Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest. Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and reality can be indistinguishable; both first- and third-person narration are used to underscore these themes. It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.
Three little girls. After my aunt lost all those babies – fifteen, I was told — she had three in a row, bang bang bang, all girls. First a blonde with piercing grey eyes and an old-soul seriousness. Once I got over my initial inexperience with babies in general, and my cousin in particular, I thought she was fascinating. Next came a dark brunette, with huge brown eyes and round red cheeks who grinned ear-to-ear at everything. Another blonde arrived third, but not the white blonde of her oldest sister. This one’s hair looked as if it had been painted by hand, the streaks of varying yellow tones perfectly drawn. She sucked her middle two fingers, not her thumb, which I thought was the most adorable, heart-melting, and wildly exotic thing imaginable. I watched her in her highchair, the sun doing magic with her the bands of color in her hair, sucking her tiny fingers in between bites of food.
They were like fairies to me. Perfect little creatures from some other world where they had their own secret language and habits and riddles.
On one of their visits to our old farm, when they were around 7, 8 and 9 years old, the cloudless summer sky suddenly changed hue to a slight gray. In less than an hour, the sky was a solid ceiling of deep steel. You could not see individual clouds, but rather feel that the sky had moved closer to the earth, and was threatening to cause menace.
Was that a flash, a suggestion of light through the thick wall of clouds?
The faint rumble a number of seconds later affirmed that it was.
My little cousins had never seen a thunderstorm. There was no such thing where they came from. And though they had heard about the storms, and read about them in books, they could no more imagine the reality than I could understand their secret language.
After the first, faint rumble, my aunt gathered her daughters. They stood on the porch of our farm, waiting. The first few raindrops plopped, slowly enough that you could hear each one hit the leaf, or branch, or patch of ground where it landed. The rain turned into a gentle, steady shower and a more distinct flash of light lit the cloud cover. I don’t know which of the little cousins let out the first scream when the thunder came, but they all followed suit. The shower became a downpour, a rain unlike any they had seen. The girls grabbed one another’s hands and stood in a tight circle.
A bolt of lightning shot through the air at the edge of the orchard, not fifty yards from where we all stood, so close that we heard the sizzle as the massive electricity seared through the air. The quick-following clap of the thunder was deafening, but not so loud that it drowned out the little girls. They screamed and laughed and clutched tight to each other’s hands and danced and jumped and screamed some more.
The next lightning bolt came right on the heels of the last, and was even closer. We saw it stab into a high branch on one of the tallest trees at the orchard’s edge. The branch crashed to the ground, the sound completely obliterated by the roar of the thunder. The porch shook beneath our feet. I had never felt the ground beneath my feet move before, and I could not understand how this could happen. But my cousins had grown up where there are earthquakes, and did not bat an eye.
It was a day of magic. Of the once-solid earth moving beneath me, of electric bolts lighting up the sky. Of the air around us dividing in two and crashing back together in a earsplitting roar. The little cousins. The Weird Sisters. The Three Fates.
The kind of magic that is always here. At the old farm.
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