Read by Patsy Prince
“This orange juice isn’t right,” Sophie says, and you lower your book fractionally. She is standing in the doorway of the living room wearing a peasant skirt and a dowdy jumper. Your own skirt is colourful; your own jumper is vibrant. The old CD player in the corner is playing Tom Waits and you hope this will be quick, or she will surely turn down the Tom Waits.
“Not right?” you ask, but your heart is not really in it. You look at your book, but suddenly realise it is actually almost dark in the room. You have no idea what time it is. It was bright when you started reading. Sophie comes into the room and turns down the Tom Waits, just before the guitar solo comes in on ‘Downtown Train’.
“No, no, listen, seriously; this orange juice is not right. Like, it doesn’t taste of just oranges. It is pure orange juice, but it tastes like, citrusy, or something. Like lemons. Not just lemons, no, like, still mostly oranges, but like, a little bit of lemon. It’s in date. It doesn’t taste bad or off or anything. Just … just, just, like, just citrusy. Something weird, though, and it’s not the only thing.”
Sophie is holding the glass up to the light from the window, as if some impurity could be detected, as if she could judge the lemon content of juice by its opacity. You rub your temples with one hand, shift your feet underneath yourself. She is walking around the room now, face scrunched in consternation, trying to find the best light to gaze at her unsatisfactory juice.
You shrug and suppress a sigh. You raise your book again, start reading, squinting in the darkness, and you say, “Maybe it’s gone off?” The sound of traffic filters up from the road, three stories up, through thin glass, vibrations onto eardrums, competes with the quiet growling of Tom Waits on the CD player. Someone is accelerating away at the lights by the corner. You are looking firmly at the book, and Sophie is looking stupidly at the half glass of orange juice. She leaves the room, a determined velocity of beige and brown and poor stitching. She does not turn the volume back up on the CD player.
You’re not really reading, any more. It’s officially too dark. There’s no doubt where this is going. From your sunken sofa you can see the sky, the streetlamps throwing up a faint glow across the bottom of the glass panes. Even the pale fluorescence of streetlamps is more interesting than her brown clothes, her phantom tastes of lemon. Last week everything tasted vaguely of paprika. The week before, her tea tasted like gravy. You always end up tasting it, and you always end up saying to her, “It tastes fine.”
She comes back into the room, and her arms are improbably full; a carton of orange juice, a bottle of orange squash, a carton of milk, a jar of olives, depositing them all on the coffee table that sits above the horrible brown Turkish rug she brought back from her gap year. From the sofa you raise an eyebrow archly and you put down your book and you wait. She goes back to the kitchen to get glasses, she pours out milk, makes a glass of squash, pours a glass of orange juice, picks out two olives and leaves them sitting in the lid of the olive jar, covered in a viscous film of oil. No words are needed. She turns off the CD player, the Tom Waits, and then sits on the carpet in front of the table, legs crossed beneath shapeless linen. She doesn’t press pause – she actually turns the whole CD player off.
She tastes, then: first the milk, then the squash, then the juice, then an olive, and she sits back and rubs her head with her hand and licks her lips and finally looks at you, imploringly.
“Except for the milk, everything tastes, just a tiny bit, like fucking, fucking lemons!”
You pause, and finally allow yourself the sigh. You go forward and onto your knees on the Turkish rug. It is the only Turkish rug in the world where the predominant colour is brown, the patterns understated.
You taste, then: first the milk, then the squash, then the juice, then an olive, licking the oily residue off of your fingertips. You sit back and rub your head and say, “Sophie, it all tastes fine. Are you feeling okay?”
She shakes her head and stares at the orange juice. Her mouth is slightly open. The room seems to be darkening at a staggering rate.
You say, slowly, “Sophie, are you feeling okay, really? I mean there was the paprika week, that chicken you thought tasted like ham… maybe you should go see your doctor. Or you could ask Big Paul the medic, see if he’s heard of anything like this. I think those guys are in tonight. They said we should go round.”
She shakes her head with its uncut hair, bites her thumbnail, and stares at the orange juice, and nods, and then shakes her head again.
“I might go and see Big Paul, see if it’s something he’s heard of,” she says. You squeeze her shoulder and go back to the sofa, turn on the floor lamp, and return to your book.
Sophie eventually leaves, without asking if you want to come along or saying goodbye, and you’re alone in the flat again. It is fully dark now. You can hear the echo of her footsteps on the stairs outside, the front door opening, closing. Eventually, there is silence. Nobody is accelerating at the lights by the corner. Tom Waits is turned off. Sophie has left the juice and the squash and the milk and the olives on the coffee table, and the dirty glasses. It takes two trips to get them all back into the kitchen. You put away the milk, but before you put the orange juice and the olives back in the fridge and the squash back in the cupboard, you go underneath the sink, behind the bleach and the bin-bags, underneath an old dishcloth, and retrieve the little yellow plastic lemon.
Carefully, you unscrew the top and add ten drops of lemon juice to the carton, to the olive jar, to the squash. You close each, give each a shake, and return them to their respective places. Whilst the fridge is open, you rub one drop of lemon juice onto the cheddar (which she has left unwrapped and uncovered on the second shelf). When you go back to the living room you close the curtains, turn on Tom Waits, turn on the light, and sit down to your book, contented.
(c) Ian Green, 2013
Ian Green is 24 and a half years old, originally from Aberdeen in Scotland and now living in East London and working in cancer research at Imperial College London. He’s previously had micro-fiction published by Open Pen and is seeking representation for his writing, primarily his first novel Slow Light.
Patsy Prince trained at RADA and King's College London. Most recently she appeared in Culture Shock, a feature film directed by Steve Balderson which premiered at Raindance 2012. Theatre credits include: Voices From September 11th (The Old Vic), Like Being Killed (Actors’Centre NYC) and Hidden Voices (Paradoxos Theatre Co., National Tour). Her website is www.patsyprince.com