The Orchardist, p.38Amanda Coplin
Angelene, he said. I was here when you were born.
I know, she said.
In the far apple orchard Angelene climbed each tree expertly and picked the apples in the coming darkness—they glowed, the Rhode Island Greenings glowed; the Pippins were more difficult, she felt the scions with her fingertips. She had always been a slow picker, and this did not change according to circumstance—she was the one left to harvest the acres of trees—and so after a day of picking she rested only a short time, to eat and to nap, and then worked again until it became too dark to see. If the moon was not out, then she would have difficulty and would retire early to the cabin, where she slept badly and dreamed of picking and of following bodiless voices through the avenues; and in the morning again she rose raw-eyed and grasped her canvas sack and headed out into the cold. She must redouble her efforts that day, for as usual, she had failed to pick the requisite amount of fruit the day before. Even so, she did not rush. Talmadge said: Do not rush. Only a fool rushes. (But his toil was constant; his toil was normal. When she was a child he used to walk the orchards—slowly—from dawn until dusk; and then sometimes after supper, until the stars turned over in the sky.)
The days she picked well, she slept deeply. She prepared food and spoke to Talmadge, on his bed by the woodstove, who lay with eyes open. He was increasingly mute. Sometimes his eyes followed her as she moved around the cabin, but mostly they did not. She experienced an urge she did not understand: to surround his bed with boxes of apples she had picked, to see him lying there in the midst of them. Of course she did not do this or tell him about this. But the image haunted her, made her clench her fists in longing.
What do the seasons mean to a dying man? Talmadge opened his eyes midmorning and watched the air in the room. The air had something to do with the light and the quality of light—piercingly golden—and also the lives of the trees, exuding oxygen, the air that silently racked the cabin. The air he drew into his lungs still had something of the trees’ inner life about it, the saturated dreams of chlorophyll and sunshine and water, gravity and roots and the roots’ design. Fruit. This was autumn light. Somehow he had always known this would be the season into which he would disappear. He anticipated the girl, her moonish face fastening to the space above his face, listening. Listening for breath. She stood at the stove, preparing food. When she spoke to him, she still had her child’s voice that had not dropped. Time would fix that. Mildly he was sorry that he would not be there to witness that change, that drop into the lower register. Her hair gathered at her neck, its color in the lantern light like young oak. How like the orchard she was. Because of her slowness and the attitude in which she held herself—seemingly deferent, quiet—it appeared even a harsh word would smite her. But it would not. She was like an egg encased in iron. She was the dream of the place that bore her, and she did not even know it.
He felt an ambiguous desire rise in him when she left the cabin, and he knew she was out there among the trees, working in her slow way that he hesitated to remedy because the slowness denoted something deeper within her that he did not want to penetrate or to steal. The slowness had to do with the deliberation that would always be with her, that gravid, searching countenance. She would never say that she loved, because they did not use that type of language; they did not say “love,” for instance, or “beautiful,” or any descriptive language at all. At times, commenting upon the sky at dusk, he would call it “pretty,” and she would nod her head, once, in agreement. When she entered a room that he occupied, or he entered an orchard row in which she worked, they did not greet each other with words but touched an appendage of the other with their eyes, and could tell by the other’s expression or posture if they were pleased or discomfited or bothered, or if they were sated by the day’s weather or by the other’s presence. They intuited these things about each other as one decides about one’s own body: thoughtlessly, organically.
Recently in his sickness she took his hand in hers when she sat on the edge of the bed, and leaned and kissed his eyebrows, separately, like unsentimentally massaging a leg that is cramping.
He woke to the empty cabin, to the wall spangled with afternoon light. Behind everything was the sound of the creek—the creek that came from the mountain and flowed into the river north of Wenatchee—and above the sound of the creek was the sound of the ash trees shaking in the wind. The trees bordered the pasture, which was filled with long grass, uncut and uneaten by any horses. The sound of water and the sound of the wind in the trees, which were fed by the creek and so were partial to the creek, occupied Talmadge as he slept and woke. It was a sound highly expressive, highly communicable. He listened and thought, Yes, Yes.
Talmadge, said Angelene. It had taken all evening to come up with what she was going to say. She sat on the edge of the bed. She said: Tonight the sky is the color of new plums. . . .
