Suddenly there were clementines on the tundra, although no-one could say from where they had come. The small round oranges were obscene against the flat bright landscape, the white-dusted ground broken only by the pockmarks of frozen lakes. Nina Simone (That’s what her parents had named her- her parents, who had met in Budapest) carefully divided the mesh sack of oranges, placing three on each of the narrow sleeping platforms. Clementines were not like love, thought Nina. Food was not like love. There would always be enough love.
Her own oranges Nina placed beneath a pile of wool sweaters, as though they were eggs that needed incubating. She imagined that they would hatch into glorious, starburst-colored birds, and she would name them things like Strawberry, Pineapple and Guava. Although one of them, she told herself, would most likely not hatch at all.
Nina hid the empty mesh bag in the bottom of the trash barrel and then sat to wait for the others’ return. It was the longest night of the year and there had been no sun in the day, only a bright moon and no wind, so that the flat land was held, motionless, in the spell of winter. The frosted ground glittered in the moonlight like a hologram, and Nina felt that she was the only thing breathing for a hundred miles. As she waited, watching the rings of rainbow light that circled the moon, she wondered how long, if necessary, she could make the twenty-four clementines last.
Even though I had loved her, I always thought she was kind of ugly. We were married on a raft on the Willamette river, surrounded by gilded candelabras, all aflame, and the sleeping shit-stained ducks that nested beneath the blackberry brambles on its banks. The sky was clear but we could not see the stars- had been able to see them earlier, before the light pollution of the city- that was before we’d decided on the wedding, when she was giving me head on our unmade bed, a foam mat piled with quilts that smelled of air, human warmth, and the trace of dryer sheets from the people who’d owned them before.
We’d lit the candles and placed them in my dead grandfather’s candelabras as our raft neared the fourteen bridges of the city. The lights had made small circles of yellow in the milky dark, had attracted insects- the wax had dripped onto the worn wood of the floor. She’d opened the food chest and there as only chopped liver floating in a little ice- after we’d said our vows we tossed the liver, bit by bit, into the Willamette, as an offering to our wedding guests.
Afterwards we lay on our backs on the raft and felt the water rock just a little beneath us, and we planned our life together- she was leaving for Tel Aviv on the solstice, and after that we would never see each other again. It made sense, then, that we would want to have a child, but we weren’t sure how to acquire one. You couldn’t just go to the pound and get one for fifty dollars, like a pit-bull, and you needed a house with walls, so the kid had someplace safe to sleep.
As we floated towards the Columbia the stars began to wink on again and I thought, briefly, of going to sea, and making my life on the ocean.