"Homely Fruits" by Dimitris Voulgaris
I’m running my fingers over the orange skin of this fruit fiddling for that green starburst shape that gives the impression of a once connected stem. The only dim light that illuminates it is that of a half-filled moon sitting overhead waiting to be peeled as well. Eventually, my finger catches into an impression of the fruit and I plunge my thumb into its body. On a ripened or juicy tangerine, this pierces would cover my thumb in sticky yet delicious blood that I would gladly suck off the end of my hand as dropped down my forearm. However, my thumb returns from its spelunking as dry as the sand my feet dangle over. I look towards the three people who sit alongside me and give a face of doubt as I return to the near pitch-black process of peeling. I am weary of the contents but in trusting the pursuit of flavor I continue.
As a kid, I had learned a great party trick for peeling oranges, tangerines, lemons and the like as I watched my dad do so at one end of the table. My family is all full off of the succulent and delicious lamb chops we had been eating and swatting hands for at the dinner table. And now sitting back into our full bellies we watch as our dad brings out a box of oranges. He pulls hand after hand of the fruit out nearly dripping at this gentle embrace. And pushing his thumbnail into them he pulls away from a long strip of skin as we all idly talk amongst ourselves. Removing this strip and the rest of the skin he places it down next to the crate as he hands my sister's equal halves of the orange. Preoccupied with the fruit itself no one really pays attention to the kin discarded at the crate's side, but sitting directly on this side of him I have to hold in my laughter as I look at its shape.
One hand holding the skin and the other holding the fruits of this labor, I put the actual fruit down on the lip of the wall we’re on and look towards my friends spreading the peel wide in front of my face. The obviously phallic shape gets an easy laugh from all of them and we raucously rock back and forth trying not to fall to the beach shore some three feet below us. They all try their hand at imitating the carve and for the most part all succeed with a dropped ball here or a skinny shaft there. As they peel we talk about the various goings-on of our lives and as high schoolers this tends to involve the usual fears and dreams of the future; as well as those subjective talks about crushes, classes, and the like. Intermittently through this conversation, someone will mention how their hand can prod the fruit's membrane in without making any substance. No juice sticks to the underside of their nails. No pulp is sucked from the ends of their fingers. And we are all left feeling disappointed as we hold the fruit which lies beneath that dryer out the skin.
Knowing we won’t be happy with the taste we all nonetheless decide to take fruit and toast to the night we share. We pull back from these cheers and all throw one or two or three slices into our mouth biting with an undying hope behind our chew. However, probing ourselves right we all taste nothing but the canvas like membrane and spit what remains of it into the sand. Laughing and yelling we all shout obscenities at the tangerines as I lean back and pull a large bag from the other side of the wall. There were no deceptions in these fruits, no hidden pockets of flesh that would burst out and tantalize our tongues. But hopefully, in this bag I hold was an answer to this. Hopefully in this mesh bag of some twenty tangerines at least one would be good enough to eat and so we take turns digging through the bag and feeling their peels. We squeeze gently on them to preserve their insides and our wayward hopes for a good yield. The half-moon sails gently across the sky blown by a coastal breeze as we make our way through every tangerine in the bag. Sometimes someone will plunge a finger into one having felt the phantom give a ripened fruit, but no such luck ever surfaces. So with all the fruits checked and all the fruits terrible, we put them all back in the bag and drop it to the sands in front of us.
I’m the first person to jump off the wall and as I do one after the other my friends all do the same. Unsure of what we’re doing or why we’re doing it I pick up the bag and we walk to the water. The waves are crawling to and from my feet as if beckoning me to follow and so kicking off my shoes and peeling away my socks I walk out to them. They now hazily kiss at my feet with every crash of the wave, and their soothing melody puts me slightly at ease. The bag gangs taught against my grip, its yawning mouth barely illuminated by the moonlight. Slipping my hand in I grab a fruit. It feels rotten and old, they all do, and so I reel it back and throw it far off into the water. It makes a pillar of water splash against the dark sky as it impacts and everyone yells out as it does. They start questions me why through their laughter and instead of answering I turn and throw the bag at their feet. As I walk towards them they all stand hesitantly for a second before reaching in and grabbing a tangerine in each hand. By the time I’m regrouped with them on the dry sand they’ve begun bucking fruit after fruit into the water. Each splash that rings out in the quiet night is met with our deafening cheers and howls. We take turns throwing as hard as we can, nearly wrenching our arms from their sockets as aim for boats far off in the distance. Tangerine after terrible tangerine flies off into the salty expanse with such speed and vigor that before even a handful of waves have crashed on the beach we have but one left. I pick it up and brush off the sand stuck to its side. I gesture it toward the group but they wave it off and let me have this last throw. Taking a pitchers stance I hold the fruit behind my back and pull it into my clasped hands and lean back as I kick my leg up. As my foot lands heavy into the sand again, I use all the force in my body to hurl it over the waves. We watch as it soars over the breathing waters and lands in a patch of still standing ocean far past us. The water spurts up around it with this collision making a tall geyser-like a splash. We are near-silent until every last displaced drop falls back into the water’s grasp and then we howl. We scream and we yell and we strain our very lungs as we watch the waves listlessly push our tangerines around. Some of them at this point have been carried back to shore, carried like ships returning home. Their rotted journeys now at a close. And as we sit there recoiling from the splendor of it all a tangerine is sweeper against my feet. Bending down I pick it up and my friends look to me with excitement in their eyes. But to their disappointment, I peel it, one long strip around and taking off the circular pieces left on the side. I take a slice and plop it into my mouth. I chew long and force myself to swallow the piece. My face tells it all as I look at them, it’s still bad.