How Orange Trees Grow
by Lyra Fuchs
Anna had once thought that the entrance to Maine would be just as unfamiliar as her father. She expected rising cliffs plummeting into cold and crashing water. Instead she got a gently sloping bridge, which today she rode over next to a fruit distribution truck painted with rolling fields and leaping cows.
“Natural Fresh Fruits!” it read, the colors faded. “Where Nature Meets Fruit Meets You!”
Anna, looking out the window of the Greyhound bus, read the words over and over until they slurred together—naturefruityouyoumeetyounaturefruit. When the truck finally lurched ahead, she felt a sharp pang of nostalgia for its cheerfully rolling hills, but they were suddenly gone.
She still heard naturefruityouyoumeetyounaturefruit when she got off the bus and turned left to walk down the long road to her father’s house. Her father wanted to be a fruit farmer and so long ago he had fluttered off like an oversized moth to chase his pipe dream up all the roads to Maine. Although his family had come from Maine years before, he had never been there until he decided, when Anna was barely six, to leave the city and move. She didn’t hear about from him for a year or two after that until her mother told her that he had moved a mile behind a bus station to grow oranges.
“Oranges,” her mother said, rolling her eyes and twisting her earrings, “in Maine.”
There was crumbling diner next to the electric fence which marked the end of her father’s lawn. A huge sign on the roof read “Milton’s Dream” in drooping varsity lettering. The paint was peeling and the windows all punched in, the glass long shattered. Years earlier, Milton had followed the roads up here, too, but now his dream was slowly decomposing. Anna pictured him strung up inside, suspended from the ceiling by cobwebs.
“That sucker didn’t know what a true dream was,” her father said last year, the first time Anna had ever visited. He picked her up in a rusted orange pickup truck and drove quickly down the road back to his farm. Everything he did was quick. He fluttered everywhere he went, quickly and quietly, and he seemed to move his jaw side to side like a bug instead of up and down.
Today the electric fence was silent and quite literally covered with bugs. Her father had glued at least a hundred dead dragonflies along the top wire. They flickered wantonly in the wind. A lonely hot glue gun lay on the ground; its orange extension cord snaked through overgrown tufts of grass and up the front porch. Anna stopped walking and looked at them. She reached out to touch one, but recoiled, afraid that either the fence would be activated or the dragonflies alive. Her wrist snapped in the air. Wringing her hand and ducking her head, she followed the extension cord inside, where there was nothing but stillness.
“Marty?” she yelled, hoping for her dad. Her voice hung in the emptiness of the kitchen. The whole room felt hollow, the only furniture a meticulously polished wooden table. The porch, however, was pure chaos, a jumble of old bicycle wheels and fruit crates.
Anna slumped against the cool wall. She felt just as hollow as the kitchen and just as jumbled as the porch. Her aunt, the only other person in her family who had been to Marty’s house, told her that it always gave her the sweats.
He left a note on the shiny kitchen table. It seemed to be floating in wood polish.
“ANNA, it said in a frantic scrawl,
“I HAD TO GO ON AN URGENT MISSION. SO SORRY. BIG FAVOR TO ASK—PLEASE DRIVE TRUCK INTO TOWN TONITE AND PICK UP PACKAGE FROM TONY AT DOCK. SEE YOU SOON. LOVE YOU.”
The words “love you” were underlined at least a dozen times, maybe more.
“I don’t understand,” Anna said. The house felt tight around her. Soon it started to grow dark and so she walked out the door past the wheels and the extension cord, past the dragonflies beginning to wilt on the fence. She climbed into the orange-rust truck, which smelled sharply of gasoline and sulfur, and sat there, looking at the dashboard. She didn’t know how to drive. But she turned the key in the ignition anyway and slowly, moving in hops, started to forge her way down the dirt road.
The engine was noisy, and seemed to say naturefruityouyoumeetyounaturefruit. Her father’s road was bordered by a stretch of boulders that seemed to tumble into the sea; last year, he had woken every morning before sunrise to sit on them. She had refused to sit with him. He looked so pitiful, so small and so shrunken, perched on a rock.
Branches arched over the road and created a pattern of thick shadows. She carefully aimed for one after another. Her father was always alone and apparently overwhelmed, she thought. Before he moved to grow oranges, he had tried to be an artist back home, but everyone said his art was worthless. In fact, on one humid night he wrote the word “worthless” over all of his canvases, but her mother said that another artist had already done that years ago.
The orange trees had tried to grow but the rocks and the winter strangled them. Bits and pieces of trunks rose and reached up desperately. In the early darkness they looked haunted and surreal. She thought naturefruityouyoumeetyounaturefruit as she tried not to look at them. They made her sick and sad. If she squinted, a clump of them in the distance tangled with boulders on the shore and looked just like her father’s wilting profile.
Suddenly the steering wheel slipped out of her hands. The truck jerked off the road and barrelled straight into a barren old orange tree. Everything felt sharp. She was blinded for a moment by a flash of light, and then she tumbled out of the seat and looked at the tree. She put her hands on her head and stretched her face up towards the sky. The truck had crumbled against the the tree, sending flecks of orange rust and bright sparks sailing through the air. They clung to the tree and made it look heavy, bursting and ready for harvest, with all the ripe oranges a soul could want.
– An original story written by Lyra Fuchs from Hastings High School as the final product of her Chewonki Semester School Human Ecology Project about Storytelling from, about, and of Maine.
Lyra answering questions during her Human Ecology Presentation.
We’ll be posting more examples of Semester 52’s Human Ecology Projects, stay tuned! See an example of Semester 51’s Gemma Laurence project here.