It Never Bloomed for BabciaM. Stanley Bubien
"It never bloomed for Babcia," my wife sniffed at the fledgling tree, barely four feet tall, but stock full of oranges.
"We replanted it," I told her, a promise keeping me from the true consolation I wanted to offer.
"This pot's only a foot bigger," she grumbled. "It's not fair."
I sighed. My wife had given the orange tree to her grandmother, original pot and all, just a year before the elderly woman died. I initially thought the idea crazy. Personally, I considered myself an expert on orange trees, having grown up around them all my life---seems like everyone in this part of Southern California owns a grove---but I had never seen one in a pot! And I told Kay as much. She, however, was relentless.
"Here Babcia," Kay said, arms outstretched toward the potted tree as her grandmother pushed open her apartment's screen door. "I knew you wanted something to liven up your porch."
"Ooohhhh," Babcia said in a long exclamation, bringing her hands together before her mouth. "It's wonderful!"
Kay beamed. "Where do you want it Babcia?"
They both looked around, and I found myself ignored for the fifteen minutes it took for them to choose a spot.
"How about here?" Kay would suggest.
"I don't know, seems like maybe too much sun," Babcia would answer. "Over there looks just a little better."
"That'd block your window, Babcia, and you know how you like to see outside."
Eventually, I found myself dragging the pot to its agreed upon position.
In the months that followed, we caught Babcia pouring water upon it on more than one occasion. "No oranges yet," she'd always say, brushing the leaves hopefully with gloved fingers.
But it was a particular early-evening visit that I wandered over to the planter as Kay pulled upon the screen. Though shrouded in shade, I spotted a bulbous protrusion in the tree and bent to examine it more closely. "Kay," I said as she was about to knock. "Look!"
Eyes wide, she stepped beside me. "Wow," she breathed. Carefully, reaching amongst the leaves, she touched the rind of the maturing orange. But it hung so loosely from its branch, the poor thing broke off, bounced from her hand and dropped onto the ground.
"No!" Kay screeched and covered her cheeks with her palms.
I picked up the orange before it rolled away. "It would've fallen off by itself. The tree's still too young."
My wife remained frozen, staring at the piece of fruit as if it were bleeding to death.
"Come on, let's give it to Babcia."
With a share of trepidation, I knocked and lead the way within. "Here Babcia," I presented the orange. "We found this outside."
"Oh," Babcia said, shuffling over.
"I did it!" Kay blurted and began to cry. "I knocked it out of the tree! I'm sorry Babcia, I didn't mean to."
"Dear, dear," Babcia reached for her granddaughter. "I saw that orange there," she explained, brushing Kay's hair from within their embrace. "I didn't show you because it was so small and frail, I knew it wouldn't last. Don't feel bad, dear, it was just too early."
They hugged again, and Kay sniffed and wiped at the tears under her glasses. "You're just saying that."
"Oh, no," Babcia replied.
They released, and Kay removed the frames from her face. "I have to clean my mascara. I'll be right back." But before she departed, she paused, attempted a smile at her grandmother and said, "thanks, Babcia." Another tear formed as she headed for the bathroom.
We watched her walk down the hallway. "Poor dear," Babcia said.
"Yeah. She really wants that tree to bloom for you."
Babcia remained briefly quiet. "Can I tell you a secret?"
She turned toward me and placed her hands in her apron pocket. "You must promise never to tell Kay."
I blinked, but nodded.
My initial reaction was to frown toward the unripe orange now resting upon the coffee-table. It looked sad, misshapen from its fall, but the secret Babcia whispered somehow shed a completely different light upon it. Unexpectedly, I began chuckling. A smile formed on Babcia's lips, and she followed suit until we were both laughing and slapping our legs.
"What?" Kay said reentering the room.
"Um, inside joke," I answered. "Too hard to explain."
That was over a year ago, and that was the only orange Babcia was ever to see from her little tree.
"Why couldn't it bloom like this for her?" Kay asked. "She took better care of it than us."
"They take a long time..." but my voice trailed off as I saw the tears streaking down Kay's cheeks. I reached over and brought her into my arms. I held her tightly, allowing her to cry and repeat again and again her remorse at the tree's lack of fruit for her grandmother.
I wanted to wipe her tears, but as I tried to let go, she hung on. I waited a bit, tried again, but received the same reaction. Closing my eyes, I whispered, "forgive me Babcia."
"Kay," I said. "Listen." She clung, and I repeated myself, a bit more firmly, "listen to me. I know why it never bloomed for Babcia."
She sniffed and, though hesitant, leaned to one side and allowed me look into her face. Rubbing her back, I said, "Babcia was allergic to oranges."
"What?" Kay stepped back and removed her glasses.
"She couldn't eat oranges. They'd get her sick."
"It's true, I swear. She made me promise to keep it a secret."
"But... but why?" She looked at the tree. "It wouldn't have hurt my feelings."
"Yes," I brushed her cheek with a knuckle, "it would have. But that's not the reason she never told you. She really did love the tree! It was your special gift to her. That's why she always watered it."
The words sunk in slowly, and Kay began crying again. She fell against me, glasses dangling from her fingers. Yet, after a time, I eventually felt a loosening in her sobs, and she began to quiet, consoled, finally, by my embrace.
Copyright ©1999 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
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