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Orange Crush

Aisle 15. Bottled salad dressing. Mustard and other condiments. Cooking oil.

Kate meandered down the aisle, searching for whatever it was that she initially came here for. But now the cart was like her life -- full of things she didn't need.

She wasn't a nice person, there was no denying that. Kate was nothing if not efficient, and the sheer volume of unnecessary stuff that she would end up buying today would trouble her in the end. Most of the time she was in complete control.

But for now, produce called.

Kate's heels clicked on the shiny tiles as she walked. No cheapie linoleum in this market, this yuppie paen to overpriced food and assorted crap. Three bucks for a thing of water? It didn't matter so long as it had the right name. Besides, she thought, I can sure as hell afford it now. And I know what's important in life.

No jeans. She made that promise to herself a long time ago. Nothing blue collar like before. Nothing that didn't scream of the affluence she had acquired. Other people might pick up groceries in their shorts and sweaty t-shirts -- god knows her sister did -- but Kate believed those things belonged in a gym. She wouldn't even jog alongside the road anymore. Why give anyone a free look?

Oh, right, produce. Kate had an annoying habit of zoning out of the present and losing herself in a place where only she mattered. Her mom used to say she was self-absorbed. Her dad called her a "thinker". Her brother diplomatically called her a stuck-up bitch and left it at that. He was probably just jealous of the attention Kate always got from her parents. From teachers. From everyone.

But forget all that -- she wanted an orange.

Just an orange. Just like old times, when she was a kid. Sitting by the pool with a lapful of oranges picked right off the tree and a great big knife. Legs in the pool up to her knees. Some oranges Kate would peel, meticulously stripping off the white ropey pulp that covered the sections like spider veins on an old woman's legs. Others she would slice in half and eat that way, juice dribbling down her face. Sticky chin. Sticky fingers.

Sticky fingers. Just like the cousin who would visit during the summer when she was a teenager, Mr. Don't-Tell-Anyone-Okay-It's-Our-Little-Secret.

She was nothing if not morally vacant.

Kate stared at the pile of oranges for a long time, lost in her thoughts. I need the perfect one. She ran her fingers over the oranges sitting on top of the pile, but nothing registered. Abruptly she shoved her hand down into the mass and retrieved what on this day would become her pride and joy.

It was, for all intents and purposes, the perfect piece of fruit. Completely round and unblemished. Just the right amount of firmness, and perfect color. Kate ran her fingertips over the skin. Sixty dollar French manicure. Lasts a week.

It hardly mattered, though. Kate's job paid all the bills, and lying flat on her back paid for all the extras.

Over the years, Kate had become an authority on ceilings. There were 28 panels in Mr. Teague's office, and 33 in Ted's. Mr. Thomas Cartier didn't have ceiling panels -- he just had a mottled plaster overlay -- but he did have wood paneling on the walls, so that counted for something. He was Kate's current bigwig. He had something she wanted. And it was a forgone conclusion that she would get it.

She was nothing if not persuasive.

The breasts helped. Of course they were fake, are you kidding?!? Anyone with half a brain could look at them and know they were manmade. Women could always tell. Men could tell, too, they just didn't care. She wasn't stupid enough to have silicone. They were saline, so Kate argued that she was still natural. She liked the idea of the Pacific Ocean sloshing around inside her chest. She liked the idea of doing her part to promote environmental awareness.

The orange never left her hand. She liked the feel of it there, slightly cool. Round and perfect. Perfect like ... me? No, she was flawed, at least in one way. Perfect like Steve, oh yes, that was it. Perfect like Steve.

Steve, who used public transportation, for god's sake. But Kate loved him anyway. Wait, she loved him? Was she even capable of that? She hadn't thought so, and especially not with Steve. He was nice. He liked her for something other than her perfectly-engineered body. He somehow saw that part of her she was careful to keep buried, the part of her that desperately wanted to be liked. Kate often found herself feeling real happiness when Steve was around.

Of course, he didn't stand a chance.

The shortest line at the checkout was for 10 items or less. Kate took it, oblivious to the dirty looks thrown her way. It's not that she didn't care, really. She just didn't notice. Kate rarely noticed other people unless there was some advantage to be gained from it. What could any of these people do for her?

She was nothing if not realistic.

Paper or plastic?

The bag boy brought Kate back into reality. Doesn't matter. I can recycle either. Tim chose plastic for her. She seemed like the type.

