My first clue was the lizard skin.
I should have been listening to my boss. It was the first five minutes of the first hour of my first day back to work after seven and a half months. We were talking schedules, meetings, projects. My boss was glad to have me back doing publicity. I was glad to be back, after a fashion. But my eyes kept straying to the ragged translucent tan scraps constantly blowing from the roofline outside her window. They even had crosshatching that looked like scales.
So not only did I introduce this inappropriate topic within five minutes of my return, but I actually interrupted her to do it.
“Anyone with a project for you goes through their supervisor, then me, so I have an idea – ”
“Excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt, but – what is that stuff flapping out there?”
Unfazed, she turned to see what I was pointing to. “That’s what’s left of what the construction workers used to shroud the library over the winter. Once they began removing the façade, the cold wind blew through the whole building, and this was a buffer. It’s called Visqueen.”
“Sounds like Bisquick,” I murmured absently.
“So I make a list of your projects, and – ”
I tried to listen carefully, I really did. All I’d wanted for so long was to be well enough to work again. I wanted to do well, I wanted to make a good impression. But while my boss explained that we had to park across the street because of the construction, I stared at shedding lizard skin.
He pulled out an orange, seemingly from the air, and gave it a little toss. It arced toward me, then stuck in the air between us. “You’re a baby.”
“You’re pretty infantile yourself.” I glanced around to see if anyone else was enjoying David Copperfield here. Apparently, no one saw anything strange about a man sitting on a car hanging fruit in the air. He calmly waited for my attention, then continued.
“You see something orange that you’ve never seen before. You think it’s round but flat, like an orange circle cut from construction paper.
“Someone tells you there is food behind this round orange thing. You don’t believe them. But, being a hungry baby, you come over and look behind it anyway. Go on. Look behind it.”
Feeling even stupider than I had yet in the last five minutes, I stepped forward and nudged the airbound orange aside. “Nothing,” I said.
“Right. And you were so involved in moving it that you didn’t really pay attention to it. Look." He leaned forward again, more animated than I’d seen him yet. “There is food behind this round orange thing.” He tapped it. “But this thing has a substantial presence beyond what is obvious on the outside. It’s not just a flat, inedible skin. It’s not only circular. It’s globular.” He cupped his hands around it in a ball gesture.
“Would you get off my car, please?”
“And the pulp of the orange is behind this. But you can’t shove the whole thing aside to get at it. You have to tear through it. Tear through what you assumed was a solid totality. You thought all you could see was all that was there.”
“Bye,” I said, picking up my keys and opening the door.
“Take me home with you.”
“No!” This guy was beyond belief.
“Then stay and listen, because if you don’t I’m going to sit on your hood all the way home and follow you inside.”
I looked at him, measuring his ability to hang on. I pictured myself peeling out, making a cool screeching exit like in the movies and tumbling him onto the grass. However, I was parallel parked, and the maneuver lost its power when I imagined having to carefully back and fill to get out of there. In my mind’s eye he’s sitting on the hood calmly while I shift from drive to reverse, drive to reverse. “This’ll teach you to mess with me, buddy!” He yawns.
“Okay, tell me your fascinating fruit stories. The Unbearable Roundness of Oranges.” He laughed, and I was charmed. For a moment he was a person, a human being like me, and not some man-shaped annoyance doing sleight-of-hand.
Just as I thought this, he whipped off his hard hat with a stage magician’s flourish and casually tossed it toward the orange. It scooped up the orange and boomeranged back to him, dropping open side down on top of the hood. I winced. “Make me an orange.”
“Make you an orange?”
“Poof! You’re an orange.” I smirked. I hardly ever got to use this gag. It was stupid, but I loved it.
“I want an orange. Create one for me.”
“Make me one. I want one.”
What the hell is he babbling about? “But I don’t have to. You already have one.”
“Make me one. I need an orange.”
“You have one. It’s already there. It already exists.”
“I don’t see one.”
“It’s right there.”
“But I don’t see it.”
“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
© 1996 Pamela Briggs.
All rights reserved.