A Tangerine in the Heart of Winter

I had a really excellent tangerine the other night. It was a surprise at the end of a warm and slow evening on a cold night in Berlin. We were gathered in the photographer’s flat to celebrate an old friend’s birthday, a dozen or more of us who’d journeyed with her parts of the way through the turns and seasons of her fifty years. We clustered together in the photographer’s cramped kitchen, trying not to bump the skillet and pots on the stove, the stands of wineglasses by the sink, the bags on the table – even though there was plenty of space in the living room, where she had removed her chairs and there was a long table set formally for the dinner – plates and waterglasses and more wine glasses. There was room there, but the prosecco bottles were popping in the kitchen, one and then another, and then the champagne, one then two then three, and one needs to be close to wear the bubbles are pouring, and the talk lingers over photography and beloved places we had travelled to, and shared stories about the stupid things we had done with our friend back when we were young and you could do stupid things and it didnt matter. Tangerines were not really a part of the plan for the evening and were not among the bags of food clustered on the small kitchen table and threatened to fall off if anyone bumped them. There was smoked salmon and mackerel from Ireland and sausage from Eindhoven that went around and never made it to the dinner table, and cheeses from the Netherlands and baguettes and dark brown bread and the cork popping from another bottle of Brut, and the salad, heavy with lush red tomatoes. And the goulash, thick and dark, coming out of the oven, spooned out with spaetzle, and finally we were gathering around the table, laughing, corks coming off the bottles of Rhone red lined up along the wall and down the table, passing the salmon and the bread, interrupted for a toast to our dear friend, clinking glasses all up and down the table. Then you might get a bite of the sweet, nutty brown bread or the dark smoky salmon and then another toast, and glasses clinking all around, and someone joking that we’d be eating past midnight with all the toasting, and it was almost midnight anyway, but floating on laughter and the steaming goulash and the wine and it didn’t matter what time it was or where we were in an old part of what for awhile was East Berlin, because it was just good to be here with these people and our beloved friend. And there was the young Polish photographer talking about his love, deep love, to a woman far away in Italy, and the photographer from Ireland and I telling about how he shouldn’t be afraid to have children, children would teach him things about love he could never know any other way, and it was great to meet someone from far away and know you felt the same fierce love for your children, away at home. The tangerines didn’t even arrive until the dinner was over and the plates were being cleared and I was thinking how I should be getting up to help but there really wasn’t room for all the helpers in the little kitchen and the long dinner had left me feeling so warm and languorous I didn’t want to get up anyway. Someone arrived fashionably late with a brightly colored bag, and someone looked in it and gave a glad whoop for the surprise inside and being my friend’s birthday I thought it must be a birthday surprise, like the bossa nova trio that was coming in to set up in the corner so we could dance, but she reached in and pulled out something small and round and heavy and tossed it across the room to someone and I worried for a split second about the half-filled wineglasses still sitting on the table when she threw another and I hoped I’d be able to catch it, the hacky-sack or whatever it was, if she threw one to me and I saw it was a tangerine not a hacky-sack. I pressed my thumb into the end and the peel split almost perfectly and it slid away from the soft interior that bulged with juice. I split the sections in half and then one half in half again and they bulged with juice, almost begging at me, and I slowly placed it onto my tongue and bit down and the juice splashed down and around on my tongue and it was the. Best. Tangerine. Ever.