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.


First Flight

“Would you like a pear?”

I jumped in my seat and turned to see a black guy sitting next to me. He wore a business suit and his head was shaved. He was looking at me as he slid a briefcase under the seat in front of him.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“A pear. I brought three from home, but I could only eat two of them, so now I’m stuck carrying this one around. Would you like it? I’m sick of pears.”

He had a brown paper bag in his lap. He picked it up and held it out to me. I took it, hesitatingly. I’d never actually tried a pear, but I guess today was a day for firsts.

“Does this happen often?” I asked. “Strangers handing strangers food on a plane?”

The man laughed. 

“You know, In all my flying experiences, no stranger has ever offered me anything except the bag of pretzels or peanuts that the airline gives us.” he said. “So I guess not, no.”

“How many times have you flown?” I asked.

He paused and looked up at the personal reading lights and flight attendant buttons above our heads.

“I’ve lost count,” he said. “Let’s just say that I’ve flown about three to four times a month for the past eight years. You do the math.”

I mentally calculated about four hundred flights, and then took a second to appreciate the number. “This is my first time flying,” I answered.

“Well then, In that case,” He held his hand toward me, “I am honored to accompany you on your first journey through the air. My name is Dave.”

I returned his handshake. “I’m Michelle. Nice to meet you, Dave,” I said. We exchanged a smile, and then I turned to look out at the morning dew that was sliding down the small oval window. I was sitting near the back of the plane, so I could see workers loading the plane with luggage.

“So, Ms. Michelle, what brings you out here on this fine May morning to experience the magic of flight?” said Dave.

I continued to look out the window at the little worker bees. “I am going to see my son,” I answered. “He is getting married.”

“Well a mighty congratulations to you. I’d say that was a worthy occasion to break in your flying legs. It’s not like a rocking boat, per say, but it does take some getting used to,” He chuckled at his small joke.

I nodded and looked down at the brown paper bag in my lap. Yes, I thought. Today was a day for firsts.

The Longest Voicemail in History

“Hey sis, it’s me, Marla. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately, and about what you said on the phone the other day. Now that I’ve been thinking about it, it makes me—well, it’s sitting pretty heavy. I’m sad that you feel that way.

I just wanted you to know that, you know, good things happen here too, and you know, we all miss you: Dad, Mom, and I. We really do want you here.

Oh, and I just have to tell you—the most amazing thing happened the other day!

Now I know you may not believe me, because well let’s face it, you are the older, wiser one that is always right, but seriously I can’t lie to you about this one because the whole town saw it.

So, get this—a star fell from the sky. No joke. You can ask anyone. I think the Sentinel even wrote a story about it.

Anyway, it happened a few days ago, during the meteor show. I was outside on the roof, sitting on our old spotty blanket that we used to keep under the eve of my dormer, you know, and Mom and Dad had gone to bed—it was around three a.m. I think—and the brunt of the shower had calmed down.

I was just chilling out there, thinking about things, about you mainly, and about Corey, which I’ve decided that he’s not really that into me because I saw him in the halls the other day and he didn’t even say ‘Hi’ when I passed him so really it was all just a fluke, but then—ah sorry off topic—then it was like there was this one huge bright streak that I swear burned my retinas.

I closed my eyes for a second and rubbed them to get rid of the spot, and when I opened them I was thinking at first that the spot in my eyes had actually gotten bigger, but then I realized that the star was still streaking across the sky—but then it was falling, and at first I was like ‘what the hell kind of dream is this?’ but then it just kept coming, and getting bigger, and it was happening so fast that I didn’t even realize until it had already fallen that it was right there in the Roberson’s yard—like right there—and it could have hit me.

But you know, I don’t even think I was thinking that at the time, because you know what? Luke was in the yard. And you know what he did? He caught it. He caught the flipping falling star.

I swear, sis, I can’t make this stuff up.

