“Kumquat” * Flash Story * Elizabeth Bernays

I turn its orange roundness between thumb and forefinger out there in the sun. Tiny points of darker color mark oil glands in the smooth surface of its skin. A slightly flattened top with a white center shows where I pulled it off the tree, and a speck of black at the bottom is left where the flower must once have been. A few brownish lines mar its perfection – some minor impact during development. Already my mouth waters and I swallow several times in succession. But I wait just a little longer, enjoying anticipation.

The day is hot but my mouth is wet. As my lips part a fine line of watery saliva curves up and out then disappears in the dry air. The little fruit is in my mouth at last. I move it gently from side to side with my tongue and there is just a suggestion of kumquat smell in the earthy taste. For now, I am happy to simply feel its roundness because I know what is coming soon. And there is still a touch of kumquat in the air from my picking hand.

The kumquat rests now in my left cheek between upper and lower molars. I hold it there without breaking its surface and consider whether it should be a quick crush, or a gentle press that will eventually cause a split in the side of the fruit. The crush is a sudden sunspot explosion of intense tartness that has the benefit of a superior reward but there are the many seeds. These spoil the soft squelch with their tasteless hardness.  So I choose the other. Very slowly my jaw closes and all my attention is focused on the feel of the fruit’s resistance and the thought of it there distorted, and the coming flavors of an orange-colored juice that further increases the watering in my mouth. Will there be a sudden gush or a slow leakage?

Suddenly it bursts. It is not so fast that my mouth opens letting the lovely liquid escape and not so slow that I miss the sudden glory of its detumescence and the Noah’s flood of flavor. The sharpness is mixed with the sweet oil of the skin and the taste of an orange color so intense I shut my eyes.  My concentration is total. I hear no birds and see no garden. I feel nothing of the hot sun as I stand there by the tree letting the pleasure slowly fade as I swallow the juice, chew the flesh and skin, spit out the seeds.


—About the Author—

Elizabeth Bernays grew up in Australia, became a British Government Scientist in London, and then a Professor of Entomology at the University of California Berkeley.  From there she was appointed Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona where she also obtained an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has published forty nonfiction stories in literary magazines and last year, her memoir, Six Legs Walking, won the 2020  Arizona/New Mexico Book Award for memoir.