Rumpus Original Fiction: People and Oranges and People


She is going to wake up. She is going to be awake. Two people, awake, in a room. It makes sense, I think, as long as I’m not either of the two. If I’m going to introduce myself into this two people awake in a room equation, I need to make some adjustments.

If there were seven or eight dogs—greyhounds, perhaps—in the room, it would be fine. They would disrupt the spell of her dawning nudity and offset my own ridiculousness.

They’d all have crazy names. I wouldn’t have time to be myself. It would all be done for me. A sense of predetermination and necessity descends with this number of greyhounds. All of them called Peter.

But eight greyhounds wouldn’t pass with my landlord. A naked girl was a problem itself. My landlord believes that girls shouldn’t be naked, not even under their clothes. He doesn’t believe that people should be girls. I asked him for a pet mouse two years ago, and he broke down laughing. Finally he said there wasn’t space for a mouse anywhere on earth, “and you want to put one here, in my house?” My landlord thought the word mouse itself was a kind of brilliant joke, which would require elaborate reshaping before having any orientation to the real world. I was eight greyhounds away from peace and I didn’t even have a mouse.

Or she could put her clothes back on. That would be an option, when she woke. That would be something, but it would not change the fact that there were two people awake in a room. It would only make her state of consciousness more apparent than ever. Her eyes would be open, wide, scanning, knowing, being, steadying themselves for the day. Awake.

But it would be nicer if they stayed off, wouldn’t it? They look very nice on my floor. The strange fragments of mostly impossible and in some cases revolutionary sex positions. And if I imagine them not being there—there is only emptiness. Pine-lacquered emptiness, glossy, permanent, sad.

One cat. I could conceal one cat in here. Is one cat in a room with a naked girl enough; will she forget I exist? Maybe I can name the cat after me, to make it easier. She could hang out with the cat. She wouldn’t notice that I’m not a real person. Cute fur in her face. All my jokes and strangeness, my inability to cross a room without changing at least four aspects of my personality, my eerie skin, my eyes, nose—nothing would register.

Something must remain of me, of course. Someone has to lock the door behind us when we go out. The part of me that closes doors is not in itself a problem, the wrist and so on. She’d touch the cat, I’d touch the cat—my fingers, my hand, my wrist, all acceptable—the cat would touch the cat. The crossroads of three beings. You know how cats are. They lick themselves. Two people awake in a room and. This and is a cat. Salvation. It doesn’t matter who’s conscious, and why, and of what, with Peter the cat around.

But no. It’s Sunday. You can’t buy cats on Sundays, not here, in my bedroom, and not out on the cobbled streets, and not in the woods of Scots pine and not on the endless highways, each with a promise of some different, beautiful home at the end of it. No. Think practically. You must compromise to live. Between animals and nothing, the compromise is fruit. Two people awake in a room of one million oranges. Salvation.

I go to the kitchen and get an orange. She’s putting her clothes on when I get back. Fine. Nothing is permanent, anyway. You can’t step into the same river twice. I stand in the door. Once. The orange perfectly in the middle of a plate. She pulls her t-shirt over her head. Her skin disappears under it. Yes, clothes conceal skin. I remember. I am turning into my landlord. If I were my landlord there’d be a dog called Peter just there, dogsnoring and balled up at the end of the bed, next to the cat.

But yes. Concealing. That is what clothes do. What does skin do? I offer her some of the orange. I just say orange. The word has always been enough, since the beginning of time, no frills, no explanation. I’m not saying what it is. She knows what it is. Orange. It’s the password to the future. I had thought once before that the room needing a painting, a landscape of some kind, Essex or Wessex, green but cloudy, to be complete, but no—it needed her, it needed an orange, and this word, the offer, the gesture, orange. Two people awake in a room, and one of them is me, and now I’m even smiling. I’ve solved the room.


Rumpus original art by Zea Barker.

Hugh Smith is 26 and lives in Slovakia. More at More from this author →