Taylor Leigh Harper: Yellow Oranges

Suddenly, I realize that my sister is asking for oranges.

On Sunday, my sister says Yellow, as if it were a complete command, a fully-formed request.

       She’s sitting at the kitchen table holding a pen, the blue cap still on. She’s looking down at last week’s wrinkled newspaper. The pages have been folded and refolded.
       She asks me to bring her That yellow thing.
       I ask her, What yellow thing?
       The yellow thing. I can’t figure out this week’s crossword, Delilah. Bring me that yellow thing and then help me finish this.
       In the kitchen, our bananas are still green. I bring her one, starting to peel the soft fruit for her. She shakes her head no, squinting at me, and I imagine I look like a blurry outline to her.
       Then what? I offer her the banana still, holding it out before her, glancing at the front page of the newspaper.
       Last week, there was a shooting at a grocery store in a nearby town we used to live in.
       Four injuries, no fatalities, the shooter apprehended alive.

       Last week, a panda gave birth at the zoo, and both mother and child were reported to be doing well.

       Last week, the weather report predicted today would rain. There are no clouds outside when I open the curtains to let in more light.
       Liz, I say. This isn’t the page you want. The crossword’s in the back.
       I don’t want this thing.
       I eat the banana.
       I want yellow. Delilah, please, bring me that thing.

        I kiss her cheek, hold my hand over hers, and I leave for work. The bank closes at five, and after my shift, I stop by the grocery store. The aisles are cold and white.
       I buy my sister sunflowers, which she used to buy me: for dance recitals, my high school graduation, when I turned twenty-one. We haven’t had flowers in a while, I know, not after she overwatered the last succulent left alive.
       Is it Thursday? Liz had asked the weekend I had to throw the rotted plant away.
       Recycling will pick that up.

        There’s a pale yellow vase, and I add it to my cart. I grab a yellow bag of sunflower seeds, too. In small plastic bags, I put a fat mango, a golden potato, a bruised pomelo, a hollow bell-pepper, lemons, cans of corn.
       Brooms are half-off, so I buy one with a mustard-colored handle. I grab yellow disinfecting wipes. This weekend I promise to clean her bathroom, and I mean it this time. I’ll scrub the brown tub, sweep hair from the floor, wash the sink with hot water and marigold-scented soap.
       I buy three bottles of mustard, because there’s also a sale on condiments. I pick up a set of daisy-patterned dishtowels.

       We used to bake together—banana bread and peanut butter cupcakes, chocolate and almond cake with homemade vanilla frosting, pistachio pie, pecan shortbread tea cakes, lemon cookies, wild rice bread with sunflower seeds, flaky rolls. We would take turns cleaning, and sometimes if I ran back inside after taking the trash out, there would still be batter left on the wooden spoon for me. When I was younger, Liz kissed my cheek, placed her hand over mine. She always recycled the newspapers after she finished the crossword.
       When I drive home, the sky is the color of hay set on fire.

       When I get home, my sister is still at the kitchen table. She looks up at me, ink on her hands, her face. She’s wet herself, and she’s shaking.

        I set the bags I’ve brought in down like stones along a riverbed, placing them carefully, slowly, as if not to disturb things as they are, as if surely they will get worse. I cast my fans out toward her when I recognize that newly familiar look of confusion on her face.
       Liz, I say. It’s me, Lizzy. I’ve brought you as much yellow as I could find.

        But she doesn’t want the sunflowers or seeds, the fruits or vegetables, to be washed or cleaned.
       None of these, she says, and her voice is soft, and we’re both crying as I kneel to clean her legs up with this useless daisy dishtowel.
       She points to last week’s newspaper.

       Under the date, there’s a blob of black ink, round, speckled, bleeding, smudged.

       That, she says. I want that.

I walk back into the kitchen, stained napkins in hand.

       I open the cupboard, to check what remains. There’s flour, baking sheets, sugar. There’s not much else left, and I close the cabinet, knowing it’ll stay like that, that this is how it is now with the wash of my sister’s memory receding further, smoothed over like a glassy stone.
       Underneath the green bananas, I dig. In the fruit basket, there’s one orange left. The fruit’s flesh is pitted and bright. Call it an apricot, call it a cantaloupe, call it salmon, coral, sunset, new dawn breaking over the black sky. Not a peach, not a tangerine, certainly not yellow.
       My sister does not look at me when she takes the orange. Liz bites into the textured skin, never mind peeling.
       When my sister smiles, her mouth is full of juice, the rind caught between her teeth.

       Yes, she says. Thank you. She places her hand over mine, and I kiss her cheek, reminding myself to recycle last week’s newspaper.