Under the Orange Tree
“Everyone in America has an agent,” Judy says.
Mary Virginia has just picked up Judy from the Seville, Spain airport. Judy sits in the passenger seat. MV is trying to sell a Christian self-help book. Her knuckles are turning white.
Her boyfriend’s mother, Judy, fiddles with the meditation beads around her recently remodeled but still wrinkled neck and looks out the car window into the Seville desert. MV is driving her boyfriend’s Seat Arona, a stick shift. They’d been listening to a CD Judy had brought, which she’d described as “fun Krishna mantras,” but MV had called it sacrilegious, flamboyant, and anti-Christian, so they’d turned off the music and migrated to conversation for the first time.
“If you would’ve gotten an automatic,” Judy says, “I could’ve driven us.”
“It’s Johnny’s car,” MV says. “And not everyone in America has a literary agent. It’s a big step for a writer.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” says Judy. “Apologies.”
The mother, Judy, age sixty-two, hums and purses her lips, hugs her bag closer to her chest. Her hairy but intentionally-shaped eyebrows wiggle up and down on her forehead like she’s trying to scratch an itch, hands-free. Judy yanks the seat forward and back until she’s right up against the dashboard. The fringes of her poncho get trapped in the metal bars under the seat, and she tries to lift her arms, is limited, and yanks the whole poncho off, now topless except for a ratty tan wireless bra. Her corduroy pants are three sizes too big, likely due to the “fasting retreat” she’d just been on. She’s got a Scottish clan crest tattooed onto her right ribs. A nipple ring is visible through the fabric. These are all adornments she’s gotten in the last year, alongside the neospiritualism. In her lap is a macramé satchel that holds nothing but edibles and crystals, as Judy has recently gone yogic and minimalist. But her Louis Vuitton suitcase weighed over the fifty-pound limit. The girlfriend, Mary Virginia, had been forced to carry it from the Seville baggage claim to the car park, which led them through a semi-dark alley (it was mid-morning) that Judy had called “ghetto.”
The area surrounding Seville appears Spanish wasteland. Really, it’s farmland for olives and fallow soil. And home to the U.S. military, Air Force in particular. A splatter of rocks that look like they were thinly sliced, like ham. Dry air that spins dust in and out of the road. Mary Virginia changes gears harder than she needs to, and Judy’s head bounces against the headrest.
Mary Virginia is twenty-seven and wearing a wide-brimmed hat that makes her look like a Mumford and Sons superfan. Her shirt is button-down silk and her khakis are pressed; the look is finished with a pristine white tennis shoe that her fake tan is rubbing off on. She’s got a cross tattoo on her inner wrist and a Bible verse, Psalm 34, the one all about exaltation, on the other.
Judy’s flown into Seville from Atlanta to help Mary Virginia take care of Johnny’s hairless cat while he’s away in Germany on a “top secret assignment,” as Judy described it. Mary Virginia knows it’s a friend trip, one she wasn’t invited to, lightly veiled as a work assignment so that Judy wouldn’t intrude, either. Not that MV or Johnny had invited her to Seville. When Johnny had let it slip that he would be out of town for two weeks, Judy bought the plane ticket before Mary Virginia could successfully convince Johnny to convince Judy not to fly over. But the hairless cat was “particular,” and “wouldn’t eat without someone from the family present.” The ancient cat was an heirloom the way Judy’s Louis Vuitton bags were “heirlooms.”
Mary Virginia follows road signs instead of a cellphone, which is something Judy actually approves of—Judy is now the type to forgo a cellphone, the type to say, “We’ve been navigating by maps and signs and human kindness for thousands of years,” like her newest NYC based guru, Jyoti Frederickson. This new, Bohemian take on her “previously” anal and forensic personality came after a $7,000 “retreatment” to Costa Rica with a skinny white woman-turned-Drew Barrymore-adjacent celebrity who tells women to scream from their guts and speaks about “vertical alignment.” Not Jyoti—a different white woman. Sammy K, the “K” to cover up the fact that she’s a Kennedy. Upon returning from the trip, Judy divorced Johnny’s dad, got an assortment of tattoos she happily displays on Facebook, and a boob lift with bonus nipple piercing.
They stop for gas, and Judy insists on paying the gas bill. Her card gets declined, so Mary Virginia pays the attendant who pumps the gas for them in exact cash with a three-dollar tip. MV flips through the stack of euros with one of her sharp pinky nails, painted soft pink. Her nails are her own and appear strong. She wears a promise ring on her right middle finger that Johnny gave her last summer. No engagement ring. It’s been a point of contention, as marriage in the military came with plenty more benefits than being pseudo-promised to someone you’d been dating for seven years. Judy being in town (and MV spending two weeks alone with her) is MV’s greatest bargaining chip yet.
