Orange Matter - Ava Boudreau

I. I poke the sticky little fish eggs with my chopstick; then I try to unstick and roll them off when they get too clingy on my utensil. “They’re orange…like Orange Park,” I mutter thoughtfully. “What?” you ask, so I say, “never mind…… they’re orange,” then you say, “come on, tell me,” so I say, “no, that’s all,” then you say, “no it wasn’t;” and here we go on a verbal merry-go- round and round until our food arrives.

II. Somewhere along the squares of sidewalk, we bump into people you seem to know, (know and like, you are acquainted with the whole world, but you hate half of it). As you chat, I hover around your edges like a ghost, presence clinging the same way a loose thread dangles from a jacket. But who is really the ghost? You, when you glide out of my vision and slip away like shadows in the sun? Or me, possessed by possessiveness, stewing, waiting for my next chance to rush in and take control again? Maybe it’s both of us together, a drowned and water-stained version of what we used to be.

III. The sun, high today, hits the red wrapper floating in the trash river. Somedays I say, “I’m going to jump in there,” and you say, “don’t,” so I say, “okay, maybe later.” We sit on the bank and watch the wrapper slip out of view. Maybe later I’ll be just another empty plastic bottle at the bottom of the garbage river. I feel my everything crumble like clumps of sand, (in your palms, between your toes) and you lean over to bite the curve above my shoulder. The riverbank gossips about us when leave; low waves lap secrets from the shore and whisper them across the water. I glance back at the brown, ill but still shimmering water. Maybe.

IV. When I realize I’ve had a cup of half drunk tea ruminating in my room for over three months; I learn that tea bags can get moldy, seven packets worth of tea soaked sugar attracts flies, and I also learn why the room smelled so strange. The mug is ice cold and I hold it as far as I can out in front of me when I bring it to the sink. Something in that mug was bound to rot eventually, but I didn’t think about that for a solid couple months. I never actually mentioned the rotten tea to you because you change your sheets everyday, while I apparently want to see mold grow flowers.

V. I call you and you’re sick again. You can catch the cold like you’re chasing it. I twirl the tassels on my blanket as you detail your symptoms for me over the staticky connection. “My throat is killing me!” “So have a cough drop.” “No, you don’t understand, it’s like razors every time I swallow.” “That sounds awful… you should have a cough drop.” “No, you don’t get it, it’s like a cheese grater, in my throat.” I remind you that yes, I too have a cold before, go see a nurse? But you’re not going to see a nurse. Or you’ve already seen the nurse three times. Your tongue has a habit of tying itself in contradicting knots. I pull the blanket over my head and press my cheek against the cool wooden top of my desk. If you were a sickness your symptoms would include: delusions, chest pains, impaired cognitive abilities, headaches, and a runny nose.

VI. We sit side by side on a bench in our favorite place, a park filled with orange trees. I dig in gravel with the toe of my boot, making it dusty. On the way back, I ask you to pick me an orange before I remember I don’t even like oranges. You tell me that you also don’t like oranges. You toss me one anyways and all day I roll it between my palms like I’m making a clay ball. When I finally decide to open it, I tear the peel into citrusy shreds that pile up in my wastebasket. Bits of orange wedge themselves under my fingernails; and when I try to extract a slice, I pinch it too hard and it leaks juice onto my shirt. Breaking the delicate skin of the fruit with my teeth seems murderous so instead I nibble around the edges. I’ve never liked eating oranges. Yet, our favorite place is still Orange Park, somehow.