By Devin Papillion
You set the tangerine on the table and told me to eat it because it was good for me. I wasn’t sure I could believe you. You knew I hated tangerines and still I could not fathom why they always tasted so bitter. I said to you: “Mommy, I don’t like this.” But before I could enunciate the last part of my sentence, I flinched in fear as my cheek caught the bones on the back of your hand. Like a leather glove to the fast side of a baseball, it fit so perfectly. It had grown accustomed to that spot. The grooves in your knuckles etched into the soft parts of my skin and it hurt like hell. But by then I had become a warrior and the pain was very familiar. So I did not cry. Crying happened when I was six. At seven and a half, crying was for babies, just like you always said. So things like this were commonplace.
One time you hit so hard, I could taste the residue of last night’s liquor on your hand. There was a stale odor and I could tell it had been sitting on your fingertips for a while, and now it was in my nose, in my mouth. I knew it was from the night before — it was about 7:00am, and you hadn’t had your first drink (which you usually poured around 9:00am).
I fell in love with Theodore Cain in the third grade. I never told you because I feared it would make you jealous. I knew you were still in love with Daddy and we both knew he stopped loving you a long time ago. But Theodore is 27 now — nine months my senior. And I am still in love with him. He is in love with me too, but some days are hard. Some days are hard like the hard days you once shared with Daddy.
One night I ran Theodore’s bath water, thinking he needed some type of relief from the 12-hour shift at the tire shop. He came into the bathroom and saw me sitting on the edge of the tub. I could see the confusion on his face; the white sections of his eyes were flooded with a red fire that I could feel. The back of his hand met my cheek as he asked me where his dinner was. I informed him that I wanted to make sure he had a hot bath because I knew it had been a long day. The grooves in his knuckles weren’t quite like yours. I could stand them a little better. But maybe this was because you had prepared me for this. So for a split second after the blow, I was grateful for your abhorrent actions. But still, the pain managed to reach my flesh to let me know that it was there. In my head I screamed: “Mommy, I don’t like this.” Yes. You were whom I called out for. And when I called for you I called silently because I knew either way it wouldn’t make a difference. Due in part to the varying degree of my naivety, I thought you were the only one I had. I knew you wouldn’t hear me but I mustered up the courage to try one last time, just to let you know: “Mommy, I don’t like this.”
It’s been nearly a decade since your death and nearly half that time since I have broken free from Theodore. A few days ago, I was shopping for fruit at the local farmer’s market to decorate my new fruit basket that sits in the middle of my dining room table—(I think you would have liked this table. It’s big and round and wooden with a cherry red finish. There’s plenty of room to accumulate junk: like old mail that is never opened, or ashtrays and coasters.) I stumbled across a bag of organic tangerines, locally grown and harvested. I cringed at the thought of one of these in my mouth. The farmer talked them up and said they were this, this and that. It was as if he wouldn’t let me leave until I bought at least one. I caved and bought one bag, with three inside. To me this was two too many. But I think I only bought them to use the taste as comfort, telling myself that you weren’t really dead since there are still tangerines on this Earth.
When I bit into one I found out that tangerines are not supposed to be a bitter fruit. They were always bitter because you let them sit and rot in the bag too long before you fed them to me. I now buy one bag from the local farmer twice a week.
Image: Franca Giminez
This piece was originally featured in Persephone’s Daughters, a lit magazine dedicated to empowering women who have experienced various forms of abuse and degradation.
Devin is a freelance writer newly relocated to the Los Angeles area. Having received her bachelor’s degree in Texas, she has moved west to pursue her dreams as a published author and successful freelancer writer. She writes short fiction, poetry, prose and also blogs at www.tbeffect.com. She has just recently published her first Chapbook as a collection of poems. Visit her here: www.devpapillion.com