Story of Oranges
It was warm in the room, though it was late September. An old house in a small Croatian village, every room inexplicably painted orange or green; the walls in the bedroom were a faded orange, bare except for one small window, set high, and one framed botanical print above the headboard: “histoire d’oranges.”
I lay on my back staring at the ceiling. Hana lay next to me, covered only slightly by the sheet, the rest pushed down creating an excess of fabric which was knotting at our ankles. Her arm was deadweight on my chest and her breath heavy in my ear—we had drunk too much and she had fallen asleep quickly. The light above us came from one of those frosted half domes but the glass was not as opaque as I assume it once was; you could see all the wires bundled inside. They looked like snakes and if I stared hard enough I could see them move. That night as I slept they came down from the ceiling. They bound my legs and arms with their bodies and showed me images of her with Sofia. I could feel the snakes’ tongues as they whispered all her secrets in my ear, as if it were them who had unlocked her phone while she was in the shower and not me.
The next morning I woke before the alarm, a bad taste in my mouth—from the dreams or perhaps from the beers and slivovice. She felt me stir and turned towards me, pressing her face into my neck, always so affectionate first thing, the opposite of me. I peeled away pulling on the underwear I had dropped at the edge of the bed the night before and closed the door gently behind me. Into the kitchen— and more affection—as I spooned dog food out of the can into the bowl on the floor. I picked up a fig from the table and escaped to the shower, washed the juices from my chin and dissolved into the hot water, letting it run over me until I heard the alarm go off and, as imminently as I expected, her knock. I shut off the tap and looked down at my body, tanned and slim from ten days of sun and saltwater, goosebumps beginning to form. I pulled on the underwear again and walked out, trailing water. We were already packed so I started loading boxes and bags into the car as she mopped after me and brushed her teeth. We’d done this enough times that it wasn't long before we were on the highway, the keys through the letterbox.
The sky got lighter quickly, but without any of the dramatic colours that everyone hopes for in a sunrise. It didn’t light her face in any particular way, no hues of pink or red or orange on her cheek. But I studied her as if it did. She didn’t look different.
I leant my head against the cool window; the thrum of the road couldn’t stop my thoughts straying back to when we had met. It seemed like London was perpetually sunny that summer, although that couldn’t possibly have been the case, and we wouldn’t have seen any of it anyway, except the light that broke through the thin red curtains and illuminated her bed. Each morning we’d wake up to the sound of the birds or the council lawnmower, then the smell of the wood fires from the canal boats as the nights grew cooler and the wisteria leaves on the town houses opposite the Haggerston flat began to yellow. We also woke to dry lips and splitting heads, only to reach for each other under the thin covers—neither drunk or high and yet somehow both—pressing faces to bodies, mouths to mouths, relieving the pressure. Pleasure and pain impersonating one another until I could no longer tell them apart.
I felt her hand on my thigh, drawing me back to reality, and turned to look at her. Her eyes looked hazy from the early start, somehow sensual. I looked ahead, spotted the petrol station and nodded, grateful for the interruption and for the coffee break; the heat of the sun was starting to work its way through the glass and I felt restless and uncomfortable. Watching her pay I pictured myself sliding into the driver’s seat, turning the engine over and heading back to our flat in Prague alone. But I kept watching her, heavy in my seat. Heavy from the heat, from the hour, from the knowing. I watched as she dropped the sunglasses from the top of her head down to her eyes and smiled at the cashier. Watched as she walked back to the car. Placed my hand on the back of her neck as she felt for the cupholders, running my fingers into her hair. Her hand went to the key as she leant over and kissed me, and with her first sip of coffee bitter on my lips, we drove home.
Frances Coles is a copywriter and editor based in Prague. She spends half her spare time trying to write her thoughts down, and the other half trying to outrun (or cycle) them. This is her debut fiction publication.