Read guest editor Mary Szybist's introduction.

 


The White Orchard


Night

 

I burn the daylight of the darkness. Fires sputter and the lamplight swallows my breath. I push my hair into the nape of my neck as I trudge up the carpetless stairs to bed. Make a monk habit of flannels and suspenders. Pull violets along the walk that intersects with the road. I am lapsarian. Journeyless. Salt wind from the east hides me in its blustery breath. The apples put me to bed and tuck me in. The black cat finds her way into the room. My tongue makes a sharp sound as I sleep, an underwater sound. I take the life my parents left and push it forward onto the empty shelf I'm trying, again, to fill. I make a partner of the toil only loneliness seems to remedy. In my nightgown with places my forgiveness has worn away. I wake when the night breaks a wave against my body. I wake when the crickets take over the air. It is a meaningless dark. The apple orchard going to sleep beside me, dozing apples falling faster and faster to the ground. I am a slip of a thing with warm hair and flat blue tongue only a little less powerful than a bugle.



Day

 

We scrub the sun where the light hits our faces. We scrub the scythe like the scythe scrubs the fields. We push our nighttime auger into the fields where it grows Osage apples and tall grass. The black cat's coat shines in the noonday sun. She mops the flies with her coat. You piss against the stone fence instead of going back in the barn where the edges of everything might shake you down and I try to be like you. But for me it's waiting. The cool pail of water growing milkier as the day grows long. The rocks in the field where they connect. The house is not far but we've brought bread and cheese and it sits burning in a tin box where shade can't hide it and we eat the apples, sometimes three at a time, pushing the seeds down into our pockets. And I am often in the shadow of you. You don't like to work beside me so I am across the field and somehow still in your shadow. In the day like in the night we don't talk. You make the weight of you matter and I let the sadness of the plants fill me and fill me until I am spilling over, bleaching the variegated ground with the swells of itself.



Night

 

We are whales in blue pools of light the windows let in from the gray moon. The chests below our beds are filled with relics someone once knew how to covet. The black cat purrs from the wet corners of the room and behind the velvet transom I keep the candle alive. The house pulls the windows in close, rubs them with white and shoots them back into midnight. Behind the velvet transom I'm reading Nietzsche, which is too much for me even by daylight. It's a conscious act, of filling myself up with the things I will say back to myself in the morning. There are triggers in the walls for the old hot spots. Our people are made of the rocks of this place. You are made of the rocks of this place. A mute rook with eyes nearly as windowless as your head. You can speak but you don't, at least not to me. But even the edges of my bed are warm now with residual heat and the last butterfly has landed in the crawlspace a thousand miles below the house where all the dreams we've ever dreamed came from.



Day

 

We are the pink of honeysuckle in the elastic dawn. You brush down your face, night's whiskey still hanging on your breath, waddles of age meaty paddles at your sides. Your hands are delicate, the spine of a fish that knows how to rake and coddle, grasp and turn. The pot of porridge stewing above a puce fire and you put the coffeepot on, pour the liquid into shallow mugs thrown by our father, the wheel unused these forty years. The black cat's line-up of birds and mice is a Civil War battlefield on the stoop. My body, made of splinters, roams down thick hedgerows propelled by nothing. In the orchard, fallen apples so deep you can't see the ground and I think even Dunsinane was never this red. Not knowing if Dunsinane was red at all. I know the day blushes at me, embarrassed we are both still at it. And the hard shell of you as you move, taking stock of every step. We decode the field with a glance and sink in, our legs at least three feet below this painstaking ground and our hands in this rush of air the only things you can see.



Night

 

We seem to grow fatter as we sleep. When you were young even pancakes couldn't put the weight on. Your body was made like the edge of a wave. Mother was so sure of you. And the days have grown long. Another slug-brown cricket puts his face into the wiggling air of my room. He lives under the velvet transom. I saw him in the morning lying still but couldn't take the Nietzsche to him even though I wanted to. They are everywhere, these things we still don't know. You'd think I wouldn't be able to hear the black cat purring from the corner but I can. I wish he'd come up on the bed but he prefers the slack surfaces at the edges of the room. I can't hear a thing from your room. It is still as the grave. Then it happens: you call out from the mouth of your dream, a terrorizing burp into the frozen anchors of the house. Tonight it is so overwhelmingly alive with noise and fear that in my already awake state I grow longer and faster until I can reach into your room without moving.



Night

 

We were kids once. We hid in each other's beds telling stories about how the old ghosts of the plantation were going to swoop down from their perches to swallow our souls and turn us into shimmering pools. We talked to each other like trench confidants. You weren't mollified by anything. I believed in you as one lies in front of a deity in the antechamber of a church. I believed in my solitude of you. I've gotten used to that. But that sound you made. Ugly—a call to death from out of your dream. I hear the timpani of your voice against my voice. My ears gasp and grasp for the sound. It is the first time in fourteen years I have heard you "speak." The hall echoes and I move through it like a grain-filled silo, my head swinging out in front of me. When I reach the side of your bed, pushing frantically through the velvet transom, you are moonlight as it catches. Your eyes are orange pincushions in a carved head. I wait for you to pitch forward. My arms instinctively outstretch to be crushed and crushed again beneath your powdery weight.



Day

 

We go through realignments. On the question of whether a person changes, I think people change. It was no war of attrition you took up. And here you come home and war keeps snapping and welting you with her force. Then your voice fades, buried under the snow of your life. Then you make peace with the phantom. Today I sleep under heavy blankets on the rickety couch by the black phone. I am only partly asleep as I wait for it to ring. I hear it ringing inside me. Even with the blankets it's too cold to be in this part of the house. The black cat knows this, he's off somewhere by a fire-grate. I'm too sick of heart to wait for a fire to catch. I worry they'll call and tell me you're gone and I will never step foot out of this room again. The apples sing the death of summer so loudly I can almost hear them through the shallow panes. They didn't even put a robe on you when they gurneyed you out. Old women don't ride in the front of ambulances. That last minute before they pushed you back I saw you. Your face was the face of an animal looking for a cage.



Night

 

I've washed up onto the sand of the island of death. I catch fire just looking at the water. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. Not because of something I breathed in but because of music and waves. The emerald green pool is so wonderful I could watch my face in it until morning. The clock purrs its tick and the velvet transom closes me in her weltering grip. The cat gets on the bed. He knows the sound has been drawn out of this house forever. After I heard, I only wanted the orchard. The simple apples bowing their skins to the sun. I wanted September to freeze her silver scythe and lay it across the tops of the trees. I've always known complacence. My old bones shiver with their own reconnaissance. Mother would say it's time for the washing my dear. And I would go with the pail to the creek and slide the fresh, cold water inside. I would run my hand along the exterior walls of the stone-fenced garden and never even think to disobey.



Day

 

I walk a long long way this morning. Out past the orchards. Ones where the apples have fallen and ones where they clutch burnished branches and defy the falling down. It's too early to be in the fields; even the cat thinks so. The family cemetery is down this way, ground shingled by fences glistening in the windy mist. I pack memories of your body around me so that I can walk tall enough to even be here. There's a hole in my mind's eye that will never close again. Tiny branches prick the glass casing of the sky. The white dragon looks too serene with first light shining through his scales. It's wrong to ride directly into a blistering wake. It's wrong to wake up cold and dead next to the cold dead body of your only brother. The birds are too angsty to be caught in anyone's mouth. We trudge back, the cat and me. I eat marmalade on my toast and stoke the fire and reason out how everything about the world can still be this beautiful.

 

 


Sara Guest's work has been featured several times on Inknode and in print publications. She lives and works in Portland Oregon where she loves literature to distraction.

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