In the morning she left the cabin to pick walnuts, and as she had been doing for the last three mornings before leaving, she went to the bed by the woodstove and leaned down and watched carefully for his breath. He did not seem to be breathing, but then he sighed. She stood.
Outside was quiet. Light clear as water created shadows of leaves curled and minuscule on the ground. She looked at the sky as she walked, a passionate blue. Cloudless.
In the grove by the far apple orchard the apple trees were in shadow. The sun postured along the curvature of canyon and illuminated the walnut trees starkly. She climbed the bank on which the trees were lodged and picked walnuts and noticed that her hands were beginning to change. They were raw. She flexed her fingers in the cold. She would make plum conserve with walnuts and raisins for her and Talmadge to eat through the winter. They would eat it smeared on toast and by the spoonful when they got cravings.
She felt a nauseous pulse in her body when she reflected on Talmadge ever having a craving again. The last two days he had not eaten.
And then she reached for a walnut on the stem and entered a silence within the overarching silence, and thought she could hear insects percolating in the grass; she heard them in all their privacy and intimate murmurings. The sun on the porous bank near where she stood was lit up, incandescent, the minerals glittering and the dull mud peculiar and particular even in its dullness. Each pore and streak and detail was washed and brought forth as is a person’s face by the light.
When she returned to the cabin, she discovered Talmadge had died.
Angelene remembered those quiet orchard nights when she was alone, when Talmadge spent the night in town, or in Chelan, when she opened the cabin door and saw the sky just off the porch. The stars so thick and close you could walk right into them. Those times she thought that if she could just remember the stars, she would be all right. Things might get very bad, things might be worse than she ever imagined, but the stars existed, and that was something.
When she was twenty-five she sold the land to a man who wanted to make a go at growing apples. He had a wife, and a young child. Three years later, she came back to Cashmere for Caroline Middey’s funeral, and traveled to the old homestead to see how the family was faring, and to see the orchard. She found the place empty. The front door of the cabin was unhinged, and there was no furniture in the room but the woodstove, the old table, and the horsehair chair in the corner. For some reason, on that particular trip, she did not look into the bedrooms. It would have been too much. She learned later that the land had been sold to a man out east, who had bought up several lots in the area and was preparing to move west, but had yet to do so.
When she came back five years later the place was only a little better taken care of than when she had seen it last. There was a man living in the cabin, an older black man who told Angelene that he was the caretaker, he worked for the man who had moved from out east. The man, his boss, lived in Spokane and didn’t visit the orchard very often. Angelene told the man that she used to live there, and asked if she could look
I was born here, she said.
She did not go inside the cabin. The man did not invite her, and she did not want to make him uncomfortable by asking. And, ultimately, she wouldn’t have wanted to see the rooms filled with his furniture, to see him move so confidently in that space, leading her under eaves through which she had passed so many times before.
The biggest difference, and the one she noticed right away, even before the man came around the side of the cabin to greet her, was that the apricot orchard was gone. Not just diminished; it was gone. All the trees had been pulled up and the land cleared. Now in its place was a vegetable garden. Lettuce, mostly, said the man. They were also going to try corn.
What happened to the apricots? said Angelene. The man said that they had pulled up the trees three—or was it four?—years ago. Shrugged, blankly, as if to say the apricots hadn’t meant anything to him.
The front of the barn had been removed, and there was an old Model T up on blocks, which the man had evidently been working on when Angelene arrived. After they spoke, he went back to work, and Angelene walked to the far apple orchard.
This orchard was the same, though overgrown. She wanted to find her old garden, but after searching for a half hour, she could not find it. She walked to the place where she thought it was, but only found more orchard. She kept walking, losing her perspective, and just when she was about to give up, she found it. It likewise was overgrown and was not producing anything but weeds, but there were the posts Talmadge had put in when she was nine years old, and a twist of wire left over from the fence. She stood looking at it for a long time.
