Saturday, September 10, 2016


"What do you want to do do now?"

She pauses. "Maybe ... we could pick oranges off the tree? To make orange juice."

Our once-tiny orange tree is now an absurdity of year-round fecundity; we can't possibly keep up with its production, even with giving away bags and bags of little, tart oranges.

I say, "That sounds like a good plan. Come on, get your shoes on, we'll go out".

Plucking low-lying fruit, she squeals with delight as she spots an enormous grandmother orange, nestled squat as a toad, hiding inside the deeps of the tree.

"Look! Look! They never get that big! Can you reach it...?"

It takes some maneuvering and a scratched hand, but I eventually work it free. She clutches it to her chest, beaming.

"Will it have way more juice than the smaller ones?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe not; it might be a bit dried out in the middle. Bigger doesn't necessarily mean juicier."

She thinks about this. "So we'll just have to see when we squeeze it."

I nod. "That's the only way to really tell."

Later, inside, we set up the juicing station. "This is like what we're doing at school," she says, slicing inexpertly through the first orange; I catch my breath, watching the knife blade waver.

"Are you doing things with oranges?" I say, steadying her hand. She shakes her head.

"No, we're studying how things change, when things happen to them. Like how water turns into ice when it gets really cold. Or how eggs go all rubber when you soak them in the vinegar."

"Transmutation," I murmur, and she half-shrugs, a common response to conversation she finds impenetrable. She's unlike her sisters, who would question every word, would want to know now; this child is content for understanding to grow like the young wattle outside the door, every season a new flush of branch and bud.

She pushes the first orange down on the steel juicer, concentration furrowing her face.

"Can you take pictures? Of what it was before and what we make it into? So I can show the class, at school."

"Of course," I say, pulling out the phone. "And what will you say about it?"

She picks up the large orange, and regards it thoughtfully. As suspected, it is dessicated inside, almost entirely dry; exhausted, spent, grown beyond its own capacity to sustain.

"I will say that it takes a lot of oranges to make a cup of juice," she says. "And that big oranges might be hollow inside."

"They might," I agree, helping her squeeze the last of the juice from the small, fluid ball in her hand. "Sometimes bigger is not a good thing."

"Sometimes things aren't what they look like," she says, and I have one of the moments of clarity that generally arrive from the juxtaposition of very simple and very layered utterances from the mouths of ... well, perhaps not babes. She's seven now; old enough for knowing, old enough to begin to knit together her own meanings.

Then: "Can I have a little bit of sugar in it?" and she's off, leaving a citrus-drenched bench and a pile of orange skins in her wake.

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