Even if it Didn’t Last Forever

You stare up at the small orange globe hanging from the branch. It is shiny and bright, perfectly round. The first you have seen this season. You are not yet tall enough to reach it, so you walk under it, into the shade of the tree, and pull the branch down until the heavy orange hangs within your reach. When you stretch out your hand though, you cannot reach the orange without letting go of the branch. You shake the branch violently in hopes of dislodging the fruit, but it is young and strong and holds fast to its lifeline.

At that moment your father comes up and takes a hold of the orange in one hand and the stem in the other. He rips the orange free, a bit of the skin still left on the stem. In the sunlight you can see mist floating in the air from the separation, and the scent drifts to you. You let go of the branch and it swings up to hit your father in the face. He laughs, which must mean he is in a good mood. You come out from under the tree.

“Thanks, Pa!” you say. You take the orange from his hand and smell the new hole at the top of the fruit. Seeing all the segments underneath the skin is like seeing the ripped corner of a wrapped package. You are tempted to stick your finger in the natural hole that forms where all the segments meet at the top.

“That is quite a prize you’ve got there,” your father says as he crouches down to your level. “What are you going to do with it? Eat it?”

You shake your head.

“No? But is must be so juicy and perfect.”

“I am going to give it to Mama,” you say.

You waddle over on your three-year-old legs to where your mother sits on the patio smoking and listening to the Beatles on the radio.

You hold out your prize and run into her legs, exclaiming what you brought for her. She sets her cigarette down and lifts you into her lap for a hug, then turns you around and lets you make a mess of peeling the orange for her.

Your father has turned his chair away from the table and sits in it facing the yard, but he is looking at you. When you think you have peeled the orange, you hold up the pulpy chunk proudly.

“Would you look at that, Paula.” he says, “We have a natural orange-peeler on our hands.”

“We sure do,” agrees your mother. She leans down to kiss your cheek from behind. “Our little boy is getting to be all grown up.”

“This calls for a celebration,” your father says. He gets up and returns with three plates, then pulls up a third chair. “For you,” he says, and then makes a flourish. Your mother lifts you into the chair. Together you split the orange into three parts and eat it. Everybody’s faces and fingers are sticky, and everybody gives each other sticky kisses. You remember your father’s smile and the color of your mother’s sunglasses, the feel of the orange pulp in your teeth, and the cold metal of the seat under your pudgy legs.

And that is about the only happy, normal memory you have of your father. After that it is sickness, cold beds, smells of vomit, and your mother’s tear-streaked face.

An orange is a memory to you, a happy memory that you are grateful to have. People look at you and say how tragic you had it, that you didn’t deserve to lose your father so young, but you reckon that that’s life. People have had it much worse than you. And that’s why you don’t hate oranges. You love them actually, for their sticky-sweet tartness, the pulp they leave in your teeth, and the occasional bitter seed you can bite into if you are not careful. You are glad to have had something so precious, even if it didn’t last forever.

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