She loved going to markets and holding the fruit in her hand, feeling the tension of the skin and the pulp against her palm. When she found a fruit she liked, she slipped it into her bag, paid the seller, and went home to deposit it into her ceramic fruit bowl. Apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, rolling against each other and resting in silence.
She liked oranges best. When they were suitably ripe, there was no way to eat one without the juice running down her arm and onto her shirt. Everything was sticky, a lavish mess made by this fruit of the gods. Afterward, she would take a paper towel, run it under sink water, and rub her skin to clean up. A ritual.
As teenagers, mature as they thought they were, they indulged in private recklessness: whispered vows, shoddy stick-and-pokes, liquor bottles from the cabinet filled with water.
Her childhood friend, the girl she met on the first day of kindergarten, was now the spoiled sweetness of a past existence, like the oranges once lovingly placed in her Christmas stocking. As children, sleepovers involved prank-calls, dance routines, and sing-alongs. As teenagers, mature as they thought they were, they indulged in private recklessness: whispered vows, shoddy stick-and-pokes, liquor bottles from the cabinet filled with water. Graduation came and went, and she found herself putting down her phone after checking her notifications. Not now, maybe later. A refusal to consider the consequences.
Oranges. Sometimes she peeled them, often awkwardly, leaving bits and pieces of skin on the table, rather than a singular segmented peel in the shape of those world maps she saw. If she was lucky and careful, each slice came off cleanly, the film protecting the dryness and integrity of her hands. Other times, though, she took a knife to the orange, cutting it into quarters, exposing its flesh and pulp. She would bite in, avoiding the peel, leaving bits of orange stuck in her teeth for the rest of the day.
College. First day of classes.
Hello, hi, what year are you?
Hey, that’s my major too!
Would you like to study sometime? I heard his exams are brutal.
A withholding of self. An endless repetition of putting oneself out there. She enjoyed it. Eventually it led to something good. Orange in the teeth all day. Texts from classmates. Oh, damn, this girl thinks I’m smart enough to understand the intro chem homework. Score! Coffee-shop dates turned into late-night hangouts. Study sessions turned into grocery runs. Withholding of self gave way to confessions, I’ve never told anyone this before. Joy returned. New friendships were formed. Joy multiplied. Oranges ripened.
The childish game had a practical purpose, but nothing ever stopped them from being childish.
She used to nab oranges from the dining hall, tossing them between her friends, softening the thick skin until they became easier to peel. The childish game had a practical purpose, but nothing ever stopped them from being childish. Lewd jokes in public, piercing one another’s ears, using fakes to buy white claws—lime and mango and blackberry—all the flavors she thought were gross but drank anyway.
Had much changed since her high school days? Were the friendships the same, but with different players? During restless nights, she tried to push these thoughts down. Was it narcissism, casting off one friend or group of friends for another? Or was it the tides, the constantly changing nature of life? Please let me sleep soon, she prayed.
More often than not, though, she didn’t even eat the fruit she bought or stole. She’d eat them later, she’d bring them to class, she’d eat them tomorrow. An orange dropped into the backpack, an apple wrapped up in napkins and sealed with a prayer, a grapefruit left in the bowl. She’d roll over the grapefruit weeks later to find half of it covered in gray and green, fuzzy and parasitic. The orange would be discovered the same—putrid, fetid, acidic. The smell would waft, a reminder of her negligence. The apple, bruised beyond belief. Food, neglected and insulted. What a horrible waste.
A few years in, and the tension was tangible. The accusations: missing dinners because of that douchey guy from Tinder; begging them to stay out when one of them clearly was too drunk; snide comments, passive aggression – sometimes even aggression.
The unveiling of truth: had her friends now realized she wasn’t what she made herself out to be? Had they realized she was a bit of an asshole and talked a loud game? Maybe she should have apologized more, and acted less.
At the end of the day, alone. Awash with grief, guilt. Looking at the objects of her affection from afar. She knew she’d have to start again, whether now or later.
Was the breaking point soon? Had the orange fully rotted? Or was this just a few bruises?
Days till graduation: 124. Would they be left as 124 solitary, miserable days?
At the end of the day, alone. Awash with grief, guilt. Looking at the objects of her affection from afar. She knew she’d have to start again, whether now or later. Hopefully next time will be less painful. Vow to be kinder, gentler, more careful.
She woke up the next morning, and sent a text:
I’m sorry. Let me try again.
Eat the fruit. Choose carefully from the stand at the farmer’s market. Let your body breathe. Cherish each bite. Lick the juice off your arm; let no sensation go to waste. Throw apple cores and orange peels away properly. Better yet: compost, make dirt. Everything rots, but it doesn’t have to be ugly, or a burden. The orange comes and goes every season; the tree remains with care.