It began when she was five.

She was playing in the floor of the kitchen, grubby hands feeling along the cracks in the tiles. Mama was stirring a stew with ferocious determination, arms whipping out occasionally to grab the ingredients within reach, eyes never moving from the pot.

During a particularly aggressive swipe for the salt, she caught the edge of the fruit basket. Apples and oranges tumbled to the floor.

Little Velma remained oblivious until a rogue orange bumped gently against her chubby leg. She turned. She picked it up. Stroked the tiny indents across the surface. Rolled it around in her hands like a globe. Before anyone noticed, she snuck away to her room and hid it under her pillow. A fugitive fruit.

As Velma grew, so did her love for oranges. Her parents marvelled at her appetite as she devoured two, three, four every day. They felt superior. Other children wanted sweets, chocolate, sugar – but all Velma wanted was another yellow segment.

On dark days, she sat on the floor and ate piles and piles of them. Tiny orange worlds. She came to believe that they were portions of the sun, and if she ate enough they would grow and mutate inside her until they could battle the storm clouds in her head. She ate until her mouth was raw and her fingers stained, yellow juice dripping down her wrists and marking the carpet below. Try as she might, she could never eat enough portions of sunlight. The cloud remained, heavy, dark, threatening.

Her parents began to worry. They took her to doctors, specialists, psychologists. She refused to speak, staring at her hands, imagining the weight of the fruit between them. Her skin began to turn a peculiar shade.

One particularly grey winter morning, they woke up to find her gone. She had left a note behind, sticky and stained with juice. She had run away to Sicily to work at an orangery.

For years she worked by day and slept by night between the trees. Eventually, she married the owner of the orangery, and stayed on even after his early death from citrus poisoning. In time, she stopped trying to eat the sun; now she felt it on her face every morning as she stepped into the garden.

Velma never came back from Sicily. She sent an orange panettone home every Christmas instead. No one ever ate it though. Just in case.

Ingredients:

  • Six blood oranges
  • Half a cup of water
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Honey (optional)

Squeeze the juice of five blood oranges into a container (an ice cream box or tupperware is ideal). Mix in half a cup of water, and place in the freezer for three hours. Take it out and scrape the frozen mixture with a fork until it turns into small crystals. If not yet frozen, return to the freezer and repeat every hour until it is done.

Alternatively, you can leave it to freeze overnight then scrape in the morning, but this can make it harder to get the crystals fine enough.

Serve in a dessert glass with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and a slice of the remaining orange. If not sweet enough, drizzle with honey.

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