Here is a new snippet from my current novel THE ROCKY ORCHARD.
Up until I said that last bit to Lula, I was right there, right on that boat. I could see the walls of the cabin heaving up and down; I could smell the faint trace of salty air mixed with baby puke and the strong smell of the thick coats of varnish on the boat’s wood. But now I feel ashamed, self-conscious, about being such a serious and scared and kind of creepy little kid. I’m back on the porch. I take a big drink from my water glass and look through the porch screen to the orchard. Little green apples have started forming on the trees.
“You know what, Lula?” I say. “I don’t remember eating a single apple from that orchard that tasted good. Ever. With all the different trees, and all the different varieties of apples – not a single one, not one that you could pick off the tree and take a big bite out of and really like it.”
“You don’t say,” Lula sounds absent-minded. She rearranges several of the cards in her hand without looking up.
“My mother fed them, sprayed them, pruned them, read books about them and fussed over them. In the end, we made gigantic amounts of applesauce every fall. Even pies made with those apples weren’t so great.” I feel awkward, and pissed off, for no reason at all. I say, “Seriously, they tasted like shit.” And then I feel like shit. Maybe Lula hates swearing. Maybe she’s decided I’m a motor-mouthed, foul-mouthed, suspicious-if-not-paranoid creep. Maybe she won’t come back. I want her to come back, so I let her win the game. And the next one, too.
She pushes her chair back. She’s getting ready to leave. I’m scared so I say: “Lula, here’s the thing. When we got back from that trip, I had a dream. I died. In the dream. But I thought that I really had. Died, that is.” I hate myself for my naked attempt to reel her in, to make her interested enough to come back again tomorrow.
Lula says, “you don’t say,” as if it’s the most mundane thing that she’s ever heard, or pretty near it. “When I come back tomorrow, I’ll look forward to hearing more.”
“You don’t say!” I know I’m being mean, mocking, and Lula looks at me like I’ve wounded her. “Those are the exact same words you said when you left the other day. Exact. Same. That’s a little weird!”
To my surprise, Lula laughs. “Never said I wasn’t a little weird, Mazie. Never said.”
Paintings, top to bottom: Levi Wells Prentice, William Rickarby Miller, Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.