Miranda broke into a little smile as Kate removed her items from the shopping cart. Kate gave her a look. Competition? There really wasn't any, to be honest. Miranda was only 17, and gawky in the ways most teenagers are. Plus, she worked in a grocery store. Kate pulled her shoulders back, thrust her breasts out and gave Miranda her best fuck-you grin. Miranda was used to her by now. Plastic Surgery Woman. The breasts were a dead giveaway. But there was also the nose job, Miranda was sure of that, and maybe even, in fact probably, liposuction.

Miranda was only 17, she'd never be like Kate, but you know what? She didn't care. She was happy. And Kate hated her for that.

American Express gold card. Kate never worried about the bill. Why should she when it didn't even come to her? It was Ted's. He never bothered to ask for it back, and she never bothered to tell him that she kept using it. Of course, he still felt entitled to certain things because of his generousity. He always told her she was built for sin. It was a simple enough arrangement.

Kate took the orange out of the paper bag and held it in her hand. Even with all the stuff she picked up, she only had one bag. All her purchases were small. Like your mind, she heard her sister say. What did her sister know? She didn't even have a gold card.

The heat smacked her right in the face when she walked out the door, clutching the orange in her right hand with her sack of groceries stuck precariously in the crook of her left arm. Nice balancing act. She should have changed her shoes, though. The streets around the market were cobblestone, and walking on them with her arms full was proving to be difficult. If not downright dangerous.

Kate thought about how she was going to eat this orange. Most likely she'd peel it and devour its flesh section by section. No more juicy kid mess for her. That was another life. The life she left behind for the one she now had. Now that she thought about it, she didn't think it was a fair trade. Maybe she would eat it the old, messy way. Sticky chin. Sticky fingers.

She was nothing if not rebellious.

She tossed the orange up and down, following it's path through the air. Kate had to cross the street. No big deal. I bet I can make it across the street without dropping this damn orange, too. She could do two things at once. Easy.

She should have changed her shoes.

The next thing she knew she was on her knees in the middle of the road, sack of groceries spread across the street. Her hose were ruined. Eight dollars a pair, dammit, and now look at them! The orange, though, was still in her hand. Indestructable. She'd have to gather everything else up, but the orange was untouched and intact, thank god, and that's what was important.

Retribution was right around the corner.

Kate never saw it coming until it was too late. It didn't see her, either, kneeling in the middle of the road. Public transportation. Steve used it. She loved him, she was absolutely sure of that now.

Kate felt herself being thrown back, being dragged by a set of wheels, felt her hand hitting hard against the brick road. The orange was launched on its way, tumbling down the street, rolling haphazardly over the uneven pavement.

She watched it with her nearly-dead eye. Kate watched the orange and felt herself being watched at the same time. Innocent bystanders. Someone yelling about an ambulance. Unfamiliar faces looking at her broken body pinned under the wheels of the bus. They're looking at my face, she thought, my pretty little face, and she felt a certain amount of vanity. And they were looking at her face, indeed they were. At least they were looking where her face should be. But Kate no longer really had a face. She left it behind on the front of the bus.

Sticky chin. No fingers.

Her breasts couldn't save her this time.

Kate no longer cared about the people. She wanted her orange, goddamn it. Then she saw it, rolling slowly. It was going to stop in front of the Hallmark store. She'd have to get up off the road and go get it. She knew she could do that if she could just get this fucking tire off her chest. All of a sudden Kate understood what was happening. Her orange was rolling down the street, out of her life. Then the horrible realization -- she wasn't going to get to eat it, was she?

The orange stopped, it's momentum ended by the wheels of a bread truck. Force equals mass times acceleration, Kate thought. Whatever. The force of the wheel was enough to make the orange burst from the inside out, spewing juice and pulp in a three-foot arc. What do you know? Kate had picked a good one.

Her orange was gone. She was going to be too, most likely. Someone said something about her not breathing. Get the bus offa her! Thank god, someone is going to get this goddamn tire off my chest. Kate knew she'd be okay. She was a winner. Always had been. She always ended up on top. She was Kate, for god's sake! Everyone's number one.

But Doris had only been driving a bus for a few weeks, and Jesus she'd never run over anyone before! There goes my pension! Just put it in reverse. Slip the clutch into R. No problem. No problem! I can do this. I can. As long as the bus doesn't roll forward.

Her head. Kate's life ended the same way as her orange. She knew exactly how it felt.

She was nothing if not sympathetic.

Really, she was just nothing.

1996 by Julie Goodrich. All rights reserved. Unlawful reproduction punishable by death. Yes I will find you, so don't even try.

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