Norah’s head is as heavy as a gallon of milk, held by two fingers, as she climbs
the steps with the rest of her groceries. But the cupboards are bare now. Food stamps have run
out, her baby’s father has left her, all because she is clean now. Clean for her new daughter.
Her heart is heavy, too. About as heavy as an empty milk jug in the face of her hungry
baby. But Norah is determined. Al’s Orange Grove is hiring and she has an interview today.
Norah read they hire almost anyone, including addicts in recovery. The ad also said there’s a
daycare. Somewhere for Sarah, her beautiful little girl.
During the interview Al warns Norah that the city only subsidizes wages for those who
can stay clean. If the city isn’t helping pay her wages, then there won’t be any work for her.
Norah agrees to the terms, passes the pee test, and starts work the next day.
The work is tough, but the smell of the citrus tickles her nose and keeps her alert. She
fills several buckets with plump oranges, wondering why she hasn’t applied here before. She
finds a quiet spot on the south side of the grove to eat her lunch: oranges. Some of the other
workers approach her, asking if she wants to fire up. She has been clean for fourteen months and
although the thought is tempting, she declines. She wonders how they get through the random
searches by the owners.
For weeks she shows up on time. Her orange-picking is at least on par with her peers, and
Sarah seems to like the daycare. Maybe things will be ok, Norah thinks. She is impressed with
herself for remaining clean, even with all the offers of candy. Sometimes she aches for a fix, but
thoughts of Sarah waiting for her prevent her from succumbing.
Norah even makes a friend. They eat lunches together, talk about life, and discuss their
futures. Billie is twenty-one, very close to Norah’s age, but Billie has only been clean for twenty-
eight days. She was assigned to work at the grove as part of her treatment program. Billie is
having a hard time resisting all the offers, but if she is caught with any drugs, she will be carted
away to prison for sure.
Invitations for drugs continue to pour in both their directions. Norah has Sarah to give her
a reason to stay clean, but Billie has no one. Her father beat her all her life, and she was in and
out of trouble from the time she was twelve. Billie has no second chances left.
Billie shows up late for work one day, tears in her eyes. “Norah, I ran into my ex this
weekend. He wanted us to get high and I refused.” Her proud smile slips away as she adds, “But
look.” Billie pulls out a little bag, “He gave this to me. What am I going to do with it?”
“You can’t get caught with that!” Norah’s face falls.
A group of supervisors arrive. “Hey Billie, a little birdie told me you’ve got treats on you,
say it isn’t so.”
Billie’s breath quickens. Norah speaks up, “It’s mine. She was holding it for me.”
“Is this true, Billie?”
Billie looks at her friend, feels the candy in her pocket, and hesitates. Her honesty catches
on the tip of her tongue like a skirt on a splintered coffee table. “Yes, it’s Norah’s. I tried to tell
her to throw it away.”
The supervisor shakes his head at both of them as he grabs the proffered bag from Billie.
“Norah, finish your shift and come to the office to discuss this. The authorities will be called.”
The girls work together, the silence building between them. “Are you sure about this,
“Come on, Billie. You’re going to jail if they catch you screwing up.” Norah watches her
friend’s eyes blink beneath damp lashes. She knows Billie is enrolled in NA, and hopes it was
just a momentary setback. “I’ll probably get a few days of unpaid suspension and you can pay
me back somehow. What were you thinking?”
Norah climbs the hill to the office after her shift. Al is waiting for her and invites her to
“I’m really sorry, Al. How much trouble am I in?”
“You know we don’t tolerate drugs in our grove, Norah. You’re suspended for five days.”
Norah nods, having guessed the punishment earlier. A small price to pay if Billie can stay
clean. But Al wasn’t finished. “And we called child welfare,” he says. “They already came and
“You did not!” Norah launches out of the chair and runs to the daycare screaming,
“Where’s Sarah, where is she?!”
The child-minder mumbles something about people coming to get her baby. “I’m sorry.”
Her life feels heavy, heavy like a submerged anchor, merely an illusion of stability.
The next day Norah still won’t return Billie’s calls or texts. Billie catches the bus to
Norah’s place after work and she isn’t home either.
Billie wants to confess, but fear swallows her voice. She continues searching various
locations that she and Norah had visited on previous weekends: the park, the mall, the donut
shop. All of them are situated along the same bus route that Billie takes to her NA meetings.
After three days, guilt overtakes her. “It was me,” Billie tells Al, “The drugs were mine!”
“Why should I believe you?” Al asks.
“Give her a drug test, she was trying to cover for me. She’s been clean for a very long
time. I need help to find her, I’ve looked everywhere.”
“Clean equals subsidy,” Al whispers beneath his breath, adding aloud, “How can I help?”
They jump in Al’s car and drive around the outskirts of town. Billie remembers Norah
telling her about the calming effect of the ocean in her childhood, so on a hunch they check the
beach on the north shore. That’s where they find her.
Norah’s eyes are heavy now, filled with milky sea water, from the bottom of the ocean.
Kim kjagain Moes of Nanaimo, BC, lives and dreams outside the lines. She likes dandelions, exploring fresh places, and laughing at herself. Her work has appeared in print and online journals including Fairfield Scribes and Centifictionist. On writing, she says, “Write the life we live, explore the lessons not yet learned, and then, eat catharsis for dinner.”