The Only Fruit
by KARA VANDERBIJL
“Don’t avoid what is easy,” the Oblique Strategy recommends. Instead of writing, I take a nap. I fall asleep like a person escaping from jail. This torn scrap of paper, this cheap horoscope, this song lyric — I take them as prophecy. “Have a donut,” my coworker says.
I don’t watch many movies — I’ve said this before with the conviction of a person who says, “I have a salty tooth,” while reaching for a cookie — but in July, I watched a lot of movies. Flops and blockbusters and romances and dramas blurred together. I interrupted them only to grab a pint of ice cream from the freezer. My ideas melted. My air-conditioning unit overheated. My ceiling fan began making a very strange noise.
Any repetitive, and very easy, activity takes on a greater significance the longer you engage in it. I stayed up very late watching movies that I had already seen because I thought I might receive a secret, previously unheard message from them. This is more than eccentricity. Sleep eluded me while I unknotted the symbolism in Dead Man Walking. Sean Penn as Christ, Susan Sarandon as Christ, Susan Sarandon as feminist, Susan Sarandon as soapbox actor, Little Women, death penalty, last meals. My last meal: a hamburger and French fries. I go pick it up across the street at Slim’s, a greasy counter that has five stars on Yelp and deserves all of them. They serve a generous bag of perfectly crisped fries. I have a salty tooth.
Here’s the message I received: find a way to portray despicability without compromising humanity. Find a way to smile at the mirror. “Nesquik?” a man in a yellow shirt offers on the Merchandise Mart platform. “Is it free?” I ask. In response, he hands me two bottles.
My dental hygienist asks questions when her fingers are in my mouth. I am polite, so I like to answer. “How has your summer been?” she begins. She wears purple eye shadow for most of my visits. “Nice,” I try to say, but it is difficult to say nice without the use of your tongue. I hate all the tools she uses except for the soft brush at the end. “Spit,” she says. I promise to floss, but we both know I’m lying.
As a child, I never got cavities; my baby teeth were so durable that the orthodontist had to pull five of them when they refused to fall out. My mother says that this is because there was fluoride in our water. I said, “It’s because I don’t eat very much sugar.” My little brother, the candy-head, still hasn’t had any cavities. The military taught him how to brush his teeth and make his bed.
“Take a hike,” says a security guard on a normally abandoned stretch of Kinzie. Today there are trailers, a fire truck, and a row of people sitting in camping chairs reading scripts. Because the guard isn’t talking to me — he’s talking to a couple of kids doing skateboard tricks on a crumbling corner of sidewalk — I walk through the set. The row of people looks up, one by one, but I’m listening to Fleetwood Mac and don’t have time to chat. “You can go your own way,” Lindsey Buckingham says.
I take a quiz on Time.com that matches your relationship to a sandwich. I get a Reuben. I’m always hesitant about them because of the sauerkraut, which I tend to forget I like. When my boyfriend Jens takes the quiz, he gets a BLT, which makes me hungry. “Want a bag of chips with your sandwich?” the lady at the café across the street asks while I’m paying for my lunch. Since it’s a question, I am free to ignore her command. I am polite, though, and I like chips, so I get a bag that’s crinkle-cut, kettle-cooked, and reduced fat. I tell myself that oil doesn’t travel to the thighs as quickly as sugar. Then I make up “thighway,” and I laugh until I want to fall asleep again.
Awoken by sirens, I crave chocolate or a soda. The light outside is a bruise with a yellow center. My journal sprawls open, spine broken, on the carpet where I left it after scribbling myself into a difficult patch of self-discovery. Seams between my muscles strain as I stretch my arms towards the ceiling. “Oranges are not the only fruit,” sings Jeannette Winterson from the bookshelf.
I spend an inordinate amount of time listening for things that other people can’t hear. The undercurrent of fear in someone’s voice — the subtle condescension in a novel — the anger behind a smile. Sometimes these hidden messages blare so obviously that I am not sure how others don’t understand them, or why they choose to ignore them. “Tell me if the water is too hot,” said the hairstylist, twisting the cold faucet open even when I hum that it’s just fine. She’d already made her mind up about the answer.
Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about learning how to drive and Orange is the New Black She tumbls here and twitters here.
Photographs by Richard Misrach.
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