A new snippet from my novel The Rocky Orchard. Enjoy!
My parents wanted to drag out the weekend as long as they possibly could. We all did. We’d sit around the supper table, everyone getting quieter and quieter. The cicadas’ drone swelled and then fell as the sunlight faded. The lights of fireflies appeared here and there, sporadic, few and far between. We’d pack our stuff into the van, each of us knowing our tasks. By the time we were ready to hit the road, we were immersed in that blacker-than-black of night in the woods. I feel it now. The end-of-the-weekend languor, the sadness at leaving. It’s a confusing feeling, like I am partly gone from the place I’m still in. One foot already out; one still in.” I say to Lula, “By the way — what would you call this? A hill or a mountain? This piece of geography that we’re on top of?”
“Oh dear, I’m not really sure I’m clear on the difference. When does the one become the other?”
“Whichever it is, we’re pretty much at the very top, right? Once you get out to the main road, it’s all downhill from there, in every direction. You know what my father used to do? We’d pack everything up and pile into the car, drive out to the paved road and stop at the very topmost part of the mountain. My father would put the car in neutral, and he’d see if he could coast the entire way down the hill or mountain or whatever it is, going faster and faster and faster, without once hitting the brakes. Around all those curves and bends. Sometimes in total darkness — you know there aren’t any streetlights out here. Sometimes he’d turn the headlights off; he swore he could get a better look at the road without those pesky headlights. My brother Woo and I would yell ‘Weeeeeeeee Weeeeeeeeee’ and we’d hold our feet up in the air—somehow that was part of the magic: our feet had to be held high up and never touch the floor of the car. When we got to the bottom, we’d clap our hands and bounce up and down on the car seats and whoop it up like crazy.”
Lula stares at me and says nothing. I have learned that this always hides something deeper. “What?” I ask her.
Lula shifts uncomfortably in her chair. “Was that fun, Mazie?”
“Well, sure. I just said how my brother and I would be beside ourselves.”
Lula looks straight ahead again for a moment, then says, “I’d certainly be beside myself. I’d be scared half to death.”
It’s my turn to look straight ahead. “You’re a party pooper,” I say. “Ever heard that expression? Know what it means?”
“Of course I know what it means,” Lula says. “Even if I hadn’t heard it before, the expression is rather incontrovertibly self-evident. Do you know what that means? Incontrovertibly?”
“Why are you getting so cranky about this? I thought I was telling you about a fun adventure we had, and next thing I know you’ve gone all Smokey the Bear serious.”
We are both silent for a long while, which makes me feel sad and helpless. But I’m also annoyed. Angry, even. Unreasonably so. My own sign that something lurks beneath my surface. “Did that honestly sound scary to you?”
“Yes,” Lula says simply.
Again, we sit in silence.
“My father drank a lot.”
“Yes, I remember you mentioned.”
I swallow hard. “He started at eleven. Drinking, I mean. He checked his watch.”
Lula says nothing.
“As if checking his watch and waiting til 11:00 made it better somehow.”
Lula swishes a fly from her face. I squish a mosquito on my thigh. He makes an ungoldly mess of bug splash and smears of my blood. I lick my thumb and rub at the spot. “It seemed like we passed so many car accidents when we drove home. Flashing lights and total chaos. People wandering through scenes of crushed vehicles and strewn wreckage. Every once in a while, we’d catch sight of someone lying on the ground. We’d all look as we drove by, and all four of us would give our assessment of whether we thought anyone had died. Sometimes, we were in complete agreement. It was easy to see that someone had. Inside of myself, I knew that could be us. My family. It could so easily have been us. I wondered which of us might live. Which of us would die.
A loud sigh escapes from me, unforeseen. My hands seem to be trembling. “We were in an accident, actually. My father lost control of the car somehow, and we careened all over the road before the car came to a stop. My mother broke her collar bone. The skin on my knee was completely scraped off, but I was fine otherwise. My father didn’t have a scratch on him. Woo, in the back seat with me, hit his head and lost consciousness, I guess. When the first passerby stopped, he looked in and saw Woo on the floor of the car. Woo woke up and saw the man looking down on him and said, “Are you St. Peter?” My family laughed about that for years. Like it was the funniest thing in the world. “Are you St. Peter?”
Top artwork: Andrew Wyeth
2nd photo: Laurel Mountain, Pennsylvania