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Story by Nick Ripatrazone (Read author interview) September 30, 2010

art by Joe Manuel

Ambersweet. It was 1992 or 1993, the third year she went to visit her cousin in July. She said it was for her cousin’s birthday but we only spent an hour there, kissing cheeks when we arrived and waving when we left. We stopped in St. Augustine and went to a Baptist church with velvet red cushions on the pews. The pastor sat next to us after mass. Blond hair with brown eyes. Said the pews were from 1881. We crouched on the cement floor to see a bronze marker attesting to the date. There we were, on a cold floor with a male pastor named Claire.

Behind the church they had a picnic. Behind the picnic was the graveyard, stones leaning forward, grass weed-whacked a bleached wheat. The pastor changed. He wore a white socks hiked to his knees. White shoes. A backward Marlins hat. People still did that in ’93. He gave me a square of cornbread and for her he held out a basket of oranges.

“Take one,” he said, hand on a hip.

She was horrible at such decisions. The cornbread was good, though I didn’t know why he gave it to me instead of her.

She picked one in the center. She said she loved the juice, but he said ambersweet wasn’t known for that. He handed her a paper towel and we sat on a stone bench. A mausoleum was only a few feet behind us.

She ripped into it. She peeled to discover. She liked to peel. She tongued and toothed away the pith. She spit the pips in the grass and a boy stepped on them. We saw them plastered to his heel as he walked away. She passed me a wedge. I swallowed it whole. I regretted it. I asked for another. The pastor shook hands with a man for an entire minute. I counted. I savored the second wedge. I felt the ridged flesh with my tongue, curled along a thread of connected pith. The juice felt thin against my gums, almost dry. Sometimes we remember uneven tastes the best.

Next July she said we weren’t going back to Florida. Said her cousin was being a bitch.

I said we should go. “She’s family,” I said. I wanted those oranges again. I needed to know what of that taste had been created by memory.

“Don’t you hate her?”

Yes. Yes I did. “Not at all.”

About the Author

Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a book of prose poems. His recent work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, Caketrain, Abjective, Annalemma and Beloit Fiction Journal. He is completing an MFA from Rutgers-Newark.

About the Artist

Joe Manuel is a mixed media visual artist and musician based in Los Angeles. He graduated with a B.A. from The School of Visual Arts in 2000 and has been doing group and solo shows for the last ten years. His work has been prominently featured on television programs such as How I Met Your Mother and Showtime’s Huff. Joe also is the creative director and founder of the clothing company DUI and the lead singer/songwriter of the band Dirty Uniform.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Nine

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