Newtown Orange Blues

Mackenzie Castley

Jules’ head is on his thigh, and Frankie is peering down at the mess of curls and freckles, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. There’s darkness filling up the room, grasping at the edges, greedy and saturated. Frankie is wading through it, waist-deep. 

Jules’ painful eyes, begging, demanding: look at me.

Where else

               would I 


Who else could put this yearning ache in his stomach? What else is there but Jules? 

Frankie thinks about the eyes that lingered on them as they made their way to O’Donnell’s club on Oxford Street the previous night. Jules never seems to notice them, and if he does, he doesn’t comment on it to Frankie. He just brushes their shoulders and pinkies together as they walk past faulty neon lights and suffocating smoke clouds. 

Frankie thinks about the generous smiles and steady flow of free drinks that came Jules’ way in the bar afterwards. 

Jealousy tastes like burnt sugar. Demanding. Bitter. Stuck to the roof of his mouth. It can only be dissolved by Jules’ mouth on his, by his attention on Frankie. As of late, things have been fraught; marching and rallying in the streets, windows flung open, filling the evening air with a fervency that leaves them feeling more on edge each night.

(Can you love me, even like this?

I can’t love you any other way.)

The world dances beneath Jules’ feet, shaking and trembling under each step. Right now, his fingers are running along the rising plateau of Frankie’s hips. 

I want you to turn me inside out; hook my ankles over your elbows, hook my heart on your teeth, hook your fingers inside of me and drag out every inconsolable sound. Reach into me deeper than the torment of your moon-struck gaze. 

In the Bible, when Jacob wrestled with the angel, the holy being touched the sinew of his thigh and Jacob was irrevocably changed, causing him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.

Jules’ hand grasps the muscle there, pushing the breath out of Frankie’s lungs, and Frankie craves and craves and craves. He touches the soft skin on the back of his knee; not for the first time, Frankie is reminded of just how fragile his body really is. 

If you could leave a mark on me that lasted longer than a bruise, what would it look like? Is it shaped like your mouth, or a handprint, or a ring? Does it hurt the same way the absence of it does? Does it hurt better?

* * *

Frankie is looking out the small window of their apartment, with the streets of the city laid out underneath in rows and roads like the husk of a pomegranate. Their home is on the outer of the inner suburbs of a Sydney on the verge of revolution. Somewhere out there, Whitlam is nursing a beer and a headache. The royal commission has redefined ‘personal is political,’ and the White Australia policy has been dismantled, though the rhetoric remains strong. 

He can see Jules walking up to their building now, tight black ringlets billowing slightly in the wind. Frankie makes a note to remind himself to help shave his beard, which is growing a little scraggly around the edges of his jaw. He’s holding a reusable shopping bag he’d brought out with him, now bursting full of groceries.

Glancing back down at the cutting board, Frankie uses the flat edge of the blade to crush the garlic clove underneath it. He settles into the familiar rhythm of preparing the stir fry, and by the time he’s sliding it all into an oiled wok, their front door is being shoved open, the wood sticking a little in the frame.

The bag is heaved onto the counter beside him, breaking him from his thoughts. Steady hands slide around his waist; Frankie leans into the solid embrace of Jules behind him.

‘Missed you, baby,’ Jules mumbles into the back of his neck.

Frankie can’t help but grin. Everything with Jules has always felt like it lies on the verge of some vast, unnameable feeling, ready to come forth at any moment and lay waste to his every sense. 

‘How were the markets?’

Jules just hums noncommittally, pulling away from Frankie to lean back against the bench beside him. He digs an orange out of the bag, the citrus-sweet smell filling Frankie’s nostrils, and rolls it around in his palms absentmindedly. Frankie catches his eye and raises a questioning eyebrow.

‘A gift, Frankie – from this lady who runs the new fruit stand. Isn’t that nice?’ Jules says by way of an answer, pleasant and pleased in a way that Frankie usually finds endearing. 

‘It’s very nice,’ Frankie agrees amiably. ‘Why don’t you put all this away and I’ll finish burning the shit out of these vegetables? Maybe if you wanna share your gift, we could split it for dessert.’

Jules smiles brightly. ‘’Course, babe. What’s mine is yours.’

You are mine, Frankie’s traitorous mind supplies. No one else’s.

There is no part of Frankie that isn’t also part of Jules. The way he laughs, the way he sleeps—everything is tied up in their love. It’s all over him, inside him, inside his chest, cracking him open along his sternum, underneath him, everywhere. 

It is also nowhere. Not on one piece of paper, on signed leases, or a marriage certificate; not even Jules’ art speaks of it, and if it did, well. The clay would collapse, the portraits and polaroids would surrender themselves to time and wear, eventually. Or be burned up along with another nightclub. 

Frankie looks out the window to the setting sun, then down at the countertop, where Jules has left the single unassuming orange, navel rolled up to face the ceiling.  He can still taste the orange, the tartness lingering in the gaps of his teeth. It irks him, the way it still persists past the salt and musk of Jules. His tongue is running over it like a sugar blister in his mouth; pressing incessant and insistent against the wound just to feel the sting of it.