She thought it would be better if she found the man and told him she was going to hike up to the plateau to see the graves, so he wouldn’t wonder at her long absence, but then she thought that he was the kind of man who wouldn’t worry, he would give her her privacy. He knew she knew the place well, after all, and wouldn’t worry about her. And so she hiked up there. And was surprised that it was neither very long nor very difficult, as she had always imagined it was. It took twenty minutes, at most, to reach the plateau. She had expected to be winded and exhausted, but she hardly had time to let her thoughts wander. She saw the cottonwood under which the graves were kept—no longer towering, as she had remembered it—and walked toward it with a sense of unreality. Surely this was not the tree. But the graves were there, under crosshatched shade, among the yellow grass. The matching pale stones, and Talmadge’s stone, which Angelene had picked out. Three graves side by side. She stood there and looked at them all. Another person would have picked the grass covering the stones, but she left it all untouched. It didn’t matter.
Afterward, when she thought about the orchard after that visit, she thought about it in terms of the black caretaker living there, with the apricot orchard gone, and the open-faced barn with the Model T up on blocks. The old beagle the man had for a pet coming around the side of the cabin, sniffing her ankles.
But when she dreamed about that place, it was the orchard out of her childhood, the apricot orchard looming in the sunlight, the horses roiling in the field, woodsmoke and coffee in the air, Talmadge knocking his boots against the porch railing, speaking to Clee—
Some nights she dreamed only of the apricot orchard. She is walking along the outside of it, looking down one row and then another, and another, searching for Talmadge. It is suppertime. She is in a hurry, she is tired of looking, and so she walks faster, and then begins to run, but not too quickly, gazing down one row, and then another. Seeing slight variations of one visage: grass and trees as far as she can see, one row and then another. One row, and then the next. And then his denim form slides into view, way down a row, he leans against a ladder, the top half of him eaten by the understory, and she is moving toward him, hearing nothing but her own breath.
How full of light these dreams are, the multitude of grass soft and green.
There was another dream she had, but rarely. She is in the outer orchard, in the canyon, and somewhere far back there, farther back than she has ever traveled, there is a huge white house on a hill, and before it, an enormous sloping lawn. There is a long gravel drive for the cars and carriages, and Angelene knows that in the house her mother is there—her anonymous, beautiful face—and Della. Talmadge is in the front yard, coming down the long slope to reach her. There is a dog bounding before him, and the dog reaches her first, and she stumbles over him and falls to the ground, and lies for a moment in the dirt. Somehow she knows there is a piano in the house, and so much good food. All the food in the pantry, in the cupboards. Her mother is putting on an apron that suits her. Della is making a bed in the upstairs bedroom. Caroline Middey is walking down the carpeted stairs, quietly. Angelene is on her feet, running now. Talmadge is walking toward her, patiently, not even thinking of her yet, and he is wearing not his overalls but a fine gray jacket like a gentleman, and he is wearing loafers like he never did in life.
He will stop, and look out; will watch her, she knows, until she reaches him.
Thank you to the following people for inspiration, help, and support:
Beverly Coplin, Terry Coplin, Matthew Coplin, Beverly Sanders Perry, Donna O’Brien, Lindsey Dart, Ted Salk, Julie Johnson, Cheri Johnson, Mike McGriff, Carl Adamshick, Matthew Dickman, Michael Dickman, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, Micha Patiniott, Robert Yates, Cathy Falk, Susan Mabry, Louise Westling, Debra Gwartney, Cindy Heidemann, Joni Tevis, David Bernardy, Laura Flynn, Rachel Moritz, Sari Fordham, Josh Wallaert, Jack Baur, Charlie Conley, Jennine Capó Crucet, David Treuer, and Joseph Laizure.
Special thanks to Charles Baxter, Salvatore Scibona, Bill Clegg, and Terry Karten.
Also: the Omi International Writers’ Residency Program at Ledig House, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the University of Minnesota’s Program in Creative Writing, the English and creative writing departments at the University of Oregon, and Third Coast magazine.
About the Author
AMANDA COPLIN was born in Wenatchee, Washington. She received her BA from the University of Oregon and MFA from the University of Minnesota. A recipient of residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Omi International Arts Center at Ledig House in Ghent, New York, she lives in Portland, Oregon.
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This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
THE ORCHARDIST. Copyright © 2012 by Amanda Coplin. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
Epub Edition © SEPTEMBER 2012 ISBN: 9780062188526
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The orchardist / by Amanda Coplin.
1. Fruit growers—Fiction. 2. Orchards—Northwest, Pacific—Fiction. 3. Pregnant teenagers—Fiction. 4. Families—
12 13 14 15 16 OV/RRD 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
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Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist
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