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The Pursuit of Oranges
By Abigail Harvey
Kana grumbled and rolled over in her bed to peer at the knife hanging on the wall beside her. The face carved into the knife’s handle seemed to be moving slightly, distorted in the darkness.
“Ugh,” Kana moaned, and she flicked the handle. “Kensu, shut up.”
“With pulp! What?” said the knife, startled awake.
“You were talking in your sleep again. I respect you as a culinary mastermind and everything, but as a roommate, you’re really quite annoying.”
Kensu blinked, then yawned. “What was it this time?”
“Something about orange juice,” Kana replied, punching her pillow into a comfier shape. “I don’t get it, but then oranges didn’t exist by the time I was born. Was it really that good?”
Kensu hesitated for a moment, then replied, “It’s not so much the orange juice as who was drinking it…”
Kana waited, but the knife said nothing more.
“Are you going to tell me about this mysterious subject of your citrus fantasies voluntarily or do I have to flick it out of you?”
Kensu sighed. “In my old life, when I was just a young man and nobody had ever heard of Chef David Kensu, I decided to travel around Europe for a while to explore the cuisine, starting with Greece. My first morning there, I found this tiny taverna overlooking the Ionian Ocean. I ordered myself a coffee and, without taking my eyes off the view, I pulled out a chair. I knocked right into a man walking by with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, spilling it over both of us. I thought he was going to yell at me at the very least, but he just laughed, right from his belly, I can still hear it. We ended up spending that whole day together, and then… the rest of our lives. And on every anniversary, I’d cook him breakfast in bed, always with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.”
“Blurgh!” Kana pretended to vomit onto her duvet, pulling Kensu brutally out of his daydream.
“Kidding, chef,” said Kana, grinning. “I never knew you were such an old romantic! How about, today, we go find you some new fruit to squeeze?... Wink.”
She jumped out of bed laughing and began getting ready, despite the early hour.
Kensu sighed again—he did that a lot these days—but couldn’t pretend Kana hadn’t piqued his interest.
A short while later, they were in their Sashimichanga food truck, searching for fruit.
“So, what d’you reckon our chances are of finding an Avonovan orange?” asked Kana, scanning the surroundings as she drove.
“Oh, I think we have every chance of finding one,” answered Kensu. “Though we can’t rule out the possibility of it tasting like haddock or something.”
“What’s haddock? Hey, look!”
Just up the road, behind a colorful display of angry-looking vegetables, was an orchard of the most peculiar trees either of them had ever seen.
Kana stopped the truck, picked up Kensu, and headed over to the orchard.
One of the trees had a mirrored trunk, reflecting the magical early morning light and nearly blinding Kana. It bore teardrop-shaped fruit that grew in clusters and jingled softly like windchimes in a gentle breeze. Kana reached for a piece but Kensu whispered, “No! The sign!”
Looking down, Kana saw a small, haphazard plaque at the base of the glassy trunk, which read: WORK IN PROGRESS. DO NOT EAT, ON PAIN OF DEATH.
“Yikes,” said Kana, recoiling. She moved on.
The next tree had leaves of deep purple, almost black, and was growing shining yellow fruit that looked firm and crunchy.
“Golden Vicious,” said Kensu, reading another sign. “They look a little like apples. Let’s try one.”
Kana plucked a Golden Vicious from its branch then immediately dropped it, crying out in pain.
“It bit me!” she told Kensu. “I’m not eating something that tries to eat me back, chef. No way. What’s the next one?”
“Ooh, that looks promising,” said Kensu. “Orange-shaped, at least.”
The fruit on the next tree was almost spherical, turquoise, and topped with lush, striped leaves of ruby and sapphire. As Kana and Kensu walked towards it, the fruit suddenly began to whistle a single, painfully high note.
A mere second later, a small, leaf-covered, bushy-tailed Fabled sprang out of a nearby bush flailing a pair of green secateurs and trilled, “Ah, good! It’s a whistling day! Good, good, very good!” Kana, who had leapt back to avoid being run over by the manic little gardener, watched in fascination—and a drop of fear—as the Fabled threw down the secateurs and hoisted themself up on their tail to pick the whistling fruit.
Kana and Kensu exchanged a puzzled glance before Kana decided to introduce herself.
“Um, hi,” she began.
