Citrus by Catherine McNamara
I am holding the baby when he strikes me across the cheek. The house-girl pulls back into the kitchen. My sons each become smaller and tighter in their seats. They watch the air crumple as he sweeps from the room. The jeep, on dust, skids across the yard.
I hear pots in the kitchen. I ask the girl to bring oranges. Oranges have solved the crimes of this house.
We are okay, I tell the boys. We are okay now.
The boys take their two white plates with two faded oranges before them. They look at the consolation of these oranges. Each inject their oranges with thumbs and lift out the soft stub inside, open up the white pith and the air is citrusy and the yellow skins sit in clumps. The boys are competitive and race to finish first.
In this clammy city there is no power so it was inevitable that we should be this tense. Our small generator sits in the front yard as a swimming squid in an ocean trough, radiating cables to the grimy servants’ quarters and this beaten house. The noise flies above with a groggy churning. Our neighbours’ houses rest in resilient darkness, charcoal fires and chatter. The palm trees outside have become clacking soldiers.
The baby, now settled again, reaches for my hair, my breast.
The boys’ faces sweat as they eat their orange slivers. Everything is fury, everything is competition. Their fair hair clings to their foreheads and they glance at each other; one has lost a front tooth.
My boys will become pale, long-limbed men. When they strike their girlfriends and wives they will smell the citrus of their childhood.