Wednesday, November 21, 2012
the orange tree
The woman's life hadn't lived up to expectation. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a disappointment. Every morning, she woke up, put on some clothes, and went to sit in the vacant lot that she could have seen just fine from her bedroom window. She sat next to the tree that grew in the center of the vacant lot and waited.
Her chair was one of those fold-out deals with a mesh seat designed to stay dry, stay clean, hold up under sun and rain and sagging posteriors, but it failed in all respects except the last, which it only accomplished with great resentment.
The woman sat in the chair and shifted, uncomfortably.
Every now and then, a young man or a young woman stumbled into the vacant lot, their faces sunburned and knees at the point of collapse. "Thank God," they would say. Or, "Holy smokes." Or, they wouldn't say anything at all and instead staggered forward as if they were, at last, arriving somewhere.
And the woman would say, "Please, take your pick." And the young man or young woman would step up to the tree, barely seeing the woman sitting in the chair beside it. They reached into the dark, glossy leaves and pulled down an orange, perfect every time. "Your heart's desire," the woman would say, "I hope you like it." The young people rarely heard. They were gone, the orange clutched to their chests, their feet kicking up high behind them. They never bothered to say a simple thank you, never offered the smallest gesture of gratitude, never thought that, maybe, the woman might appreciate something from the cheap coffee shop on the corner, that a hot cup of coffee, in a situation like this, goes a long way to making up for a lack of manners.
Skimp on the charity and you might as well call it low-grade misery.
One morning, the woman woke up. She put on some clothes and went to the vacant lot where the tree was waiting.
"Tree," she said, "don't you think enough is enough?"
The tree didn't answer. It was not that kind of tree. The woman wrapped her arms around its trunk and pulled. It was not a very large tree and, after struggling for some hours, the woman uprooted it. She lifted it onto her shoulders and began to walk. She walked out of the vacant lot. She walked past her house. She walked down the street and ignored the smell of burnt coffee coming from the shop on the corner. She walked until she got tired, and then she shifted the tree to her other shoulder and walked some more.
The woman walked out of the town, through a suburb, and on until she came to the beach. She put the tree down in the sand.
"Tree," she said, "this is your chance." She reached down into the tree's dark, glossy leaves and pulled out an orange. It was perfect: round and richly dimpled. The woman dug her fingers into the perfect flesh and pulled the orange apart.
A man tumbled out. He was small at first, having just emerged from an orange, and then he grew. He was handsome, he was naked, and he looked confused. "Where am I?" he asked.
"At the beach," the woman said.
"What is a beach?" The man was staring at her as if she were the only thing in the world. He couldn't be bothered, it seemed, to take in anything else, not the sand or the salted wind or the water stretching out to the sky.
"Are you serious?" the woman asked.
"I suppose so." The man was staring so hard that his eyes were beginning to water.
"Are you stupid?" the woman asked.
"I suppose I am."
The woman picked up the tree again. She dragged it to the ocean and pushed it in, slogging into the water until the waves started to pull the tree out instead of pushing it back to shore. The man watched her the entire time. It didn't occur to him to offer to help.
"Goodbye," the woman said.
"What does that mean?"
"It means you stay here and I go somewhere else." The woman walked back up the beach. There was water and sand in her shoes, but she ignored the discomfort. The man walked beside her for a little while, which was awkward since he was naked, and then behind her for a little more. Then he sat down on the side of the road. She hoped he would be alright. It was entirely possible that the tree had made a mistake, that he was someone else's heart's desire, someone who would find him on the side of the road and pick him up, despite the nakedness, in an act of good samaritan meeting hapless hitchhiker, a story to tell friends and children and grandchildren, solid evidence for the existence of luck or fate.
The woman thought about this as she walked back to the town where she lived, in a small house next to a vacant lot. There was a coffee shop on the corner, and when the woman put her hand in her pocket, she was pleased to discover a few bills, enough for a coffee and something sweet. She sincerely hoped she hadn't made a mistake.