redlands is a desolate desert town, with people who have accepted their desolation, and forgotten about it. the sun is an overripe orange, -in fact, everything is oranges, filling the town with the scent of sweet juice they can never taste. in all of my time living there, i never once ate an orange, but i smelled the orange groves all summer long and wondered what their toil was for. by their, i mean the migrant workers that labored for less than minimum wage during the harvest. i remember things randomly discarded among the groves: recliners, mattresses, bags of leaves and garbage and clothing, the remnants of people slowly shedding the anchors of domestic life (what?). folks of varying assortments and agendas passed through the groves, but always for the same main objective: to kill time and avoid the heat. the people i came there with wanted to get high out of sight, and i personally wanted to smell the oranges up close, and to observe my new acquaintances in their natural element. one of them was a gangly pale girl named fionna. she lived next door to me, but never really spoke to me unless we ran into eachother in public. it was as if we were perfectly anonymous people with hardly a thing in common, despite going to the same school, living on the same block, and both being the only daughters of single mothers. until social circumstances brought us face to face, we were strangers to one another. that day, she and i were introduced by another of our mutual acquaintances, and we both nodded expressionlessly to eachother and looked off into opposite directions. fionna had some weed, and her friend dee brought a glass pipe that her brother had dropped in the laundry room. she told us that it would have meant a beating for both of them if their mother had found it, so she thought it better to keep it safe among her own things rather than let her brother leave it carelessly somewhere else. i thought it was kind of unneccessary for her to explain herself, since she was already smoking illegal drugs and everything, making any other crime seem insignificant in comparison. it dawned on me then that, here, theft was a serious offense and drug use was a common theme of recreation; in my house hold it was entirely the opposite.
fionna led the way, dee followed behind her, and bret, a tall boy with a complexion much like the gravel we were walking on, strayed a bit behind, yet was still ahead of me. his eyes watched the ground a few paces before him and i took a moment to follow his gaze, half-expecting to see something strange or fantastic in the dirt. all i saw were the soles of dee's plastic flip-flops as they clapped between the ground and her calloused heels. the heat was like a heavy wool blanket that is worn so often its presence is forgotten. especially when you stay in motion, you lose touch with just how dense the air is with warmth, and it is only when you pause to tie your shoe that sweat accumulates and breathing becomes difficult. no matter how wide-open the fields were, the heat made you feel trapped and hopeless. we dragged our feet through dry soil, swallowing our spit like some pasty salline drink and dreaming of ice-cold enimas (what?). dee told us that she once passed out from the heat. her brother found her in the backyard hanging wet laundry. she said that by the time he found her, all the sheets were dry as a bone in the basket, but he had to use the hose to douse her, and wetted them all over again. nobody laughed, but i wanted to, but could not afford the energy to do it. i wondered then how many emotions were too costly to express out here.
the groves were sparse rows of green hair sprouting unnaturally from the barren scalp of the horizon. the rows were laden with scant, stuffy shade which heralded promises of the unpredictable and often pungeant artifacts of its transient inhabitors(...). as we neared the railroad tracks, dee told us about the time she found an entire set of china on the other side of the groves. she said the set had been laid out perfectly, with leaves folded like napkins and tucked beneath puter forks, and a gravy boat and turkey platter sitting right in the middle. our caravan slowed down considerably as she said this so that we could all give sardonic looks, but she seemed not to notice. i didn't really want not to believe her, because i enjoyed the imagery of it. i was almost moved to speak, maybe to suggest that a family of invisible hobos was eating their transparent dinner, but i didn't. dee could handle disapproving looks much better than i could, at least while i was sober.
we passed over some train tracks, which meant we were nearly there. the heat of the rails showed me how cheap my shoesoles were, almost burning right through to my feet. i held my foot down against one of them for as long as i could, but my i could feel my weight sliding as the rubber began to melt, and lept down onto the gravel. the fertile soil began abruptly, and the four of us stood directly on the seam and peered into the groves. fionna ventured in first, and we all stepped after her, each in our own good time. the groves were so colorful in comparison to the dry concrete and chalky gravel of the town. it was like disappearing into a technicolor movie where everything is overly done, and every action and word seems at once more meaningful and less real. fionna and dee took off running after a few paces in, rustling skiddishly amidst the leaves. bret and i lost sight of them, but i could hear that they were racing, and fionnas flipflops clapped further and further into the distance, while dee's boots dug heavily into the soil at a slower and slower pace, until finally their stopped. finding dee was easy, as her shoes left large checkered patterns in the fertilizer.