He buries his face in the space between Jules’ hip and iliac furrow, inhaling deeply. Jules’ other hand is playing with his hair, sending shivers down his spine. His guts are raw and raked through with this love, made from the same stuff they pierced Christ to the cross with; something sharp and inevitable.

There has to be something leftover somewhere, he thinks. Something they can touch and see on each other. Something that says we were here, and we loved each other here, and here, and—

Later, the breeze bringing the smell of Thai food and upheaval through the open window, Frankie intertwines their hands. 

(I don’t know if love is supposed to be like this.

Neither were we, my love.

And yet.

And yet.)

* * *

The first thing Frankie sees when he comes into Jules’ small studio are orange rinds. The white strings clinging underneath the tough skin, curled into themselves on the floor, leading to Jules’ bare back. There’s a whole basket of them by his side, and a brush held in one of his slender hands.

By his feet are an assortment of acrylic paints; orange-honey and marigold and tangerine hues smudged on a wooden palette. There’s some of it on Jules’ fingertips and a bit just underneath his jaw, by his ear. Frankie can see the pale pinks and yellows that Jules’ mixing with the paintbrush, blushed like skin, like the beige of Frankie’s forearm, or the pink tip of his nose.

But on the canvas, Jules is not recreating an image of Frankie’s body. Rather, he’s performing a study of the halved orange. Frankie can clearly see the white line down the middle of the lung-shaped pair, the veins of the fruit practically breathing, brimming with vividness. 

It’s beautiful… but.

That feeling is back, the acidic, tart-mouthed bitterness eating up his stomach. It’s a slow drip of juice squeezed in his clenched fists. 

Look at me. 

‘More oranges?’

He wants to hold the orange in his hands and split it open, to cleave it from the rough flesh, to peel the skin from the citrus with his thumbs. Wants to make Jules throb with the curl of his index and forefinger.

‘I confessed to eating the last one she gave me before getting a chance to study it.’

Jules still hasn’t so much as glanced up at him, still staring at the damn orange.

‘So she gave you a whole basket?’

Frankie is sick to death with the smell. It’s too sweet, saccharine and dripping with an oppressive, pungent aroma.

‘Mhmm. Are you hungry?’

‘No.’ Starving. It’s a gaping sore that needs to be filled. A carved-up, hollowed-out husk of longing.

He rubs an orange tree leaf between his wilted fingers. Thinks about the way it shivers in the breeze, and the way Jules shivers when he runs his lips down Jules’ soft stomach. 

Everything smells of citrus, and it only serves to make Frankie want to dig into his carpels; aching, aching, aching to get into the piths of the man that’s been driving him to distraction, to harvest his heart and hold it in his hands.

Look at me, look at me, look at me—

Jules goes back to his painting without another word.

Frankie clenches his jaw. 

Would she smell like oranges? Would she be sweet to taste, dripping with it in a way that Frankie’s body will never do? Would it be oh-so-easy to slide between her legs and get underneath the ovary wall of her skin? Would she bear fruit for Jules, ripe and blossoming, one of the many things Frankie could never give him?

The orange will rot eventually. It will decay and be taken back into the earth. As will she. As will they. Everything is ultimately surrendered to time, or burned up by hatred.

Will someone find their intertwined bodies curled into each other, years later? Will the excavation of their love be shown in lecture theatres to overcaffeinated students, or will it be buried further into obscurity?

Frankie wonders if Christ secretly likes the litany of violence that follows wherever he goes, or if he’s ever worried about his lover getting home safe. If he’s listened to the sound of him and Jules’ heartbeats pressed against each other, purer than any hymn in their fucking book.

* * *

Another two Sundays pass before Jules drags him out of bed to go to the markets. It’s a cold morning, and he has to resist the urge to burrow into the warmth of Jules by his side as they meander through the stalls in that ambling, rambling way that people do when they’re half-asleep and not looking where they’re going. 

He smells them before he sees them, bright and ordinary and taunting where they’re piled up together. Then Jules is tugging on his reluctant arm, pulling him toward the stand before letting go just as quick, leaving Frankie bereft. 

 ‘Ruth,’ Jules exclaims, grinning. ‘Come meet my friend!’

Ruth turns out to be a woman with striking white hair and deep-set laughter lines. Frankie gives himself approximately five seconds to feel absurdly, incredibly silly and young, before he schools his expression into a smile and shakes her outstretched hand. 

From the corner of his eye, he sees Jules holding in a laugh. Clearly, he didn’t mask his surprise very well. He’s going to get so much shit for this later, and probably for a long time afterward. But, as Ruth offers him a sample, he can’t bring himself to care. 

* * *

They plant their own orange tree, in the end. 

On the outskirts of the state, further up north where the soil is fertile and the people are kind, they carve out dirt and a home. Frankie finds he quite likes the fragrance after all, as he watches Jules pluck fruit from the tree outside their window, half an orange lifetime later. He could trace along the rind of it and find no discernible end. Jules’ wedding ring glints in the light of the bright, open sky.

Sunlight pours through the verdant leaves hanging from large, sturdy branches. The roots of their tree dig deep into the earth, saying, we were here, and we loved each other.

Mackenzie is a first year creative writing student interested in exploring relationships and introspection. They’ve previously read for the QUT Literary Salon, and love to participate in anything to do with the arts.