The male attendant stares at Mary Virginia for a moment too long and asks where he knows her from. Mary Virginia flips through her cash and hands him an additional twenty euros, and he shrugs and wanders off, no more questions asked. Judy watches from the car.
When Mary Virginia gets back in the car, Judy asks, “How did you know that man?” and Mary Virginia replies, “I don’t.”
Judy sighs in a way that suggests she knows Mary Virginia is lying.
The spellings on the street signs oscillate between Seville and Sevilla, and Mary Virginia only misses one exit in the countless traffic circles that blend highway, traffic stops, and side streets. “Go to the airport a lot, do you?” Judy asks. MV stalls out, starts the engine again, and takes off at a faster clip.
Judy’s confidence comes from old Southern money and her brief, relatively unsuccessful acting career. Her breakout role had been in a “How to Be Cool at Parties” 80s instructional video that administrative staff played to socially awkward kids in the Gifted and Talented classrooms. She’d been the funky thirty-year-old who taught the viewers how to juggle and walk down an invisible staircase.
After fifteen minutes on a small but well-paved road, they turn off into a suburban area that feels impermanent, like a forgotten-about movie set in the middle of a desert. Half of the houses are seasonably empty. The other half are occupied by military members, Air Force specifically, like Mary Virginia’s home. All are massive, at least two stories, and surrounded by individual privacy walls covered in flowering vines.
Johnny and MV’s house has a cement wall, iron gate, paved driveway, garage, fountain, sizable pool, and two lemon trees out front. Their yellow, square, two story has a marble porch and a wide second-story balcony with potted plants dripping over the ledge. The front door is twice as tall as Judy and made of thick, dark wood. MV unlocks the door and explains to Judy that the door auto-locks and to leave through the side door if she doesn’t want to get locked out. Judy asks for a set of keys; MV says she has the only set. Judy inhales and looks around the foyer, saying nothing. The downstairs level comprises the master bedroom with en suite bathroom, a living room with expensive sectional, kitchen. Upstairs: another two bedrooms, bathroom, and office.
Mary Virginia takes Judy’s bag into the upstairs bedroom, and when she comes back down, Judy is in the master bedroom, her poncho and the contents of her purse strewn about the bed.
“No, this is my room, our room,” Mary Virginia says.
“Oh, dear—” Judy plops onto the bed. “I’m sorry, my knees make it so I can’t take stairs oh so often. You understand.”
Mary Virginia looks under the bed, licks across her teeth, and fetches Judy’s Louis Vuitton from upstairs and drops it outside the now-closed bedroom door.
Mary Virginia goes to the kitchen and starts preparing a snack. She lays out thinly sliced ham, untoasted bread, and a slick-to-touch plastic bottle of olive oil at the table. She remembers that Judy is newly vegan and takes out an uncooked packet of tofu and drops it on the counter. She makes coffee via French press, enough for one. MV takes the nearly empty oat milk container and refills it with dairy 2%, places it in the fridge. She pours three shots of whiskey into her mug and falls asleep on the couch after downing the concoction in one swallow.
Rubbing her face, Mary Virginia walks, automated, to her bedroom and opens the door.
Sitting on the bed, amid an array of sex toys, Judy screams and drops a still vibrating cock ring.
“Oh my gosh!” Mary Virginia screams. “Why— Did you go through my things?”
The previously locked box that was hidden under MV’s bed is now unlocked and sitting open at the base of the bed. Judy had tried only one combination on the lock, 06/05, Johnny’s birthday, and it had popped open. Around Judy sits a network of sex toys and camera equipment, so many sex toys, so many cords and gadgets and storage chips and gizmos, that there’s only, theoretically, one explanation, but Judy yells, holding up a massive pink dildo, “Are you … sodomizing my son?”
“Sodomizing?” Mary Virginia screams.
“Sodomizing!” Judy screams back.
The gray hairless cat, Ramón, sprints into the room and jumps onto the bed, and Judy swings the dildo in fright, the gelatinous phallus swinging dangerously close to the fragile-looking cat.
“Why the fuck are you going through my room, our room?” Mary Virginia screams. The “fuck” comes out of her mouth confused, like she isn’t used to saying it.
