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Image by Lucas Kapla


August 1, 2022

The Orange was written for the 2022 Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Competition. 

Maximum 1,000 words 

Theme: Water Under the Bridge

The Orange: Work


The first sign there was something wrong with Lucy’s brain was when she couldn’t remember what an orange was. Three months ago, Hank entered their farmhouse kitchen to Lucy motionless at the kitchen sink, studying the piece of fruit plucked from their backyard tree.

His stomach dropped when she turned to him, her voice quivering, ‘I don’t know its name.’

First, it was the orange, then several other items in the house, before a swift mental and physical descent into irreversible illness.

The specialist gave it some complicated name Lucy wouldn’t remember, and Hank would never forget. Fancy name aside, it was a brain tumour. Grade four, stage four. Hank didn’t hear the rest. When it came to cancer, everyone knew four was the worst.

They left the specialist’s office in a daze. The next morning, Lucy was admitted to the hospital and the last room she would ever see. The disease rapidly engulfed her until she was a hollow shell. Paper thin skin rustling over fragile bones, large bruises covering her body like a map of an alien planet. 

Hank couldn’t bear to show Lucy the scans showing her blackened organs, and brain, now more like a decaying sponge.

Hank held his wife’s hand as she spouted random, nonsensical musings until the morphine set in. The destruction continued until she was just lying there, staring vacantly, mumbling, falling in and out of consciousness while Hank read to her.

While Lucy floated in the purgatory of their long goodbye, Hank was in hell, watching his wife disappear piece by piece until there was nothing left.

A week before she passed, Lucy forgot who he was.

But there was one stubborn memory, one name. A name Hank wanted erased from his wife’s brain, but it was tenaciously embedded in her scattered brain. 


Their daughter.

It had been over ten years since they’d spoken. When he couldn’t remember what the fight was about, his heart pounded; maybe his mind was slipping too. 

There’d been a screaming match, something about money, something stupid, but he couldn’t remember the specifics. 

More than a decade later, Hank still hadn’t reached out to his daughter. If she rejected him now, it would be like dealing with two deaths. At least this way, Angelica was alive, somewhere.

Even in her diminished state, Lucy wouldn’t let it go, and despite the previous weeks of scattered communications, her final words before closing her eyes for the final time were perfectly lucid.

‘Water under the bridge.’

Hank’s hands shook as he dialled the number. He wasn’t surprised when she didn’t answer, and though he left a voice message, he didn’t feel any better.

Hank booted the orange across the backyard, then spun and stared at the orange tree with contempt. If Lucy hadn’t asked him to bury her ashes under it, he would’ve burned it to the ground. 

Instead, Hank dropped to his knees at the tree’s base, and turned the earth with a small gardening spade until there was a shoebox-sized hole.

He withdrew his pocketknife, drew a single slash along the bag, and dumped Lucy’s ashes into the hole. A light breeze scattered some into the wind and caressed his face. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, pushed the dislodged pile of dirt back, and smoothed it with the spade.

A single salty tear traced the thin film of ash on his cheek. Hank heaved, took a huge breath, and forced himself to stop. 

A shadow passed and he turned at the presence behind him. 

An apparition. Silent, still, silhouetted against the setting sun.

A thirty-year younger version of Lucy, like the ghost of Christmas past, in the middle of July.

As Angelica moved toward him, Hank stayed rooted to the ground like the tree next to him. The stubbornness and anger melted, but he was too overwhelmed to act. Though he didn’t know what to do, his daughter did, and wrapped him in a hug. As he embraced her, the cavity in his chest shrank, and warmth bloomed from its centre.

‘You smell just like her,’ he said, releasing her. Unable to say everything he wanted to all at once, he settled for, ‘Want a cuppa tea?’

She nodded, and Hank’s heart almost burst through his ribcage.

They walked hand in hand towards the house. 

He’d expected awkwardness and uncomfortable silence at the kitchen table, but it was the opposite. Sat across from each other in the same place they’d had countless bowls of cereal and Sunday roasts together, the conversation dances as the years disappeared, and the minutes evaporated.

To Hank, the outside world ceased to exist.

His little girl, resharing her life with him. It was everything.

Several times he was so mesmerized by his daughter’s face he neglected to respond. She’d stare, her brow furrowed like Lucy’s.

‘You ok, Dad?’

‘Never better, love.’

It was the truth, but the wave of guilt washed over him as he dwelled on the wasted moments. His heart ached at the lost years.

His head lowered, Hank searched for the right words, paralysed by the millions of things he wanted to say, knowing there was only one thing he needed to.

He raised his head, stared into her kind eyes, tears prickling his.

‘I love you, Angelica. And I’m so sorry.’

She reached for his hand and gently squeezed it.

‘It’s ok, Dad.’

When they hugged goodbye on the front porch, he almost didn’t let go, and an intense bout of fear rushed through him when he finally released her from his arms. He brushed a stray hair from her eyes. ‘Darling, I just—’ but his daughter’s finger extinguished the words on his lips.

‘It’s ok. We’ve got all the time in the world,’ she said, kissing his cheek and giving his hand a final squeeze before heading to her car and driving away.

Hank rubbed the stubble where she’d kissed him, a goofy grin plastered across his face.

‘All the time in the world.’

The Orange: Text
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