Any moment now, I will fall asleep.
The ground intrudes onward with parched leaves and muggy soil. Bits of it bleed into my ankles as I tread sorely and tediously downhill in the tropical arboretum. It is as big as a forest. There is no one in earshot. The sky, a little hazy, cannot bleach the splattered stain of the treetops. It is a new sight for old eyes, leaving my mountain vision tired and discontent. Green, green—and the color of rejection. Light smudges the outer edges of everything.
If I sat down under that reddish trunk, I could lose myself in a long, guiltless nap. Wrapped up in grass stains and a little dirt, no one would miss me, and it would make no difference to me. The thought of throwing myself down where I stand and shutting my eyelids hard is also irresistible, almost.
‘Almost’ changes the world. I dream without ‘almost.’
Oh, a nap would be gorgeous.
The forest pathway drops downward for the next hundred feet. I am wide awake now. Down below is the orange orchard; I see it clearly, even without my glasses. Traces of orange in masses of green; a small pink house; an old station wagon. You only have to make it down the hillside and you are practically there. My aunt lived there once; she left it to us. I know every foothold and false step by heart.
Eyes closed again. As I return to the orange orchard, even the grass feels familiar through my shoe soles. The scent used to disarm me with thoughts of all things sweet and self-assured. I run through the orchard now, towards the little pink house, and the sight of oranges dabbed here and there in the leaves is still thrilling. It is about 3:00 in the afternoon.
And there he is.
You don’t need to explain, his eyes say.
“I had to get away,” I reply anyway. Inwardly.
He and his parents are our company. They are indoors. It is 100-degree weather, and they couldn’t be used to it yet.
“I wondered when you’d come back,” he adds, aloud.
I sit down on the ancient swing-set and am up again in an instant. “Can I get you some ice water?”
It’s hard not to look at him too hard, and I am miserably muggy.
“You’re used to—all of this. Aren’t you?” he begins.
I shrug, looking away.
“It’s a beautiful place…” he goes on.
He doesn’t see it, so he turns around, a little slowly, as if expecting a response. He knows me too well, though, and gives me a little half-smile instead, as if to change the topic.
“I’ll never be completely used to it,” I look down.
We begin to move further away from the porch. He walks like a silhouette, his black-brown hair etched upon the blaze of light in the orange trees. Our footsteps are nearly in time, just off by a millisecond. His smile becomes wry and reluctant.
“I can’t help it—” is his reply.
Nobody can help it.
The humidity of the weather is making it difficult to see clearly. My hair is flat and growing wet. Far off, there is a neighbor’s lawnmower spitting into the weeds.
“It’s not as bad as you think,” he offers, finally.
Our faces meet a second, and, for once, a look leaves his eyes that is more than sympathy. A look, which, for the moment, is as plain as the lofty profile which hid it all the previous hours. It falls straight into the back of my mind, to stay.
The orange orchard overpowers him; he can give me nothing else. Turning again, he leads me on, at an unreachable meter’s length away. The smell of the oranges comes back to replace the blink of feeling left and gone.
Copyright © 2020 Marian H. Rowe