Judy drops the dildo and starts sifting through the camera equipment. Anger is replaced with morbid, disgusted curiosity. “What is all of this … stuff?”
“I’m a cam girl, Judy, gosh damn!” Mary Virginia scrambles to the bed and starts shoving the sex toys and equipment off the bed and into the large box, ripping a pair of fuzzy handcuffs and a butt plug from Judy’s hands.
“Now Mary Virginia, you know I’m open-minded—” MV laughs and shakes her head, putting the last cords and stray plugs into the bin, sitting on it to close it, “—but … sex work—”
“I don’t have sex with anyone. That’s the whole premise.” MV puts her head in her hands and stares straight at her knees.
“Does Johnny know? Oh my poor Johnny, I can’t even imagi—”
“He supports my work—”
“Your work?” Judy shrieks and stumbles towards the bedroom door like she’s just been battered over the head with a frying pan. “Goodness God, Goddess, I need to go on a long walk and call my son. Give me your cellphone.” Judy holds out her hand, and MV makes an incredulous look.
“No? I’m not giving you my phone? And his phone is off anyway,” MV says, knowing good and well that Johnny’s half-assed excuse of Little-to-no service is just so that he won’t have to field phone calls from her or his mother for the next two weeks. So that he can focus on “the guys.” Both of them know what that means and why Johnny is so okay with MV’s work, with their separate bedrooms and nonexistent sex life. MV’s loose(ish) take on Christianity allows her the space to be a cam girl, a popular one, but only for certain fetishes, primarily in the feet and anal categories, and to have a gay husband, but only gay at a distance. Very military, very don’t ask don’t tell.
Judy lets out a small scream. “Fine! I’ll just wander into the darkness without any help from you!” It’s barely sundown. And so Judy exits the house through the front door, leaving it open. MV lets out a weak, “No … Don’t …” but sighs with relief when Judy’s footsteps fade.
Twenty minutes later, when MV finally gets up off the plastic box and goes to close the bedroom door, she sees the open front door, remembers the cat, of course the cat, and runs out of the house.
Down the road half a block, she sees Ramón’s rat-like tail turn a corner.
When Judy returns to the house an hour later, the front door to the house is still open, and both MV and the cat are missing. It’s still summer, so the sun won’t set until 10:00 p.m., but it’s 9:00 p.m. and starting to suggest darkness. Judy calls out for Ramón one last time, puts his bowl of kibble outside the open front door, and wanders around the house like a lost child. She goes to the fridge and drinks some “oat milk,” the only ready-made snack she can find. She goes back into the bedroom, considers the box of sex toys, pulls out a wine bottle and a hefty bottle of Valium from her LV bag, washes down the latter with the former, crawls onto the bedding previously laden with latex and silicon, and falls asleep.
Judy wakes up at 2:00 a.m. to a raccoon, not Ramón or Mary Virginia, licking her toes. She screams and kicks the marsupial across the bedroom. It scrambles out the bedroom door and the still-open front door. Judy goes for her cellphone but remembers how she doesn’t believe in them anymore. “Shit.” She grabs her macrame satchel and slings it around herself. Its sparse contents are still emptied out on the dresser.
She fumbles out of the bedroom and begins a search around the house for a landline telephone. “Of course these brats don’t believe in a landline.” In her search inside of cabinets, she finds a flashlight and a rain poncho. She pockets the flashlight and puts on the yellow poncho. It’s not raining.
Judy starts reciting survival tricks to herself as she laces up her $250 hiking boots. She’s forgotten to put on socks. “Follow the North Star, leave a bread crumb trail, moss grows north, trees bend towards the sun.” She doesn’t think to call the cops, to go to a neighbor’s house and ask for a cellphone. Losing her son’s girlfriend and her son’s cat mixed with a privileged white woman can-do attitude plus Valium plus wine blends into a thick arrogance that tells her, like a guru, that she can fix this mess all on her own. Plus, don’t the hippies not like cops, isn’t that what’s on trend?
Judy exits through the front of the house and closes the door behind her, realizing too late that she doesn’t have a set of keys. She tries to push the door open, unsuccessfully, and curses.
“It’s fine, it’s fine, MV will have a set of keys, it’s fine.” She clicks on her flashlight and starts to call out for Ramón. Her boot laces trail behind her.
