"What're you doing?"
"Making crop circles."
I stood at the entrance of the vegetable isle in the neighborhood Randall's, shivering. They always kept the vegetable isle at least 10 degrees lower than normality insisted, and I hadn't changed out of my sleeping clothes today, a thin tanktop and shorts. Em was arranging the oranges into patterned stacks, long curved walls of waxed tangerine perfection.
"They won't be able to see those from space, you know," I commented. "There is a roof."
She shrugged, smiled. "Put on a show for the security cameras."
I watched for a moment longer and then began to fill my plastic bag, previously dedicated towards winter squash, with oranges. Very rarely did I eat oranges .. the effort involved in peeling and pulling the skin, breaking the irregular pieces and avoiding the seeds rendered them unenjoyable to me .. but I wanted to own a piece of that grocery store sculpture. As I pulled an orange from the bottom, my section of the creation fell, and she shot a glare at me across the new gap in produce. We were West and East Germany, the oranges a Berlin Wall, and the aliens operating the security cameras were learning of human history through our grocery encounters.
Em had come into my life 4 months ago exactly, when she called security on me in a cheap diner, as I was unable to pay for the tea she had served. It was hard to remember when she had not been there .. hard to remember what it was like to not be able to wake up in the mornings and know that today, today, would be a fascinating encounter with creation, destruction, symbiosis. She looked at things differently, Em did. Ripples became echoes at 3 am sharp, birds each had a built in umbrella of feathers. She would turn on the radio to 104.9 and listen to the Mexican announcers speak in their elephantine voices. She was a gypsy, an enchantress, a Venetian bard. And her genius rubbed off .. I found myself suddenly looking at this city, this world, not as my prison but as a captivated audience waiting for the poetry to escape my lips, as watercolor paper expecting my fingers' blessings. She had made, within our little bubble of combined existence, home.
We had walked out of Randall's without paying for the oranges, or the bagels, or Em's crimson lipstick. Back, safe, in our stairwell, and Em desperately reapplied the sticky makeup and warned me not to look at her "like that." My peace offering was an orange, but she denied it with a wave of her hand, leaving me to peel alone, hopelessly scrabbling at the skin with my dull, habitually bitten, fingernails. I realized now that she was holding a cup of coffee in her left hand, and its steam was curling towards the ventilation vents. Every time she took a sip, she would rotate the Styrofoam cup slightly and about half of the rim was coated in crimson. I liked her because she was not beautiful. Her chin and nose were just slightly off, like her ideas, and her mind, and her clothes, and me. We were all slightly off, and it was obvious in our smiles and our movements, in our laundromat faded jeans and in the way we would sit naked on the windowsill and fog the glass with our body heat, soulfully drawing the cigarette smoke deep into our lungs like some sort of magic elixir that would transport us away.
Em finished her coffee, loudly, and took the half peeled orange out of my uninterested hands, taking up where I had left off.
"It always feels strange to eat my namesake."
I blinked, and then remembered. Clementine. I'd almost forgotten that her full name was Clementine, that her name tag at the diner that night had shouted, brassily, 'CLEMENTINE.' I should have stolen Clementines, not the cheap Berlin Wall oranges. Would that have made her smile?
It was hard to guess what would make her smile. Em laughed easily, loudly, happily, in ringing peals, but she rarely just smiled, and when she did it was at the darkening sky, or the way the pigeons nestled together, or the frozen patterns in the grass. Earning a smile from Em was like finding a diamond ring on the street, or waking up to a full blown pink sunrise. It was a rare and delightful treat. But her smiles had taught me mine, and now my shy smile stretched across the space between us, filling in the bits of my life where she had not been next to me with happiness. Above anything else, Clementine had taught me joy. A joy in living, a joy in breath, a joy in the spider cracks of the sidewalk. And she had done this simply by sharing one short segment of her life with me.
I stood up suddenly, after a pause, and stretched. "Lets go," I said.
"Where are we going?" She asked.