At this point I can’t even tell you what I was thinking– I don’t even think any of the usual curse words were running through my head. I think my mind was just kind of like beep, like you know, when a heart monitor goes blank after somebody isn’t breathing anymore, and I couldn’t pass a single thought through my mind. I just watched, eyes boggling and buckets of drool pouring out my mouth I’m sure, as he lifted the star, which was still glowing a dull red—like mom’s glass right when she takes it out of the kiln—and ate it.

I saw the glowing, pulsing—thing, star, whatever—slide down his throat, down the ribs of his esophagus, and into his belly. The night was late and it had just rained so it was like, completely silent except for the occasional dripping from the trees.

Luke turned around and went back inside and that was that, and if my eyes hadn’t been half-blind, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Now I know you must be thinking that I should have called out to him, asked him what the hell he was doing, but I just couldn’t. It was like how we always wondered what we would do if someone broke into our house, how we would say that we would grab this and that and lock the door and call the police you know? But then, when something really huge like that happens, I don’t think we’d really be able to do anything. I mean, this big thing was happening right in front of me and I didn’t do anything.

It was like someone had turned off the switch to the real world, like ‘jokes, you aren’t a real person and you are now in the Matrix and we just pulled the plug on your body ha ha.’

You know? I wonder if you felt that way when you got in that accident with Luke last year. I always meant to ask you about that, whose fault it really was, or like what the other car looked like, but I was afraid of what you would say. I’m sorry now that I didn’t ask. I would like to know now, if you would tell me.

Anyway, I was just sitting there on the roof, a puddle of spittle making the blanket all soggy, when twenty minutes later a car came down the cul-de-sac, driving slowly, and then it turned around and was gone. And then there was another car a few minutes later, and then another car came and parked in the Jacobson’s driveway. The people got out and wandered around for a bit, but they didn’t really come by our house so I couldn’t hear what they had to say.

But, you know, I bet they were looking for the star.

Okay sorry I guess that’s kind of the end of the story and I didn’t mean to tell you this all on a message but as you probably see, I’ve called you like three times already and I just have to talk to someone about this. I mean, I know I can probably just go to Mom or Dad and they may or may not believe me but at least they would listen. But I just felt—after our conversation—that you would like to know. I just want you to know that I want you to know. And that I miss you.

And, well, I guess it hasn’t really cut me off yet, which I find surprising, but whatever I guess that isn’t the end of the story.

The end of the story is that there isn’t one.

The next day there were some official people in the neighborhood, going from door to door asking if anybody had seen the star. I just stayed in my room when they came by. I don’t think I could hold something like that in. I mean they looked so official, with their suits and badges, I just think I would go all fish-faced and they would cart me away for electroshock therapy or something. You know?

I wonder who was home next door. I wonder if they all know about Luke, whatever he is, if they are all like that. I wonder if… I mean, you used to spend all your time over there. Did you ever notice anything weird? Like them having extra toes or being glow-in-the-dark when they sleep or having light shine out of their eyes or something? I just wish I knew more.

I just wish you were here.

Anyway, after the suits had left some reporters came through, a man and a woman armed with a notepad and camera. From what I heard from mom and dad over dinner—I just stayed in my room all day on the window seat—apparently a lot of people got photos of the meteor as it was descending to Earth. I thought it was weird because it was like—something that was so private to me and I guess Luke. And then, it was like, a phenomenon to the rest of the world. Everybody saw it, but they didn’t.

You should go look up pictures. There were some really cool ones, like somebody got one from up on a hill where it was like this huge green streak over our neighborhood. I think that was how they located where it should have landed.

To me though, it was really only that image of Luke, swallowing molten glass, nothing but rain dripping in our quiet suburban paradise. And, can you believe it? Nobody could figure out what happened.

The reporters eventually left because they couldn’t like, take a picture of anything besides some old Victorian and ranch-style houses with unexciting paint colors. There was no point of impact after all.

And so now it has been reduced to just that weird thing that happened last week, only a few days ago, and people are already talking about something new in school– like apparently Justin Beiber cut his hair or something– and I can’t help feel that, you know, more things like this happen all the time, and nobody really cares. I mean, the world is a strange place, right? Why question? Why ask anybody anything? Because nobody really knows the answers.