After wandering around the emptied-out streets for what feels like, to Judy, hours, but is actually fifteen minutes, passing no one and nothing except for a particularly smelly pile of trash she curses at for being “homeless and pathetic,” a neighbor yells, “Shut up, please.” To which Judy replies, “Oh, sorry. I mean, Lo siento,” blending the “s” sound into a lispy “th.” The neighbor, a small bald Sevillano named Mateo, sniffs, a chair scrapes, and a patio door closes. Judy practices her Spanish to herself, saying words that require the northern lisp, “siento, gracias, siento, gracias,” affirming to herself that her pronunciation is classy and perfect.
There’s a meow, and Judy goes shuffling after the sound, saying “Ramón” over and over and over, whispering now, until she gets to the edge of the neighborhood. Stretching in front of her is nothing but wasteland and the sound of a cat calling out from the darkness.
MV gets home from the neighborhood bar, La Gastroteka, at 3:00 a.m. to a locked front door. She didn’t think to bring her keys when she’d left the house, and she’s exceptionally drunk. The bar staff know MV well, know she’s a good Christian girl with a real propensity for alcohol, and the locals, primarily the men and the lesbians, know a bit too much about MV’s extracurricular activities but make it a point to not discuss said activities for what it would suggest about their evening watching habits. So, the men at La Gastroteka give MV free beers and the women at La Gastroteka talk shit with her about their evil mothers-in-law until MV is wasted and emotionally satisfied enough, forgetting completely about Ramón, the ancient beast. And when she can’t find her keys—she vaguely remembers either leaving them on the toilet paper dispenser at the bar or hiding them from Judy in the couch cushions—she knocks on the door until the same neighbor, Mateo, who told Judy to shut it tells MV to shut it. Luckily, she’s drunk and self-assured in her rightness enough to feel confident that smashing the side glass door that leads from the pool patio to the kitchen would be the perfect entry.
She wraps her hand in a towel she finds by the pool, punches at the glass door once, twice, thrice until she feels her middle knuckle break.
“Fuck.” MV clutches her hand to her pelvis and stumbles around the poolside, narrowly missing the lip of the pool, until she’s back at the front door.
Ramón sits at the door, waiting, nibbling at some food Judy had apparently left out.
“Well, you stay here. I need to go to el hospitál.” She laughs at herself, says “hospitál” in the northern Spain lisp, and pats her pockets with her salvageable hand, the left one, and curses again, a “Gosh dang it.” She’d left her phone, along with her keys (maybe?), at the bar.
She points a shaky finger at Ramón and says, “Don’t you dare go anywhere,” and fumbles to the tall gate, yanks it open, and walks into the street. Her head swings left, then right, and she continues to fumble, towards the direction she thinks is La Gastroteka, until she, too, gets lost and starts to hear the meow of a cat.
“Ramón,” she whines, “I told you not to leave home …” She follows the sound of the cat twenty more paces. She seems to forget about her hand, the now-bloody towel falls, and she doesn’t seem to mind the mission for her missing phone, either. She walks, listening, until she, too, is at the edge of the neighborhood.
The sounds of the cat stop, but when MV focuses her eyes and tips her wide brimmed hat out of her sweaty face, she sees Judy’s little beaded macramé bag sitting on the ground, blinking against the single streetlight in the darkness.
Judy didn’t think about how Seville wouldn’t have moss, and how the clouds overhead would make it impossible to see stars, and how she actually has no idea if Johnny’s house is north, east, south, or west. Better yet, it’s a new moon, and there’s nothing but pitch black everywhere all at once. Trembling under a tree, “shading herself,” Judy cries and cries and cries, cursing the New York City movement guru who told her that cellphones were devil’s candy, how blue lights cause depression, how ice baths would cure the sadness and grief over her only son living thousands of miles away and her only ex-husband using the divorce as a means to spend all of the money that used to be their money on expensive dinners with nineteen-year-old women who look just like MV at restaurants he refused to take her to.
As Judy continues to cry, she hears a rustling behind her. She jumps to a stand and presses her back against the tree. “Who’s there?” She holds out her hands as if she has a weapon, could wield a weapon.
A fox creeps out of the darkness, puffy tail swishing.
The fox ducks his head and swims it side to side, getting a better look at Judy.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m friendly, see?” Judy holds out her hand, and the fox hisses and whines, baring its teeth. “Fuck.”
“Judy?” MV calls out from behind Judy, from the darkness, and Judy yelps.
“Here, here! There’s a fox trying to kill me!”
MV comes to stand next to Judy, sways unevenly on her feet, and looks at the fox.
Judy asks, “Are you drunk?” and MV looks at her, obvious ridicule on her face and says, “Yes. Are you not?”
“No!” Judy says, blinking her eyes into focus.
