Welcome to Jessup Family Orchard
spells crude crimson letters on wormy plywood.
Cherries, says Joe to Lily. Wouldn’t that be nice?
But we came for a fresco, she reminds him
fanning herself with a map limp from worry.
She would have prayed to the Virgin
if the door to St. Ann’s hadn’t been barred.
We need a miracle.
Grim, Joe accelerates, the Wagoneer
groans as they climb the mountain.
Rhododendron heads sway then sneer
but in a glade flashes the face of a little girl.
When Lily looks again sycamore
and paulownia leaves fold to darkness.
Why, why, why ponders a crow,
arcing across a lavender sky.
Frank Jessup dribbles tobacco into a cup,
waves an arm toward Orchard #8.
The girl! cries Lily. Did I see a girl?
No, he snaps. Just me and Ma.
A woman in a wheelchair, hands macraméd
with blue veins, turns a mug in her lap.
Sweet churries all froze out, she croaks.
Plenty of sour, make you a nice pie.
Gnarled trees scabbed with lichen huddle
on the hill like knock kneed wizards.
Lily shudders while Joe shimmies up
a ladder, tousles branches until
hard red-orange orbs plop
like stones into a bucket.
Lily’s teeth pierce flesh so sour
her cheeks dimple, tongue curls.
Jam, says Joe, spewing.
They’ll make good jam.
Notes of Little Deuce Coupe
his favorite whistle, drift below.
Let it go, he’d snarled at breakfast, slashing
toast with cold butter. We’re too old for a baby.
You don’t know what it feels like, she’d spat,
grazing her elbow on the hot griddle.
Garroted by spider silk, Lily trudges on,
ripping cherries from low branches.
An empty bucket pops against her hip
as she strews her pickings to squirrels.
Legs lashed by briars, weary with thirst
eyes blinded by sun, she crumples.
The crow arcs again, teases Make a pie…
pie, pie, pie, before dipping over the hill.
Numb, Lily follows, as if in a trance.
The hill rolls into a valley studded with trees
sinewy and lush, rising like nosegays.
They bulge with red-violet cabochons
so plump they crackle, ooze juice.
Beside Lily stands the girl. Hello.
Half-sprite, half-waif, she curtsies.
My name is Alunda.
A plait of brown hair swishes across a shoulder
puffed with lace, a ragged hem bobs along the grass.
A tangle of clover and thistle crowns her head,
sticky fingers offer cherries.
Ravenous, Lily sucks them into her mouth.
Honey, notes of mint, melancholia.
Did she whisper it or did Lily just know?
Sweet cherries always grow in #9.
Silver eyes water but do not blink.
Take all you like, Alunda says.
Lily, once sated, drops to her knees.
Alunda sighs, weaving clover with thistle.
Are you lonely too? Lily asks.
Alunda, somber, presents a garland
she threads through Lily’s hair.
Take me home, she murmurs.
Leaves crimp, feathers crunch
as the crow floats from the tree.
He fixes an ice-blue eye on Lily,
tilts to Alunda, then coos My, my, my.
Lily lays her head on moss, closes her eyes.
Could that gurgle be a brook in the glen?
A cool hand strokes her forehead.
Take me home, Alunda says again.
The sound of her name falls like a hammer
cracking the peace of her reverie.
When she opens her eyes, Joe hovers,
his hand in hers. Where have you been?
Number 9, Lily says, touching her hair.
But the clover is gone, her bucket, empty.
Dehydrated, says Joe. That’s all.
He tugs at her lips, offers water.
Only 8 orchards here, grunts Frank.
He snubs the money offered by Joe,
instead pulls Lily to her feet.
You’ll be on your way now.
In the Wagoneer three heads bounce
down the mountain. Alunda! cries Ma.
Hush, says Frank. For the best….
But the old woman sobs on.
The crow circles, pulsing higher and higher
through whip-stitched clouds, a final sally.
Frank’s voice cracks, an echo of the old bird.
Good-bye, he mumbles. Bye, bye, bye.
Ashley Memory is an amateur ghost hunter living in southwestern Randolph County, N.C. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous publications, including The Thomas Wolfe Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Gyroscope Review and The Hardball Times. Two flash stories are forthcoming in the July 2018 issue of The Birds We Piled Loosely. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writers’ Network twice. For more, visit her blog at ashley-memory.com.