The gardener abruptly fell off their perch and rolled towards Kana and Kensu, feet over head, snapping to a halt in front of them.
“What is this?” they said, sniffing the air and reminding Kana of an overgrown rodent. “Who are you? Are you here about the tulips? Because they’re forty percent less violent than last month and you really can’t ask for any more than—”
“No!” insisted Kana. “We’re not here about any tulips, I promise.”
“We?” inquired the gardener, looking past Kana for her companion.
“Oh, sorry,” said Kana, and she held up the knife. “This is David Kensu. It’s an old-human-spirit-imbuing situation, you know the deal. And I’m Kana.”
The gardener sniffed at the knife but did not seem perturbed by the face smiling serenely back at them from the knife’s handle.
“Fernie Pollocks,” said the Fabled. “Self-proclaimed Chief Horticulturalist. So, if you’re not here about the tulips, why are you in my orchard?”
“Sorry,” Kana said again. “We didn’t know it belonged to anyone. We’re chefs—you might’ve heard of our Sashimichanga food truck—and we were hoping to sample some of your fruit for new recipes. Could you tell us about these weird whistling things?”
“Weird?” demanded Fernie. “They’re not weird, they’re brilliant! Revolutionary! These are my Whistling Citrapods! Citrapods are truly delicious, but quite precious, and if they’re not picked very soon after becoming ripe, they turn moldy out of spite. So I grew these ones to whistle so I always know the instant they need picking, see?”
“That is brilliant,” marveled Kensu. “Please, Fernie, could we try one?”
Fernie eyed Kensu sideways for a moment, then said, “Well, you’ve put me rather behind schedule…”
“What if we help you pick them?” suggested Kana.
Fernie’s face twitched briefly, then softened. “Very well,” they agreed. “But quickly now—they’re already getting stroppy!”
The gardener handed Kana a basket off a trestle table next to the orchard, and the pair of them darted around the tree plucking the turquoise orbs as fast as they could. Kana stretched up with Kensu and nudged the flat of the blade into the higher branches to shake the out-of-reach fruit loose. She caught every piece (Kana was no stranger to working quickly and precisely) and piled them gently into the basket.
“Good! Very good!” Fernie declared, once all the fruit had been picked. “Here you are, then.”
The gardener handed over a now-silent citrapod, and Kana deftly peeled away its skin before tearing off a segment and popping it into her mouth.
One bite and the sweet, tangy juices flooded her tongue. In her mind’s eye she saw a cheery old lady in an apron, holding out a plate of food and beaming at her. Kana felt her face go hot and a lump forming in her throat. She quickly chewed and swallowed, hoping Fernie and Kensu hadn’t noticed.
“Wow,” she said, her voice croaky with emotion. “They really are delicious, Fernie. How would you feel about letting us have some of these for the truck? We’ll bring you a plate of any new recipe we create with them, free of charge. What do you say?”
Fernie wiped citrapod juice from their mouth and observed Kana, thinking.
“Please?” Kana persisted, putting on what she thought was her most charming smile.
“Very well,” said Fernie. “But nothing with meat! I don’t do meat.”
“You got it,” said Kana.
Fernie divided a third of the harvest into another basket and gave it to Kana.
“And if you happen to be here on another whistling day,” the gardener muttered, “I wouldn’t say no to a helping knife with those top branches…”
“No problem,” Kana replied with a lazy salute. “See you soon, Fernie Pollocks.”
As Kana set the basket of citrapods and Kensu into the passenger seat of her food truck, she felt the knife staring at her.
“You know I taste what you taste,” Kensu said quietly, “and I tasted nostalgia sprinkled with sadness. What was that?”
Kana did not look at him, but continued needlessly adjusting a seatbelt around the fruit basket.
“I remembered my grandma,” she mumbled. “She was the one who got me excited about food, and taught me to take risks. She was never afraid to try new things, even if they didn’t work out the way she hoped. She hadn’t planned it—it was just an experiment—but her Teriyaki Tacos took our whole town by storm. I learned a lot from her.”
There was a moment of silence, then, “Blurgh!” Kensu mimed retching over the citrapods.
“Oh, shut up,” said Kana, but she couldn’t help laughing. She hopped into the driver’s seat and they set off, back on the road to new flavors.