The Orange Tree Across the Street
by Sarah Ermold
It wasn’t trespassing,
Because the house was for sale
And the orange tree in the back yard was public property.
Grandma promised it was safe and held my hand when we crossed the street,
Because I was still in elementary school and didn’t know better.
I gripped a Longaberger basket soaked in stress and Florida humidity,
And picked the rotting fruit hanging from the shortest branches.
Watched the fruit flies at my feet scream in excitement,
As they invade the soft veil of the peel encrusted in a silky brown slime.
Their weak bodies drowning in the bitterness
Of the perished organs decomposing in ant piles and feral grass.
I reached to pick it up, and Grandma slapped my hand.
She wiped my hands on my shorts and told me
The best oranges hang from the tree.
Grandma squeezed my hand before we stepped onto the pavement,
And walked the thirty feet back to the house.
I sat in the chairs that lined Grandma’s kitchen table,
As she lathered the forbidden fruit in the water that leaked from her faucet.
She sat a napkin in front of me, heavy with the slobber of a freshly polished orange.
I held the meat of the orange like rotting flesh on my tongue.
She watched me as we ate the oranges together,
With each bite, the pith slide between my front teeth like dental floss
And the pulp bled from the corners of her mouth,
I used the lung shape of the orange’s body to put on a smile.
I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, because they were the best oranges she ever had.
When she offered me another, I told her I was full.
And when we were finished,
I told her they were the best oranges I ever had.
When my mom came to get me, Grandma begged me to take them home.
Shoved them in the used Publix bags from under the sink.
Her hands coated in orange saliva and my bitter lie,
She made sure to put them in the car so I wouldn’t forget them.
Grandma buckled me and the oranges into the car seat,
As she told mom of our day, elbowing me to tell mom, These were the best oranges I ever had.