The fox continues to hiss, and its tail swishes faster and faster.
“Is it … taunting us?” MV asks, fear in her voice. The fox hops back and forth, left, right, left, like it’s trying to juke them out. “I’ve never seen a fox do that.” She’s never seen a fox.
MV leaves Judy’s side and reaches down next to the tree, picking up a stick.
“You won’t be able to kill it with a stick,” Judy says.
“Kill it? I thought you were a vegan,” as in, I’d like to see you kill it. Pussy.
The fox stands in front of them like an offering. It stands still, an easy target. MV has the long stick in one hand, panting. She starts walking sideways, towards it, watching as its head turns.
Judy screams, “You’re antagonizing it!” The fox hisses at the noise and backs up a step.
MV bares her teeth and puffs out her chest. She hits her stick against the ground and says, “I’m dominating it.”
“In what world?”
But the fox starts to turn with MV, its eyes shifting, its back turning, legs shuffling.
Judy’s eyes go wide, and her upper lip wiggles and folds up. “What are you doing?” The fox continues to reorient itself, now facing MV and away from Judy like a hunting dog waiting for the signal to chase.
MV throws the stick at the fox, and it lands two feet in front of it. “Fuck,” Judy says.
“Language,” MV responds.
Judy rolls her eyes and says, “That was our only weapon.” The fox is sniffing the stick, sniffing, and then pissing on it.
MV makes a sign of the cross, both over herself and then over the fox. And when the fox turns to run, likely more related to boredom than the impulsive Catholicism, Judy cheers and MV cheers and they run to each other and hug, jumping, and then MV says, “Oh my gosh, you reek of wine.”
“And you reek of poor decisions,” Judy says, pushing away, “but at least I don’t say anything about it.”
“You know what,” MV says, shoving up her sleeves, “I’m tired, gosh darn tired, of you—of you—”
“Yeah? Yeah??” Judy sticks out her neck, sneering, and pats her chest. “Me what? What? What, MV? I know this has been coming, so, let’s hear it!” Her eyes are wide, and the hairs around her face stick up with sweat.
“You …You’re a big …” MV buffers. She rips off her hat. “Phony!”
“Phony?” Judy screeches. MV throws her hat at Judy’s head. Judy splutters and catches the hat, throws it on the ground, stomps on it. “Who’s the phony, you prostitutional filmographer!”
“Prostitutional filmographer? That’s not even a thing!”
“You would know!”
MV shoves Judy and screams, and Judy yells at the shove, pushes MV back, and then they begin in earnest, veganism and What Would Jesus Do forgotten. Judy gets one good scratch across MV’s face, her acrylic nails stronger than MV’s weak kick to Judy’s gut. But MV gets in one good slap, hard, across Judy’s face, and that’s all it takes. The two of them stumble backwards away from each other, panting.
Judy presses into the red mark on her face, and MV pats at the blood on her cheek. “Oh my god!” Judy yells. MV nods and looks around them, at the unending black. “We’re gonna die here! I’m gonna die with you!”
“We’re not gonna die.” MV picks up her hat and wipes her face with it. “We just have to stay put long enough until daylight. It’ll be fine.”
It’s 4:00 a.m., ninety minutes until sunrise. They sit in the dust, six feet between them, their backs facing each other.
Judy didn’t do well during the silent meditation portion of her yogic retreat with Jyoti in the Himalayas.
So, after twenty minutes of nothing from MV, not even a particularly loud breath, Judy says, “How do the animals survive if all they have to eat is thorns? Dry thistle, dry hay, dry seeds, cacti … Maybe their digestive tracts are built to digest hard things. Bones. Spurs. Human flesh.” MV doesn’t respond, but her hands drop from her face, and she starts to play with the loose rock next to her, drawing her finger through the packed gray dirt. Judy’s hand lands on a particularly large stone. She tips it back and forth in her palm, looks at the back of MV’s head, pretends to launch, laughs to herself, taps the rock, and it makes a hollow knocking sound when she tosses it back onto the ground. “It’s all just a simulation.”
“What?” MV says, annoyed. She was enjoying the silence, the quiet. She’d been praying, actually, reciting—paraphrasing, rather—various Bible verses to herself.
“Nothing,” Judy says. “Did you bring any food?”
“Yeah, Judy, of course. I made you a snack at the house, handmade gluten-free bread sticks, vegan butter, freshly churned or fermented or whatever, hand-picked raspberries, organic chocolate chips, but obviously that didn’t happen, did it.”
