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Orange Crush
A Story by Erik Boemanns

“You’re not going to eat that are you?” Mrs. Jacobs asked, standing — framed by the white edged kitchen door — next to the counter. Her son looked down at the orange he was holding in his hand, freshly peeled, its sticky aroma drifted through the room. It had been a long time since he had smelled an orange, a very long time.

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s a perfectly good orange,” he answered, digging his finger into the fruit, trying to pull out a slice, the juice trickling down his wrist. Again he stared at the orange in his hand, waiting to hear what his mother could possibly say. After all, what could she say about an orange that he got, by himself, that day at school?

“You know what your father would think if he finds out your eating oranges in this house.” She picked up the bread knife on the counter and began to absently slice the New York sharp cheddar cheese, cutting extra thin slices. “And you know how I feel about them, too.”

“So what if he finds out. You think I give a damn? I like oranges,” Stephen replied, his thumb and index finger making orange juice — and a mess on the glass kitchen table. Sunlight drifting in through the window shattered itself on the juice droplets. Sometimes his mom could really annoy him. Today she was especially talented.

“Watch your language; your sister might hear you.” She wasn’t even looking at Stephen as she spoke. The knife cut deeply into the cheese this time, a large hunk fell away, hiding its earlier paper-thin companions. The next slice was even thicker. Stephen watched, as though time were temporarily suspended, and the oversized cheese slice drifted from a vertical position and crashed onto the plate. His mind focused its adolescent anger on the cheese.

“Mom, Julie’s been dead for a year! When are you going friggin’ realize it and stop talking like she’s still here?” Stephen squeezed his fist tighter with each word, an innocent orange peel contained within. The weak acid bit into his tight skin, making it itch, yet was unoticed.

“STEPHEN EDWARD JACOBS! I will not have you talk about your sister in that way! I ... I ... can’t take it,” Stephen’s mother said, her voice fading like a black and white television just turned off. The knife fell from her hand, its blade still embedded in the cheddar cheese. She glanced over at Stephen, who only glared back, and, with a short, spasmodic whimper, fled the room.

“Damn it. Why does she act like that? Why do I? It’s just that she pisses me off sometimes. She really worries me,” Stephen said to the orange in his hand, torn along the edge, its juice adding to the orange puddle on the table. Stephen looked up as his father, a stocky man with a white shirt and black reading glasses hanging from his nose, came into the kitchen.

“Who you talking to, Steve? You don’t have another imaginary friend do you?” his father asked. He folded the morning newspaper in his right hand and laid it on the corner of the table opposite of Stephen. He then walked toward the stove, looking to see if his morning bacon was still waiting for him.

“No, Dad. I haven’t had an imaginary friend in ten years. Shit, when are you and Mom gonna realize that things aren’t like they used to be? I’m not a kid anymore and Julie’s dead! That’s the way things are now, Dad! Things are different!” Stephen exploded in response, the emotions from the argument with his mother still flowing through him, like orange juice.

His father glanced up, focusing on Stephen’s hand for the first time. “That’s not an orange you’ve got there, is it?” he asked in a concerned voice.

“Yes, Dad, it is. And I’m going to eat it right in front of you!” Stephen felt the waves of rebellion course through his body. He lifted the slice of orange, its odor driving his fury further. He opened his mouth, the orange headed in like a baby’s imaginary airplane, then his father spoke.

“Son, I’ve never been one to hit you, but I swear, if you put that orange in your mouth, I will...” It was a cold threat, one with the solid conviction of a man who wasn’t going to back down.

Stephen lowered the orange, his eyes filled with shock. He looked directly at his father, “You will do what, Dad? What? Hit me? Come on. Do it anyway if all you care about is the orange. Well Dad, it’s yours and these damn orange’s fault that Julie’s dead and Mom’s going crazy!” Stephen’s mind dripped with fury, as the orange in his handed dripped its juice down his arm.

His father raised his hand threateningly, moving toward his son, “Stephen, that’s enough!” His father’s hand lifted, Stephen was braced for the impact. He wasn’t going to cower before his father. Before his father even had a chance to finish his motion, already slowed by uncertainty, his mother came up from behind. She grabbed the upraised arm.
“No, Eddie, don’t!” she pleaded with her husband, “He’s still our son!”

“No son of mine would talk the way he did!”

“I don’t want to be your son! Either of yours. You’re both too damn crazy!” Stephen shouted, standing up. His father took a step back, startled by his son’s sudden movement. Stephen used the opportunity to move across the kitchen, toward the door.

“Well, fine, you ungrateful little bastard — leave dammit!” his father yelled, “and I don’t give a damn if you eat that orange!” Stephen paused, his hand on the doorknob to the outside of the house, looked back at his parents, and then the orange, still in his hand. He put the orange to his mouth and tore a large bite from it. Watching his parents reaction, the sheer horror of his betrayal expressed in their faces, he opened the front door. As he stepped through the threshold, he shouted back, trying to torment till the end, “See ya, psychos!”

He slammed the door behind himself. His mother released a short whimper, as she collapsed in the brass and wicker chair at the table. She stared at the puddle of orange juice where Stephen had been sitting. In it she saw a reflection of her husband standing over her. “We’ve lost both of them, now,” she said to him.

He pulled out a chair at the other end and sat down. He took off his glasses, folding them up next to the paper. His idle hands found the newspaper again, and absently twisted the corners. He glanced up at his wife and stared into her lost brown eyes, damp from a morning of crying. He focused then on the headline of the paper — war in Bosnia — but couldn’t read it. Staring at the paper, through the paper, focused nowhere, he asked, “Was it really my fault? Was it really because of me that Julie’s dead? And now it’s my fault Stephen’s gone too. What did I ever... Why did I... What... I don’t understand.”

Stephen’s mother reached her hand out across the table. She placed her pale white hand into the large, coarse hand of her husband. Her other hand found the orange juice and began to trace lines across the glass surface. She looked at her husband, following the wrinkles in his aching face. She squeezed his hand and he looked up. “It’s not your fault,” she said.

“But Stephen’s right,” he responded, “it is my fault. If I had only been more careful. If I’d only paid more attention. It’s mine and those damn oranges fault. I just wish it could’ve have been me and not Julie.”

“Eddie, you have to believe it’s not your fault. You have to realize it.” Stephen’s mother said, trying to calm her husband. “There’s no one to blame, just because we can’t understand why these things happen, there’s no one to blame. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault you drove an orange truck. We always told her to stay away when you were unloading the oranges. It’s not your fault. I promise, it is not your fault.” Copyright 2002