And that just makes me think of you again. I’m sorry that you have to listen to this, all my word vomit. You probably won’t understand the half of it. I just wish– I just wish you would call me, and maybe listen. I’m sorry I never asked you about things before.

Aw man. I can’t believe I’m leaving this all on your answering machine. How it is that when people get a job and move to a big city they just don’t have time anymore? They are like, ‘adult,’ and have bigger things to do in life besides talk to their family. I hope you don’t feel that way. I know that yeah, you may have felt a bit underappreciated, but now I just want you to know that you were not. We all really think that you are a wonderful person and we care about you. Really.

I want to hear about that. About your life now. Will you call me back? I’ll listen whatever you have to say. I swear.”

Two Truths, Ten Thousand Lies

Today I burned a spatula, the only spatula that I owned. I was cooking rice (really just boiling the water) while I was on the phone with my brother discussing the finer points of the salinity of a salt-water aquarium (he was just starting an aquarium business out of his home).

I walked out of the room, pacing on the back porch, watching the fireflies run themselves into the screen, and then I heard the beeping of the smoke detector which I did not yet know was the smoke detector because I had never before burned anything.

I ran inside, still with my brother on the phone (I had him on my headset) and into a cloud of smoke that was bright orange. The spatula I owned was green plastic, so I was doubly confused because I did not yet know that the spatula was even burning until I reached the stove and saw a puddle of goo on the burner next to the pot with the water.

Too late, I realized I had turned on the wrong burner and the spatula had been resting on the stove. I went to turn the burner off, but by then I had a good face-full of orange smoke so as I was reaching my hand started to tilt sideways and I missed the dial completely. I tried again and missed, and then tried again and missed.

I laughed, and then I realized my brother had been trying to get my attention. “Candace if you don’t say anything I’m calling the police and sending them to your house!” He was saying. So paranoid, always paranoid he was.

“If you do, then I will hug you until you die,” I said, and then laughed at my wittiness.

“Seriously, what is going on?”

“Oh, just the spatula I think melted and now my face is too,” I said because I thought it was true. Really though, I reached up and could feel my nose sliding down along the cleft of my lips, as if it were a track to steer my nose into my mouth. My tongue could touch my left nostril and it had never been able to do that before.

I laughed.

“No lie,” I said. “Come over and see for yourself.”

And so, thirty minutes later, when the smoke had dispersed into a haze that made my kitchen and living room look as if they were lit by a sandstorm, my brother showed up at the door and I let him in.

He started laughing immediately and then held a hand over his mouth. He took a picture with his phone and turned it around to me. It looked like my nose had lowered about half an inch on my face.

“I think it looks better, actually,” I said. He nodded and then asked me what it was I had been cooking. I told him I was making some rice to go with the leftover lime chicken I had made two days ago. I invited him to stay for dinner.

He looked at the orange tinge of the room, which before had been painted blue with teak wood accents.

“Actually I think we should go to the Lotus Room,” he said, which was our go-to restaurant when we were kids, and before… before. It was Thai that you couldn’t beat.

I didn’t want to go out at all, because I had finished making the rice for my chicken and had cleaned up the spatula goo and had a lot of work to do tonight, mainly cleaning, and I had to be up early for work in the morning (I was an online teacher of English).

But as I told him all these things he just shrugged and opened the door, letting the orange dust get sucked out of the doorway like a vacuum in space.

“That’s not really a good enough excuse. It’s just dinner, Candace.”

He cocked his head to the side.

“You really do look better with your nose lower like that. I didn’t realize before how high it was, but now it looks just right.”

He smiled, as if he knew exactly what he was doing.

And so, with trembling fingers and a new(ish) face, I took his hand and he pulled me across the threshold of my house.

So simple, but that was really how I left my house for the first time in two years.

It makes me realize that I need to learn to make more mistakes.