“Doesn’t sound like a particularly healthy meal, anyways.”
“Oh my—” MV throws the hat and stands up. “You know what? I’m going to go look for help.”
“What?” Judy whines and stands up, chasing after MV until she exits the perceived safety of the orange tree branches. So, three steps. If Judy looked up, she’d find her snack. “No! You can’t leave me here! Alone!”
“I can, and I will, thanks!”
MV waves a hand and disappears into the black.
Judy cries and cries, clutching the tree, brushing at bugs and phantom itchiness and cobwebs and whatever nasties she doesn’t know about, until she hears someone calling her name.
“Judy … Judy … Judy …”
A haunting call, in a tone of someone excited, willing, eager to murder her.
Judy fumbles on the ground to turn off the flashlight, clutches it to her chest, and presses herself deeper against the tree, thinking to herself, Be the tree, Be the tree, Be the tree.
But then the voice is upon her, “Judy … Judy … Judy …” and Judy screams, “Help! Help! Ayuda! Ayudame! Por favor!” Until the “Judy … Judy … Judy …” stops.
Until footsteps, fast and light, burst from behind her like a panther ready to attack. Judy screams and flings out her limbs, the flashlight making a hard knock against something, a skull, and a body flails, skids on the loose gravel, and lands, hard, on a tree root.
Judy shuts her eyes and screams and screams until no further harm comes to her.
She drops her hands from her face and clicks on the bloodied flashlight. MV is laid out on the ground, blood coming from one eyebrow and pooling at her eyelids, running into a stream of blood pooled behind her head.
“Oh God, oh God,” Judy says while she shines the flashlight over MV’s body. When the light hits her face and MV’s eyes open, blinking, Judy screams again and flings herself against the tree. MV, still blinking, turns her head and says, “Why’d you do that?”
“Why’d you sound so—so—creepy?” MV laughs and turns her head again, closes her eyes, and Judy says, “Oh God, are you dying?”
MV goes quiet and listens to Judy wail, the mix of concussion and remnants of alcohol spreading around in her body a happy, confused, blackened peace.
She had just been playing around, trying to spook Judy. Of course, the bitch would whack her. Of course.
Judy doesn’t think to get close to MV, to check her pulse, breathing, bleeding. The dark is too dark, MV too bloody. She’ll wait until sunrise, which isn’t so far away, now.
When the sun finally comes up, 5:30 a.m., Mateo, after getting no sleep and hearing the damned cat for hours on end, goes to MV and Johnny’s house to complain. It’s always the Americans, the military couples, that keep their cats locked up inside. It’s inhumane, if you ask him. His cats are perfectly happy wandering the street, wandering into people’s homes, wandering into the underbelly of people’s cars. Because that’s what cats are supposed to do. Wander.
The gate is still open, and he walks to the front door, looks around and peeks inside the windows. Mateo knocks and knocks and kicks away the empty food bowl.
Then he starts to hear Ramón, the damned cat, meowing, but this time it’s not from inside the house. He’d heard the sounds of a fox from this direction many nights before and wonders if the fox got to Ramón before he did. Mateo follows the sound along the streets, wondering if it’s unethical to put a nearly dead cat out of its misery via poison or strangulation, when he meets the edge of the neighborhood. He’s walked three minutes north towards the neighborhood park.
Mateo squints, looking for the source of the sound, into the park. He looks at the nearby orange tree, the rest of the park stretching fresh. There are figures under the tree, but he didn’t put in his contacts in that morning, and his glasses are an old prescription; it could be a boulder, a rock, a dead animal. The tree is a quarter mile from the playground, a quarter mile from his wife’s favorite stationary store.
Mateo, who remembers his keys, shakes his head and goes back home, unlocks and relocks his doors, and sleeps soundly through the noiseless, sunny day.
Under the perfect orange tree, perfect for a picnic, lay two bodies, one spooning the other. No fox, no cat, just two white women, bloodied.
As the neighborhood begins to wake, a fox runs across the park with a gray mass in its mouth.
Emily Unwin (she/her) is a queer writer based in Edinburgh. She’s the co-founder of Finley Light Factory and tacky! Magazine, recipient of the AAAC grant. Emily has published or is forthcoming in Polyester Zine, Salty Magazine, Gigantic Sequins, and Rogue Agent, among others. She’s been a finalist for the Gigantic Sequins flash fiction prize, the Get Artistic grant, and the Perennial Press Chapbook Award. She is represented by Joanna Volpe and Jordan Hill at New Leaf Literary.