A few months into his year on archaeological digs in Greece, my father is asked to be an extra in an American movie—some melodrama that will come out in 1991 and fill theaters. He is twenty-two, tall, young, lean, tan; he has spent his first six weeks abroad chipping and brushing thick, dried clay from ruins. When he smiles, his eyes disappear into the folds of his cheeks. It will be a year before he starts to go bald.
He is bussed to the film site with the other twenty young people the production assistants found on the street. They dress him in the only outfit they could find for his tall frame: a lime green polyester suit. It drapes around his waist as if it is designed for someone with more heft to their torso. He is lean, he is twenty-two.
A blonde man in a red t-shirt with a walkie-talkie at his belt leads him into a hotel conference room. It is made up to look like the ballroom of a ship. Over there: a small wooden stage with a band, the men in white suits pretending to play their instruments. The lead, walking past the band to test his marks. The blonde man pairs my father with the woman standing behind him and tells them to start dancing. And here: this woman’s small hand reluctantly in his, already sweaty from the packed room and polyester.
Some pairs sit at low circular tables with white tablecloths. The men are easily attractive in fitted gray suits, the women practicing their “make me a movie star” smiles. Behind them stands a fake balcony with more tables, a counter with champagne, more pairs dancing, and the lead walking back to the left of the room, pushing through the dance floor.
My father’s partner is slender like he is. There’s the mark, then the music. Her hair is thick and smooth, her curls twisting under the production lights. As they spin across the room, the blue silk of her skirt circles out around her knees. The room is lively, they trip, and my father laughs. The music fades.
The blonde man reappears, pulling oranges from a canvas bag and handing one to each couple. My father and his partner follow directions: he folds himself at the waist to be closer to his partner’s height, and they place the orange between their foreheads. When he looks down at her, the orange waxes into his line of sight. Her eyes are stoic. She flattens her lips.
The music begins again and they pace slowly side to side, his hands on her hips. The next pair over runs into her: she breathes out in surprise, the orange rolls to the right of her forehead, and my father catches it, his arm extended almost to the floor. The orange fills his hand, heavy and taut with juice, and he holds it toward her with a triumphant, American smile. She takes it, quietly, and they return to dancing: the music, the couples around them jostling around, the room getting hotter. She is looking up, and he is looking down, and they are moving side to side.
Then it is something about the angle, something about how the pressure from him from above on the orange meets her from below, and they are desperately trying not to let it drop. The juice will not, of course, spill up; instead, it will squeeze out along the curve of the orange, sliding down her forehead toward her eyebrows.
Their faces are too close to notice this development. Maybe she just thinks that the dampness is her sweat; the room is hot and her shirt is wool. But then maybe she smells its acidic bite because she stops swaying, and my father grabs the orange before they drop it again. It is slightly squished. They each take a step back.
She reaches up toward her temples, and the edges of her hair are damp with it. She slowly moves her fingers in front of her face, as if they are covered in blood.
Or she tries to look at them but cannot stop blinking: the orange juice has dripped from her eyebrows down into her eyes. And as she realizes this, she rubs her eyelids.
Orange-wet fingers and the acid is on her eyes, on her cheeks, running down with the tears and cheap makeup. My father reaches toward her—she is wearing a black silk headband, and he tries to pull it from her hair to wipe her eyes. She yells at him in Greek and he retracts. Water, anyone? she is yelling.
The tears drip to her collar, she is wiping the juice from her cheeks with her palms, smearing her foundation, and her face splotches with pale. She pushes my father and the man in the red t-shirt comes up, asks her to stand still.
She does not: she is on the ground now, grabbing at her eyes. In complete desperation, the assistant pours the cold water on her head.
The young men and women are standing in a circle now, one or another holding an orange. Another walkie-talkie assistant pulls the woman to her feet. Everything feels sticky now; the air, the words, the music. The assistant brings her to the edge of the fake balcony, and she collapses against it.
My father watches from the dance floor knees hit the fake wood and her elbows drape across the railing. She holds her head in her hands and her body shakes.
Juice has dripped down his wrists. He can feel the stickiness in his palms.
A different woman, closer to his height, comes up to him, holding a fresh orange. He takes her hand.
Two years later, when he goes to the movie’s release at a theater in rural Indiana, there will be no oranges.