Squeezing the orange revealed nothing. Alfie could never remember if oranges were supposed to be firm or soft. The orange in his hand had a little give; it could go either way. Perhaps fruit salad was a foolish dinner choice.
Alfie needed a professional. He could see the stout produce attendant patrolling the melon stacks, considering Alfie with disfavor, like a police officer contemplating a tattooed youth loitering outside the mini-mart. Submitting the orange for inspection to this authority seemed embarrassing, yet necessary.
Alfie began to fumble with his coupon book to see if he should change his dinner plans, when he sensed someone approaching. Figuring the produce attendant was ready to make inquiries, he asked without lifting his head.
“How do you know if an orange is ripe?”
Alfie looked up, into the eyes of a young woman. Alfie felt they were the first eyes he had ever really seen.
“I’m sorry?” She projected the scent of flowering possibility.
Alfie immediately began to sweat and straightened up, in hopes of looking taller. Her eyes blinked. His gaze moved over her smooth features, wondering if he should dare to speak. He could sense the sour smell permeating his words, but even Alfie could not pass up such an opportunity.
“Yes…I’m sorry, I’m at a loss.”
She smiled warmly at this obvious statement.
“I mean,” continued Alfie, “how do I know if an orange is ripe?”
“Ah, that’s a good question.”
They watched each other. He became intensely aware that he had not taken a shower that weekend. Alfie was unsure whose turn it was to speak, but then she continued.
“I think the best way is to hold it firmly between your palms and roll it around counter clockwise. Then lift it up to your ear and squeeze it gently. If it doesn’t sound like a wet sponge, then it’s good to go. That, of course, only leaves the smell.”
“Naturally. It should smell like a lemon blended with a pinecone.”
Alfie’s brow slouched over his eyes.
“Oh yeah. My great uncle was a world class orange tester. He grew up as a migrant worker on the East Coast. He’d pick oranges in the summer down in Florida. Later on, he toured the circuit of county fairs, judging homegrown oranges. Go ahead, give it a try.”
Alfie rolled the orange counter clockwise between his palms before holding it up to his ear and giving it a squeeze. No spongy sound. So far, so good. Now, he really wanted to look good, so he closed his eyes and gave the orange a good, long sniff. It smelled like…orange.
He opened his eyes after the sniff and she had gone. Several rows over by the arugula, the produce attendant who had observed the interaction stood shaking his head, smirking. Alfie sighed, put the orange in his basket and moved to the next item on his list.