It’s foremost a visual. Oranges are fluorescent and snow’s glow-in-the-dark coloured, constantly. Neither colours all too common in the natural world, expect in their cases, of course, and maybe in glowworms, and the Gobi Desert at night. But together the Floridian-frigid pairing is an unusual fusion with unusual connotations and a pervasiveness observable across entire nations, funny things illuminated out of the dark.
Winnipeg / Determination
Determination became orange-flavoured when I began getting strep-throat like clockwork, before debate nationals (the world’s qualifier). The annual competition lured mouthy youth in piped blazers to Winnipeg’s screaming cold tarmac, a dark flat promiseland with hedgehog air prickling down high-held nasal passages in the colours of commercials for peppermint gum. I’m there with twenty packets of powered vitamin C crystals, citrus Halls, my life goal somewhere within “be it resolved that the UN enact sanctions…” It’s coyote-howl dark as we fanged, clawed kids are collected by homestays under wobbly jelly streetlight, the cold compressing us with external pressure (a hand squeezing a glass). Glitter flecks of ice prickle through the air, sharp as comebacks, stinging like disappointment. I repeat my persuasive speech in my head, imagining my tenor, the sap-tap tone that tacitly conveys my opponent’s naiveté, a vibrating pitch of conviction. Baton-twirling my voice in front of everyone is when I feel best. Taking home trophies is when I feel sense and structure and a stream of self-doubt I damn up with more trophies. I think I know how to cure what ails me. I eat a whole lemon; my friend tries to match me and regurgitates pithy thickness back up like a pelican mom. “World champion,” I think to myself, and mix glittering orange granules into a sparkling citric drink as a five hundred-strong audience filters into the auditorium.
Vancouver / Confidence
The first time my best friend invited me over to her house was the first time I ever felt like I might not be a total wiener, after all. At least, I had the potential be become less of a wiener in the future. Just a year above me at school, I thought I might need a special passport to hang out with her (older kids!) and now, when we’re with friends ten, fifteen years our senior a little bit of me thinks “how taboo, back in high school…” Still a wiener, after all. There’s a freak spring snow storm one of those early nights of (her awesome) music and (my goofy) kitchen-dancing, and we go for it, pounding down plush white carpet staircase to slidey marble in our sock feet then out, to the steep driveway, perfect for makeshift sledding and hurling slushy snow-lumps that impact with juicy splats. My orange hoodie soaks umber with melt, and the flakes are huge, caught like UFOs on our old cameras. I got the ok to rifle though a garage box of donation clothes for another layer, finding a retro band jacket, epaulettes and all, also orange, like a tangelo, a more confident tangerine (I get to keep it!). She snaps a photo of me with it on, hood-up, scowling to reveal surprise cheekbones, and it’s the first time I’ve looked good in 2D, or possibly ever. As warm and wet as life itself, we’re back in her kitchen, picking over plastic trays of take out sushi on counter-islands, clam-shelled open, roe on rice hedged with viridian plastic grass, the colour of money and Magic Cards in the bedrooms of our brothers, luminous by screen-light. Adrift in pools of packet soy, every orange sphere pops like the fireworks we watch from her balcony in the summer.
Montreal / Nurturance
We didn’t meet in the mental health office, but we connected there, just the two of us on day one of fourth year, not making eye contact. After that we thawed up, our fight had been silly anyway and um, maybe there we some things we could help each other through? Weird friends for sure, nobody would peg us together, copy and pasted. But we kinda liked that (a rare blooming flower!) and anyway, in each other’s presence we were in love and constant counseling, a lot of alternating Sherpa-type action. Something occasionally grabbing us by the legs and pulling while our hands flailed for a hold. We’d find one in my living room, where my roommate and I mashed Christmas and Hanukah into the coziest festivity ever. We needed snacks. Handfuls of chocolate chips and candy canes at once, green apples with peanut butter and cinnamon. And mandarins, which I bought in those crates stuffed with turquoise tissue, so you unwrap one little parcel to get to another. “You know the bits are actually individual cells, they’re just like hair cells” I say cross-eyed ‘cause I like that kind of thing (I make us watch Planet Earth, especially the plant ones, the tropical flowers). “No way, each one?” you say, your peels are elephant shaped and punctured by fingernail crescents, you pile them on my coffeetable. You’re like, “Is it ok to throw them there?” I’m like, “I have stood on that with my shoes on.” Cinnamon, orange, chocolate mint, the vaporized smoke of our discussions under the glow of dollar-store fairy lights while the night did its best impression of an Everest blizzard and we wondered if we’d ever be able to go out again.
Toronto / Displacement
Towards Toronto, on the train, at night, it’s like we’re shooting through dense brush thickets, outerspace, underground. Underground, I think of the subways I took when I worked in your city one sick humid summer, how they stopped in the dark for 10, 20 minutes and I’d origami inward with the conviction of inescapability, a terror I’d take to the office (residual panic for the rest of the day). You’re lush off the liquor cart and chronicling my shortcomings (you wouldn’t read any of these articles, next page, nope none of these either). You lean in and say, kiss me. I refuse, you repeat. We’re lucky it’s the ugliest moment we ever had. Your parents pick us up at the train station, happy new year! You say “it’s Gung Hei Fat Choi,” and I’m like, I’m from Vancouver. And even if I wasn’t. Your mother’s civil brusqueness only made me pity future girlfriends. At your parents’ pretty home salads are salmon and pomelo, duck’s caramel, and there are bouquets of tangerines on the branch. The most beautiful thing, I think, lined up on the mahogany. I always loved those little ones, you know, the decorative trees you’d buy at the florist, but they’d die quick and their fruit was sour anyway. “Aunt Karen and your cousins are coming, and Jenny and Dave, and Papi and Nana…” Gosh, quadruple my family already, all you laughers playing croquet at the summerhouse, passing the dishes around the table. Once you told me, “don’t try to make me feel bad that I have a good relationship with my sister,” and I said, “I’m not!” and went to work or back to my apartment to barricade myself in the dry shower, bug-eyed and gremliny. “You could move here after grad with me,” you say, walking over the scabby ice-snow, chocolate-milk puddles of melt on the asphalt. Everyone in your family leaves dinner with a bouquet of branched tangerines, I don’t. I get an envelope of lucky money. I take it.