I was standing at the edge of the ocean when a pale woman with dark hair pleating her back in heavy crescendos offered me a basket of fruit.
The basket was teeming over, bloated with the weight of so many pears, apples, oranges, grapefruit, and cherries, muskmelon, a hint of the skin of a honeydew from beneath the pile. How the woman, tall, yet gaunt, could hold the basket without shaking, made no sense. She formed a stark opposition to her abundant offering, airy as she was, in a powder blue sundress, with flowers, slightly wilted, pinned into her long hair, whose petals became caught in a burst of sea air and disappeared.
The basket of fruit sharpened its hold upon me, and I felt its need to be taken from, as a nursing mother’s breasts ache to be sucked.
I reached for an orange, bright and glossy as the artificial kind set in glass baskets in fine homes. When I held it in my hand, though, I discovered that this gloss was instead beads of the orange’s own moisture. Yet to the touch it was cool. Its roundness was intoxicating in its flawless completion, and at once I did not want to ever loose it from my grasp.
“Wherever you go, remember always this sensation,” the woman spoke. Her voice rang clearly, resolutely, supported by a fortitude foreign to her meager body.
Then she said, “Peel it.”
I hesitated, as stripping the fruit of its skin felt like an act of sacrilege, attached as I had become to its wholeness. I pleaded to the woman that she allow me to maintain the purity of the orange. I feared what would happen if I punctured its perfect skin.
The woman shook her head and spoke, “Now.”
I began to cry as I carved out small incisions with the nail of my thumb, the citrus spraying the bare skin of my chest. I thought of a baby spitting up. I tore off the skin, pulp clumping beneath my fingernails. The work was slow and I could only remove small pieces of rind at a time. To my surprise, I began to enjoy the act. I enjoyed feeling the woman’s eyes upon me, and the approval they sent. She set down her basket and stepped closer to watch me, and I could smell her rosy sweat. She drew so close that a wisp of her hair tickled my face. When I looked up to her I was surprised to see she was annoyed. She said, “Give it to me.”
Sheepishly, covetously, I handed her my barely stripped orange. In several seconds she had peeled it completely.
She handed me the bare fruit and said, gently, “Now we can go to the water.”
She picked up her basket and we walked to the lip of the sea and wet our feet. After several minutes of stillness, our faces cocked to the waves, the woman said, “Throw the orange into the water.”
I held the orange to my chest and began to cry again. Its juice mingled with the oils of my skin, and I felt at once a wave of attachment rip through my body. I wanted nothing more than to keep the orange with me forever. I felt that I could not live without it.
The woman gestured to the basket teeming over with fruit, which she had set next to her on the sand, an occasional reverberation of a wave lolling over it, increasing the fruits’ glisten, and said, “But there is plenty of fruit here, plenty of oranges, even. Why favor that one?”
“But I chose it. It’s mine. I peeled it,” I said. “It knows me.”
“So what?” the woman said. “Every one of the pieces in the basket could be given a similar treatment, and would respond in kind. Every one of them has a peel that takes care to remove, and holds juice that can spray upon your chest. There is nothing special or unique about the fruit in your hand.”
“But I chose it,” I said, now sobbing.
“I offered it to you to be chosen,” the woman said firmly. “Let it go.”
And so I used all of my physical strength to heave the white flesh of my orange into the roaring sea. I watched it bounce and lilt over the surface of several foaming waves, then disappear in one fervent crest.
“Good,” the woman said, and took me in her arms. Her hair smelled deeply of orange oil. “Now you are wise.”