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June 2, 2014 | by  | in Arts Online Only |
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Oranges

It smells like oranges. When you close your eyes, you’re seven years old, it’s summer and you’re back in the Coromandel. Your skin feels warm, and you can taste the Rocky Road ice cream that’s running down your chin, and it doesn’t bother you. Rachel is laughing, a wedge of orange hugging her teeth. The sand sticks to your toes, you run watching the sun dance across the water. Mum tells you to not to go out too far as you hit the water, it is cool and inviting. You like the feeling of having it run over your head as you bop up and down, the water tangles your hair. You feel like a mermaid. It makes you think of forks, Ariel combs her hair with one, now you’re hungry. You open your eyes, frowning.

It smells like oranges. But you can smell the chemicals, and wonder how the scent of fruit is put into cleaning products. It seems like a strange thing to do, putting the smell of something that you eat, into something that if you drink it you would die. You feel hungry again and wish that you could eat. It’s cold and you wish that you had brought another layer, mum had told you to bring a jersey, but you shrugged it off.

There’s dirt under your fingernails and you wonder how it got there, you had just washed your hands again. You go back into the bathroom, and scrub each nail carefully, holding your hands under the water. You watch as your hands turn red and the bottom of the mirror starts to fog up. Turning the tap off you dry your hands with the hand dryer. Using the paper towels to clean the mirror, soaked in three pumps of liquid soap and water; you wipe from left to right and do this for three minutes. Throwing away the paper towels, you turn the tap back on. You scrub each nail carefully, and hold your hands under the water. Drying your hands with the hand dryer, and go to turn off the lights. You hold a paper towel in your hand, and your index finger flicks the switch up, and down seven times, and then three. You use your elbows to open the door.

You throw the paper towel in the bin at the door, and touch your nose. You sit down on the stool beside the bed this time, and touch your nose again. The sheet is creased; you stand up, and smooth it out as a woman walks in. She introduces herself as Denise; you think that this is strange. She greets you, smiling too big, her eyes watching your hands glide across the bed. She nods towards the bed, and tells you to sit down, you prefer to stand, but no, she insists. You sit, your feet dangling. You don’t like the feeling, and cross your legs. It feels like you’re a student, and she’s the teacher. She remains standing, writing notes on her clipboard, she writes with her left hand.  You can feel your movements create mountains on the sheet, you try to sit how you were when you were alone, it was smoother then.

Denise asks about your day, you shrug, and your eyes fix to the white stain on her collar. Is it toothpaste? You feel your hands start to itch. She wants to take your vitals, she listens to your heartbeat and leans too close, her breath is in your ear as she asks you to breathe in and out deeply. She says to do it twice, but you want to do it a third time.

You wish that you had let mum come inside now; it must be cold in the waiting room, and it always smells like old people in there. Denise is asking you questions that you’re not sure how to answer. You nod or shake your head in response, following her lead.

It’s six thirty, Rachel would just be getting home from soccer practice, you used to be in the same club when you were younger, but you don’t play anymore. Rachel has lots of awards, fourteen in total, she won most valuable player two years in a row. Mum thinks that she might get into university on a sports scholarship, you think so too, but don’t tell her that. She doesn’t clean her cleats when she gets home, she leaves them on the floor in the bathroom that you both share. Mum tells you not to clean them because Rachel should learn how to look after herself. But you don’t like the look of the brown and patches of green on top of the orange, you don’t like the contrast to the white floor.

You and Rachel don’t talk much anymore, your conversations held in grunts. She calls you a freak, and her friends laugh at you, sometimes they touch their noses or mime washing their hands, and they laugh at you, and they laugh and they laugh.

Mum tells you not to pay attention to them, or to Rachel. That it’s just a thing you go through when you grow up. You decide that you don’t want to be fifteen, or seventeen either, she was okay when she was sixteen. You decided that you will just be fourteen and sixteen twice, that it’s nicer that way.

You’re fourteen now, (for the first time), and mum has been giving you the talks about how your body changes. You knew this already, health class had explained this all last year. But you’re confused: they tell you how your body changes, and that your hormones race out of control, and that you begin to think about boys differently. But they don’t tell you why you like certain numbers, and why you don’t like dirt. You thought it was a phase of puberty, but mum said you had to come here today. Actually she said last Wednesday, but that was the 17th and you had already decided that you don’t like that number.

It started when you were eleven, just with washing your hands three times after you ate, and brushing your teeth twice. You just knew that you wanted to be clean; there was nothing wrong with that. Mum would laugh and so would Rachel, you still don’t have any fillings. But now you have to turn the lights on and off ten times, and can’t touch door handles with your bare hands.

Mum and dad have conversations about you behind their hands, their whispers fluttering through the gaps. You don’t hear what they say, just snatches. They sometimes repeat letters but you can’t remember them, and don’t know what they stand for. When they see you, they talk with their eyes and their slumped shoulders. You didn’t mean to upset anyone.

Denise offers you a lollypop, you say no, but she gets you one anyway. It is purple and has a smiley face on the wrapper. She asks if it’s okay for your mum to come in now, and you say yes, keeping your eyes on the lollypop. You don’t open it, it has creases in the wrapper, and you smooth it out while they talk about you.

You interrupt them talking and say that you’re hungry, that you want oranges. Mum says not right now, and folds her arms leaning in closer to Denise. Their heads are bowed down, and they’re talking in that voice that adults put on when they’re being serious, but are trying not to look like it. You know that you’re in trouble.

Mum says that it’s time to leave, and you get off the bed and go to smooth out the sheets again. She puts her hand on your shoulder to stop you, but Denise says something and she lets go. Mum is holding a piece of paper and a pamphlet, she tells you to thank Denise, and you leave.

Mum is crying, but pretending that she isn’t. You both wait in the pharmacy; it smells dusty in there, even though everything is white. An old man shuffles forwards with a cane, a little boy coughs, a girl has her arm in a sling. You wonder why you’re there, you’re not sick. Mum talks to the person at the counter, and you have to wait, neither of you sit. She leaves holding white bottles with labels that have long names.

You stop at the supermarket on the way home. Mum buys bread and milk. She doesn’t get any oranges.

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