Orange Juice Stains
Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks
With the scent and spray of citrus filling the air, Jacob sliced an orange into six, all unequal parts, originally intending to make it eight but his knife wielding skills and ability to plan for fractions were embarrassingly absent, especially during the breakfast hours before coffee was consumed. Sydney was the queen of the kitchen and not for any reason involving her gender, but rather for reasons revolving around her superior taste-buds and a keen understanding of how to make miracles from basic ingredients. Jacob always knew, in the front of his mind, that should he somehow lose her, his body would subsist off nothing but cornflakes and skim milk–whole sometimes, on days he was especially in need of sustenance. Eating would become a disaster and then too would waking up grow exceptionally difficult, working would soon follow this trend and maybe, most likely, breathing would become a task too impossible. Living without her would be too hard, he thought.
“Do you ever think about how you’re going to die?” Jacob asked as Sydney chewed on a bite of fresh Belgium waffle covered in whipped-cream with bright red chunks of strawberries. There was a smudge of whipped-cream on the side of her lip that she dabbed away with her napkin before speaking.
“Yeah, I think about it all the time,” she laughed before asking him why he asked. He thought about telling her that he would probably kill himself if they ever broke up, but decided to save that sort of threat for someday in the future that he hoped would never come.
“I guess I think about how I’d like to die and then I feel really fucked up for spending a portion of my day wondering about something like that. Do you know how you’d like to die? I mean, ’cause I don’t. And sometimes I think I should, you know?”
“Well, when I was a little girl I loved The Little Mermaid and always thought that drowning would be a beautiful way to die. Seeing all of those creatures and being surrounded by all of the blueness. I don’t know about that now though, I think it’d probably be…be suffocating,” she said this and continued to open the newspaper as though her statement somehow brought a close to this conversation topic and they could now move on to discussing the funniest headlines, something they did every morning over breakfast.
“So wait, do you still want to drown?”
“Well then, what do you want?” Jacob asked, in a voice too forceful for the tint that the sun brought in before the afternoon arrived.
“I…I don’t know. I guess at some point I just started to assume that I would die alone.”
Again, she said this in a manner that was so plain and felt punctuated in a way that suggested that none of this was worth addressing further.
“Alone? You think you’re going to die alone? What about all of your brothers and sisters?”
He refrained from including “what about me?”, but they were both thinking that this was logically the other question not being asked.
“They’ll die before me. I don’t know if I really want to, but I can tell that I’m going to grow very old. Older than you for sure.”
“How can you say that? Why?” He asked her in a voice strained and stressed, his fingers squeezing the wedge of orange in his hand too tightly so that its juice began running down his wrist and was soaked up by his shirtsleeve.
“Well for one, you’re stressed all of the time and that’s not good for the body. Dear, you’re making a mess of your shirt,” she laughed again as she said this and stood up to find a wet rag to clean his sleeve. Without her here, Jacob would have simply let the sweet juice dry and continue wearing his shirt, though the thought of being chased by bees or other insects lusting after the stain on his sleeve would have made him endlessly nervous.
“There,” she remarked as the stain magically moved from his sleeve to the rag, “now please stop worrying about such morbid things, especially this early in the day!”
Sydney began reading headlines that were funny because they told the whole story or contained bad puns or weren’t actually funny at all, but Jacob would laugh anyway because he loved her and that’s what you’re supposed to do when you love someone. Or at least one of the things.
Jacob couldn’t sleep that night as he imagined car crashes where he was the passenger and then the driver, overdosing both accidentally and intentionally, being attacked by wild animals or vicious people or by a child mishandling a weapon they couldn’t even accurately name the model of. He thought about these kinds of incidences and realized that most likely he would die of some disease he never knew existed. Cancer of the feet or frozen lung disease or sleepy brain syndrome perhaps. He wondered if the disease that would take him was already showing signs of itself, like maybe the fact that he couldn’t properly cut an orange was a sign that something was very wrong with his nerves, or whatever the communication pathway is called between your eyes and hands. As he started to sweat in concern for a death that could come tomorrow or forty years from now, his heart began racing and his breathing came close to panic, but then when he breathed in deeply he could feel Sydney’s pulse beating softly and steadily against his bare back, and the light patter soothed him like no medication or advice or answer ever could.
Death would come for them both someday, this was accepted and understood, but there were only so many mornings where the headlines of the newspaper would actually be funny and where breakfast would taste even better than yesterday’s. This, and her heartbeat is what got Jacob to sleep at night.