to her seat.
“How can I help you, Hon?” said the peppy young woman.
“You can start by guaranteeing me that this will be a banana-free flight, Hon.”
“There won’t be,” she answered.
“There won’t be what?” probed Mrs. Gleb.
“Bananas, of course!” said the woman.
“You’re sure you don’t have any?” said the old woman, demanding absolute clarity.
The cheerful flight attendant quipped in a singsong voice, “Yes, we have no bananas -”
Mrs. Gleb grabbed the young woman by the shirt. “Now, don’t get cute with me, you little snot. If I see so much as one banana, I’m going to go straight to your manager. Or my name isn’t Karen Gleb.”
The flight attendant sucked in the corners of her mouth to stop herself from laughing as she asked, “Are you the original Karen?”
Mrs. Gleb released the flight attendant when the pilot announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts. We’re experiencing some turbulence due to poor weather.”
The plane shook with increasing intensity, and the oxygen masks dropped from above. As Mrs. Gleb rushed to don her mask, she elbowed the little girl next to her in the face without apology. Well, get out of my way, thought the old woman. This is a crisis, and I am your elder.
“Everything is fine,” said the pilot over the intercom, “This weather formation is just… bananas!”
That was the last thing Mrs. Gleb heard before the plane fell out of the sky. The next thing she knew, she was clinging to a wing in the middle of the ocean. A yellow banana-looking raft appeared, and she seriously considered drowning to death rather than going near the thing. Don’t be ridiculous, Mrs. Gleb thought to herself as she clamored aboard. It just looks like a banana. The raft had oars, and the survivors rowed their way to a nearby deserted island with no help from the old woman.
The survivors surveyed the beach. Upon taking inventory, they agreed that locating food and water was crucial to their survival. Soon after commencing their search through the fringes of the jungle, they realized the island had a wealth of bananas. Upon hearing the news, Mrs. Gleb began kicking and punching the nearest banana tree. The tall stalk swayed back and forth as she repeatedly struck its base. The blows caused a colossal bushel of bananas to detach from their stalk, hurtle to earth, and land on top of the furious woman. The crew members rushed to investigate the loud thud. They saw the bushel of bananas on the ground with Mrs. Gleb’s arms and legs flailing out from underneath it.
As they hauled the fruit off of the old woman, the flight attendant said, “Hey, I thought you hated bananas!”
Delirious, Mrs. Gleb requested to speak to the manager. The group reminded her they were all survivors of a plane crash. “Hon, there is no manager on the island,” said the flight attendant.
“Like hell, there’s not,” mumbled the stubborn old woman, spitting out a broken tooth.
For the next two days, Mrs. Gleb sat in the fetal position, gnawing at her fingernails and rocking back and forth. She was losing her mind to hunger. The others had had a ball harvesting bananas, singing Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song.” There was joy on this desolate island, and it was causing the old woman to snap.
Unwilling to let her fellow survivors witness her defeat, she waited long after nightfall before tearing a banana off a bunch. She stuffed the whole fruit in her mouth and munched. See, I’m not afraid of a damn banana, thought Mrs. Gleb. The fruit was just sweet enough, dense, and satisfying. She ate another. So what if they’re cheerful? And another. And another. She smiled at the peels around her feet; the silky skins cool on her toes. She giggled as she took another. And another. She was belly laughing, almost in complete hysterics, eating her eighth banana. She slid on the peels in the darkness and reached out to the tree for support. She threw her head back and laughed with a mouth full of banana. In this action, Karen Gleb choked on her eighth banana and died.
The Coast Guard arrived on the island to rescue the survivors mere hours later. They brought Mrs. Gleb’s body with them to the mainland for a proper burial. The crew deliberated over what had transpired on the island. With no next of kin, they devised a sentimental send-off for their fallen comrade. Karen Gleb’s tombstone reads: Find the joy in your banana while the sun still shines.