Guava Pacing

As a teacher, I have to suffer through some God awful meetings. However, in the one I attended today, a spark of light burst in my brain that simply would not go out. I’ve long struggled with how to define “pacing”. I certainly know when it’s bad. But how would you define it, and then teach it to others?

Pacing is time manipulation. The best line to describe this come from the movie Deep Blue Sea. L L Cool J’s character is trying to describe Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“Grab hold of a hot pan, second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, an hour can seem like a second. It’s all relative.”

That ability to slow down or speed up time is what good writers, and directors do. The story below is a perfect piece to demonstrate how well pacing can twist time.


How to Eat a Guava

By Esmeralda Santiago

There are guavas at the Shop & Save. I pick one the size of a tennis ball and finger the prickly stem end. It feels familiarly bumpy and firm. The guava is not quite ripe; the skin is still a dark green. I smell it and imagine a pale pink center, the seeds tightly embedded in the flesh.

A ripe guava is yellow, although some varieties have a pink tinge. The skin is thick, firm, and sweet. Its heart is bright pink and almost solid with seeds. The most delicious part of the guava surrounds the tiny seeds. The most delicious part of the guava surrounds the tiny seeds. If you don’t know how to eat a guava, the seeds end up in the crevices between your teeth.

When you bite into a ripe guava, your teeth must grip the bumpy surface and sink into the thick edible skin without hitting the center. It takes experience to do this, as it’s quite tricky to determine how far beyond the skin the seeds begin.

Some years ago, when the rains have been plentiful and the nights cool, you can bite into a guava and not find many seeds. The guava bushes grow close to the ground, their branches laden with green then yellow fruit that seem to ripen overnight. These guavas are large and juicy, almost seedless, their roundness enticing you to have one more, just one more, because next year the rains may not come.

As children, we didn’t always wait for the fruit to ripen. We raided the bushes as soon as the guavas were large enough to bend the branch.

A green guava is sour and hard. You bite into it at its widest point, because it’s easier to grasp with your teeth. You hear the skin, meat, and seeds crunching inside your head, while the inside of your mouth explodes in little spurts of sour.

You grimace, your eyes water, and your cheeks disappear as your lips purse into a tight O. But you have another and then another, enjoying the crunchy sounds, the acid taste, the gritty texture of the unripe center. At night, your mother makes you drink castor oil, which she says tastes better than a green guava. That’s when you know for sure that you’re a child and she has stopped being one.

I had my last guava the day we left Puerto Rico. It was large and juicy, almost red in the center, and so fragrant that I didn’t want to eat it because I would lose the smell. All the way to the airport I scratched at it with my teeth, making little dents in the skin, chewing small pieces with my front teeth, so that I could feel the texture against my tongue, the tiny pink pellets of sweet.

Today, I stand before a stack of dark green guavas, each perfectly round and hard, each $1.59. The one in my hand is tempting. It smells faintly of late summer afternoons and hopscotch under the mango tree. But this is autumn in New York, and I’m no longer a child.

The guava joins its sisters under the harsh fluorescent lights of the exotic fruit display. I push my cart away, toward the apples and pears of my adulthood, their nearly seedless ripeness predicable and bittersweet.


Think, how much time has actually elapsed? It might have been only a few seconds, but it feels so much longer. That’s because the space within is filled with memories and emotions. Also, consider her movement. She stands still pretty much the whole time.

Amazing writing. Now I’ll have to go and read the book.

Tim Kane

4 comments on “Guava Pacing

  1. I’ve never tasted a ripe guava, but have had it in exotic drinks when we were in Hawaii – a lifetime ago! The author definitely transports you to a place far away, but her descriptions of eating the whole fruit are so tantalizing, you hardly notice how long the passage is. Like you, I think this is brilliant writing. 🙂

  2. […] Specifically collapsing time and blowing it up. For an amazing example, check out “How to Eat a Guava” by Esmeralda Santiago. This really shows how time can be expanded to fill pages, but only […]

  3. juliabarrett says:

    I pick guavas from some of the self-starting trees here – they escape containment. Kinda make my throat itch.
    That being said, The Deep Blue Sea definitely has some stellar moments – that is one of them.

  4. […] to connect secondary elements to give a more meaningful reading experience, and Tim Kane gives a wonderful example of pacing using a story about a […]

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