Shadow Unit
Somewhere over Kansas, April, 2007

On an airplane somewhere over Kansas, it occurred to Daphne that she had never seen anyone eat oranges as Esther Falkner did. It seemed to require such concentration, the sleeves of her gray-and-violet striped suitcoat pushed up her etched forearms as she first slit the rind with a thumbnail. Peeling it back in ragged petals released the rich scent of citrus oil, made bitterer when she meticulously scraped the pith off the membrane. Most people would have stopped there, or a little before, but Falkner turned the fruit in her hand, inspecting it for lingering shreds of pith and for veins, picking each one off and adding it to a tidy pile on her napkin until the naked fruit rested on her palm, a translucent, unblemished segmented sphere.

On the other side of the table Brady still talked, but Daphne didn't register a word. She was concentrating on the care with which Falkner pulled each segment away from the rest and cleaned the thin white veins between them, piling the pieces of fruit tidily. There was an entire profile in that set of mannerisms.

The process took the better part of half an hour. When Falkner had finished, she looked up and found Daphne staring. Daphne glanced down quickly.


She looked up. Falkner was offering her an orange segment, between long fingers. "You looked hungry."

Daphne smiled awkwardly, waving the segment away, but Falkner didn't pull it back. "Watching you peel an orange is performance art. I'd never have the patience."

"Oranges were a treat, when I was growing up. So I made them last." Falkner shrugged her Mom shrug, the one that was just a dip of one ear towards a shoulder, as if her arms were full of something unwieldy. "Besides, I don't like the bitter parts. Go on, take it."

She wasn't going to put her hand down until Daphne accepted the orange. So Daphne did, and so she wouldn't have to answer, bit it in half. "Thank you," she said, when the juice had run down her throat, stinging at the back of her tongue.

"They also taste better when you share them." Falkner stuffed a segment into her own mouth, leaving Daphne to wonder if she'd imagined that wink.