Part IX: I Am an Orange
Orange the ghost rose until he was with the clouds. A voice rang at him from a deck chair made of vapour. “Been waiting for you.”
“Who are you?”
“Grapefruit. Your father.”
“But I’m an orange! Not a grapefruit!”
“That’s not true. You are a grapefruit, always were. A product of a genetic modification that didn’t go so well. Somehow you got out and into the food chain, then the retail system. Someone bought you expecting an orange, but that’s not what you are.”
Orange wafted over towards the deck chair. “My father? I never knew you.”
“I’m sorry son. I wasn’t much of a father, but didn’t have much choice in the matter either. I was eaten by a factory hand and digested with some Chinese food. Eat and excrete, they say.”
“Father.” Orange said the word slowly, tasting it. He had a recollection of someone that he had known as a young one, but no distinct memories. “So where are we? Where are we going?”
“That’s the big question, isn’t it? I saw you in the trash heap. The anaerobes degraded your flesh into gas. Happens that some of those gases likes to rise, and when they get up here, stay around and deflect heat back at the Earth. Make everything warmer and warmer and warmer…”
“But that’s bad, isn’t it?”
Grapefruit shrugged. “Doesn’t much matter to us anymore. We’re vapour. Un-substance. We just watch now. Up here, we last much longer than we did down there.”
Orange took a chair next to his father. “So that’s it. I was born, I was genetically modified, I was about to be eaten by a person but got eaten by anaerobes instead. And now I’m here.”
“Now,” said Grapefruit, “you’re home. Here, move over. Here comes Tracer Gas, he’s a classic six-pronged sulfur molecule ringed with fluoride. There’s not many of them around, but they stay up here for generations – never grow old. And a few others are coming over to watch a volcano that’s about to erupt…”
“Wait!” said Orange, as Tracer Gas snuggled next to him. “That guy down there – I know him! That’s the kid that was going to eat me!”
Grapefruit and Tracer Gas peered over the edge of the cloud. “Doesn’t look like much.”
“What’s he doing?”
“What’s that mean?”
“He’s going to breed.”
“Can we watch?”
“Beats staring at a volcano…”
Orange grasped the edge of the cloud, basking in the rays that were emanating from the land masses beneath him. Adam – the boy that had almost eaten him – was below, on the top of a hill. And he was not alone. Grapefruit leaned in, closer to his son. And together they watched.
Beneath, Adam was indeed on a hill, dressed in shorts and a while silk shirt that felt much like wearing tissue paper. Eleanor was next to him as they walked to the crest. “Are you ready for this?” he asked.
“You’re the one marrying a dwarf.”
“Two inches over, actually.”
“And is this really the way you pictured your life going, Professor Ritten?”
Adam grinned. “Is it hot enough for you?”
“Getting warmer every year. Isn’t that the theory? You should call it climax change – hell of a term to coin.” She looked at him. “I’m glad you’ve stopped worrying. I really am.”
“I don’t know, Eleanor. It seems that every year gets hotter but my life gets better. Did you know that they found an arcturis sepana variety of aspen in the Yukon Territories? That species has been extinct for a hundred years. But now it’s back, in a place that it never grew before…”
“Shut up, Professor Ritten. I’m not your bloody student, I’m going to be your fucking wife in about twenty minutes. Just try to lecture me.”
They got to the top of the hill, where a woman in jean shorts and a tank top was waiting for them. As soon as they stopped, she starting reading from a piece of paper; as she did, other people reached the top of the hill. One was Adam’s father, who wore a leather jacket that he stripped off and dropped to the ground. He wiped the sweat from his face, and when it was time for the ring to be offered, he pulled the white stainless steel band from his pocket and handed it to his son. Later, he was the first to dance with Eleanor by the side of the river, and he himself tended the barbeque and gave out the beer.
After the revelers were gone, Adam stepped naked into the river, where Eleanor was waiting for him. “Is this entirely safe? Is it even possible?”
But the short girl – the one who had removed a speckled white dress and tossed it to the wind – pulled him into the water and took her time with him, until the current had them both and they were floating with the water. The sun shone, the hottest year on record but certainly not the hottest to come. The river heaved towards the banks it had once known, trying to find them again. Possibly the river worried that one day it would run dry, yet it was only a course that had been carved by water, and the water knew otherwise – the water knew that each molecule goes somewhere, even if it’s somewhere else.
And for Adam and Eleanor, the river’s flow was enough as it carried them into the distance towards a place that should have known snow – that used to know snow – and now might never again. And the question of whether to stop the heat or how sank kindly under waves that didn’t care, for it was only people that really did. The river knew better. And from where they watched, so did the spirits in the heavens.