By Ash Murray
The mesh bag is ripped open before it is placed in the fridge, my eager fingers wriggling in and pulling out the first piece of fruit they come across—triumphant. In the palm of my hand: a tiny orange, its perfect skin unmarred by age nor rot nor dirt. I dig my thumbnail in, not a second wasted. As the sweet smell of citrus sprays up at me, I am five years old.
In front of me, stand three pillars of majesty—orange, grapefruit, and tangerine. The three trees tower over my tiny frame, and, though they undoubtedly hold much more power than I, my little hands clutch the fruits of their labor. I have become something of an expert at plucking fruits from their branches. I pop a slice, cut by my father, into my mouth. My tongue bursts with the sour-sweet juice. I close my eyes and smile, rind covering my teeth as orange drips from my chin.
It is my first day at a new school, and I am eleven years old. Two oranges rest in my lunchbox—the only familiarity I have. I eat them first, my fingers sticky with citrus, and hope that they’ll give me the strength to make it through the day. They do, but only just.
When I graduate from high school—after I’ve walked across the stage and shaken endless hands, after I’ve given my speech and hugged my parents—I find my way to my best friend’s house, to the bowl of fruit tucked in amongst so many other snacks. People swarm around me, laughing and crying and chattering away. I tuck a section of mandarin into my cheek and smile.
On the coldest day of winter, as snow pours onto the already-covered ground, I sit curled into myself on the couch, a mound of peels growing in a bowl next to me. I don’t know how to live through the winter. One dreary day blurring into the next, cold air leaking through creaky windows. Small enough to rest comfortably in the palm of my hand, a little orange feels like the only piece of home I have left.
In the spring, we sit together in a field, on a blanket not meant for outside use. We tell ourselves we’ll buy a picnic blanket knowing that we won’t. I peel an orange for us, handing it to you section by section by section. You, with your long nails, should be better at this than I am. But I have years of practice, and I want to share this piece of myself with you. Together, we go through a whole bag. I peel each one so carefully. Pull off the stringy bits. Place each section between your lips. You laugh and kiss my fingers, yellow and sticky. I smile at you, squinting against the afternoon sunlight. When you kiss me, you taste like oranges. Something about it feels like coming home.
Ash Murray (they/them) is a senior studying English, psychology, and LGBTQ Studies. A fairy tale fanatic, Ash is deep in the process of composing their theses in the genre. In their free time, Ash enjoys reading, watching TV with their fiancé, and cuddling with their two cats.