PÁDRAIG T. WATSON
Her father named her Satsuma and every now and then, when she’d ask why, he would say “because nothing rhymes with orange.” One time in late December he quipped that Christmas Orange wouldn’t make a great name. He never said anything about the terms tangerine or mikan, and the less said about the fact that Satsuma could also refer to snails the better.
Satsuma’s father may have used the same response so many times because Satsuma asked so
many questions. He had to save his energy for the more difficult queries. The real stumpers.
These were most difficult when they concerned her mother. It was much easier just to avoid the
subject altogether, but that was never an option. It hurt him the most when she’d ask, on a special
occasion or after a particularly interesting moment, or worst yet during an everyday occurrence,
what her mother would have said. He’d either have no idea, or, devastatingly, would know
exactly, word for word. Either way, he would muster a world of effort and invoke a huge shift in
his breathing pattern to keep the tears forming on the inside so Satsuma didn’t need to feel
sadness. All she wanted was a glimpse of an alternative existence. It never got to her.
Her father was also fond of saying Satsuma had a peel to protect her. She always liked this until
she became a teen and started to pontificate that while orange peels may be protective in function
and by nature, little mandarin orange peels offered little in the way of serious defense. Their
ability to be torn open and skinned alive was one of the main reasons they were so commonly
placed in her peers’ lunch bags beginning in elementary school.
Lunch hours always brought a little extra hunch to Satsuma’s shoulders. After elementary
school, in which everyone sat in their own regular desk for lunch, Satsuma always deliberated
where the best place to sit would be. One lunch hour in high school, Satsuma, locked into a
one-piece chair and desk combo and nibbling through a sandwich, elbows pointed out to the rest
of the school, was presented with an invitation. A crew of students in matching sweaters had
been roaming all lunch hour locating all the Grade 10 students. The invitation had on its cover
the hands of a woman clasped around the hands of a baby, in black and white. Satsuma was out
of the loop on what the sweaters meant and found the cover of the card a bit hackneyed before
she even knew what it was it represented. As it turned out it was an invitation to a special mass
held each March. A “Mother’s Mass”. A chance for all the students at the school, Catholic and
fake Catholic alike, to celebrate the women that made them who they were. Satsuma was used to
her father being stood in a room full of mothers at school functions. It was second nature. In
preschool he’d wait for her with his arms out at the edge of the room in a line of women. In
elementary school his deep voice would call to her from the window of his rusting white Passat,
deeper, yet friendlier, than the voice branching out of any other car that pulled up. As years went
on at school functions, Satsuma began to notice a desire from the other mothers to stand closer to
her father, or strike up conversation with him. As Satsuma neared closer and closer to adulthood,
her worry shifted from whether she liked these mothers’ children to their current marital status.
Her father never went beyond pleasantries though, and seemed genuinely oblivious when
Satsuma’s irises would float up into her skull in reflex to comments about so-and-so’s mother
When that mass came around, Satsuma sat through the grand entrance complete with a
procession of mothers parading into the sports hall, with all the students sat waiting next to an
open seat. Her father walked in and smiled as many of the boys and some of the girls denied
themselves the composure of an unchanged facial expression. Her father sat next to her and in
what became one time too many quite early on in the gauntlet of speeches and songs honouring
mothers, made just a slight lean of his head towards Satsuma each time the word mother or a
female pronoun was used. The conclusion of the assembly featured all the mothers lining up at
the front of the gym. Satsuma’s father joined them. He stood shoulder to shoulder amongst all
the moms. His face contained a look of some sort of impassioned ignorance. It was as if to say
he had no idea he didn’t belong, when it couldn’t be much more obvious.
When Satsuma grew older, perhaps more savvy to the fact that any analogy could be twisted to
suit what you wanted it to, she realized being a little orange might not be as bad as her teenage
self saw it. Satsuma thought about how once the peel was pulled back she was left with all the
segments of herself. All the pieces that made a whole, held together, held in place unless you
chose to separate them. Satsuma hadn’t needed a peel to protect her; as for her father, he didn’t
have a need to separate pieces, he just had to make it seem like it was no great ordeal to keep
them all together.
Adão, Éva and the Marching Band
Growing up they were a part of the house. Things have a way of becoming more than
objects in your childhood home. They mark the existence of the world falling into place around
you. We had traveled to Portugal when I was four years old. My mother told me of Dante’s
Inferno and the nine stages of hell, poorly remembering details, conscious of the fact she was retelling a text from Italy, and of not sounding too American, as we walked through a market. I
can’t remember any noise but her voice. All around, clay figures, wooden sculptures, puppets
and strung up bundles of luminous peppers clouded out the blaring sun. I took in details, of
Dante and the market, with my newly formed capacity for long-term memory. My mom took
home two figures from that day. Everyone got to take home a souvenir, a marker from each vacation, in our family. I’d spend most of each trip agonizing over what it should be. The figures
looked more and more like well-executed papier-mâché as they aged. They depicted Adam and
Eve, their names obscured in Portuguese from my understanding as a child, holding leaves in
front of their privates. In a secret I kept from my parents though, I could see pubic hair glued to
their too-pink bodies peeking out from behind the needlessly green leaves. I took home a set of
similar, smaller figures. They depicted a band, playing an array of instruments. Drums and brass.
Every figure played its own instrument. Though they all shared the same face, at one time I had a
backstory for each . It took me a long time to recall why my mom had chosen to tell a
four-year-old about the passage through hell that day. But one day, looking at Adão and Éva, the
cartoonish-blood red of the countless devils hung for sale from the stalls re-entered my mind.
They looked much better than the fig-leaved couple. More professional. More skillful. More
informing. More deserving of their colour. She chose the couple because her mother had been
Catholic, and her mother more so. She chose them because how can you in good conscience
bring home a demon and as your reason, say it looked more appealing.
Pádraig T. Watson was born in Sudbury, Ontario. He recently returned to Canada after years living in Tokyo, Japan. His story 'The Trials and Tribulations of Dublin Nakamura' is in the February 2020 issue of The Honest Ulsterman. He is currently working on his first novel about a three-piece punk band from Vancouver.
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