I WALKED TOWARDS the cold December kitchen, halting in shock, rocking back on my heels, my presence unnoticed.
Dad was bent over the table, in itself not an unusual sight. Instead of a book in his hands, he was surrounded by hills of orange peel that covered the entire surface. He’d moved the bin over from it’s usual place underneath the sink, the lid off. Filled to the top were piles of oranges, nearly whole with ripped up segments. Dad examined the orange he’d just finished peeling, ripped it apart angrily and put one segment in his mouth. Immediately it was rejected, spat out into the pile of masticated orange right in front of him.
“What’s going on?” I asked, surpising him as his stained fingers paused, about to break the surface of more skin.
“I didn’t see you there…what are you doing back so early?” I wasn’t used to hello’s and how you doings, but his delivery was unusually curt. His eyes darted around the mess of his creation pinging from bin to table, to bin, to me. He was embarassed.
“What’s with the orange’s?” I tried to sound casual, as if commenting on the weather, or asking for a cup of tea. I stepped inwards, standing closer to the table, enjoying the fresh citrus smell.
Again his eyes traced across the mess, finishing by temporarily locking on to my own, then glancing away, as he sat still, unsure of what to do next, the orange tumbling from his grasp.
“You think I’m mad don’t you?” he said staring at the peel on the table, head slumped, caught orange handed. It wasn’t the first time he’d done something bizarre. Eccentric, not mad! the standard retort. Maybe I overplayed the jokes on dementia.
“No. But what the hell are you doing?” And I spotted a couple of wooden crates next to his chair.
He shrugged, still avoiding eye contact. “Maybe I am…” was said in a whisper, apologetic.
I moved closer and placed a hand on his shoulder, shrouded by a fleece jacket, tense.
Picking a peeled orange from many on the table, I gently tore a couple of pieces off and ate them, feeling Dad’s eyes on me as I did so. I chewed eagerly, a couple of chomps, then – EUGHGHH! – I spat the juicy pulp out onto the table.
Dad’s eyes lit up. “See! I sat down intending to have one. One! Orange after orange tasted horrible, all dried up, no sweetness. I had to keep going. All I wanted was one good orange! And I couldn’t stop, I felt compelled, angry even. No matter how many I peeled they all tasted ghastly!”
I nodded in agreement: “Fruit roulette..” A real affliction this time of year.
Satisfied there was a reason behind the excess of orange, I walked over to the patio door to close it, feeling the cold. I stopped abruptly. Another ten orange crates lay in wait. The odds were stacked against Dad, but I hoped he would find the one.