Excerpt from \THE ORANGE GROVE/////:::::::A new novel:::::
He woke up in a cab on the way to the docks. His face against the hot glass. Humping green jungle. Herds of dogs. Somewhere south. Maybe the Yucatán.
He stood in the cobblestone street waiting for a ferry. A woman lopping coconuts on a machete. Tourists pulling beer at plastic tables red and blue. Necklaces of glass, necklaces of shells. A child with a chipped tooth and a painted face.
A woman handed him juice clusterbunched in a plastic sack. She gestured what he should do with it. Bob bit off the corner of the sack and sucked the juice. He felt dizzy and started to fall and caught himself against a wall. Fernando was watching him. Bob held out his hand. He was sweating. He sat down in the shade.
An artist was making portraits of people for copper in his hat. A man from the American south looked on as the artist painted his wife. The man kept wiping his face and saying good, good. This is gonna be good.
They got on the ferry. Pemex and Fernando went out onto the deck. Bob sat in the lounge. On the television a documentary news program about a Scottish child who believed he had lived before. He spoke often of his past life, his old white house on the seashore, his old black and white dog. He told his mother how happy he had been on the island with his old family. How much he missed them. How much he wished he could go back.
We were watching planes land on the beach, he said. A hole opened up and I fell through to you.
Sometimes the mother would cry and try to tell the boy that she was his mother now and how much she loved him and wouldn’t he please forget about the island family.
But the boy wouldn’t forget. He told how his old father had been knocked down by a car and died and how his old mother had cut her hair short in the summer.
Do you remember your father’s name? said the mother.
Yes, said the boy. Richardson.
He said he wanted to go back to the island and then he would show them all how it had been.
A researcher from Alabama arrived to document the case. He said it was not uncommon for children to recall past lives. But usually these memories fade, he said. Right around the time when children begin school.
Bob went to the bathroom and tried to throw up. His skin was very cold. A woman handed him a religious tract announcing the end of suffering. On the cover a couple making a picnic in a field with a bearded moose. In the distance a woman approaching on a white horse. Bob stuffed the bill in his pants and sat back down.
The researcher agreed to fund a trip to the island where the boy claimed to have lived in order to verify or lay to rest his past life claim. The mother seemed relieved.
It’s gone on long enough, she said. One way or another we have to know.
A short plane trip takes them to the island, landing on the beach, just the way the boy had described. He doesn’t seem surprised. He looks pleased, peaceful, calm.
They load into a van and drive the curving island roads, looking for landmarks and buildings that might jog the boy’s memory.
It’s a big white house by the sea, says the boy.
But all the houses are white and big and by the sea. They return to the hotel with nothing and bed down for the night.
The next day they meet with the island’s genealogist for information about a family Richardson. The genealogist’s family has lived on the island for seven generations and keeps records going back two hundred years. He knows nothing about a family Richardson.
Back into the van, up and down the black hills, the yellow grass and saltback wind.
It’s ok if you don’t remember, says the mother. You can tell me.
But the boy is still excited, happy to just be on the island.
He runs up and down the beach shouting finally finally finally. I’m finally back. With no more leads to follow the researcher suggests they fly out the next day. But in the morning the genealogist calls to say he has urgent news and no he can’t talk about it over the phone. It’s best if they come to his office at once.
Surrounded by black and white photographs of the ocean, the genealogist opens a penciled logbook.
It was my mistake, he says. I only checked property records for island residents. The Richardsons came from the mainland. This was their summer home.
He gives the researcher the address. A home on a bluff overlooking the sea on the north side of the island near the airport, an ideal place to watch planes land on the beach.
The mother doesn’t tell the boy where they’re headed. She wants his reaction to be clean, pure.
They drive backroads in the quick winter light. At one point the boy falls asleep against the car window. The camera catches him sleeping, his mouth moving, his eyes running behind the lids.
When they arrive at the house his mother lifts him down from the van and asks him does he know where they are.
The boy says nothing. She takes his hand.
Inside much of the house has been redone for modern times. An open fireplace remains however and the boy stands transfixed before the flames, refusing to speak, answering his mother with nods or small shrugs. He appears suddenly exhausted beyond his years, too weary even to move.
I’ve never seen him like this, says his mother. It’s not like him at all.
They find a gate in the yard leading down to the beach. The boy tries to open it but can’t work the lock. He seems ashamed, angry at his small clumsy body. Finally his mother lifts the latch and they take a winding path toward the water.
This way is the secret way, says the boy.
Back in Glasgow the researcher puts the mother in contact with a living member of the Richardson family, a woman who spent summers at the house on the island when she was a girl.
It’s conceivable, the researcher says, that this woman could have been your son’s sister.
Over tea and cakes the mother and the boy sit with the old woman and pour over old picture albums. There is the house by the sea, children smiling in the wind. There is a woman with short hair twisting in the surf. There are the planes landing on the beach. And there is even the black and white dog.
I’m afraid there were no children who passed on, says the old woman. No tragic deaths in the family. No one killed by a motorcar either.
You didn’t have a brother who died?
Well, says the mother. The cakes are delicious.
The boy shows no reaction to the news. They leave the old woman alone with her photographs and go out for ice cream.
The following year the boy starts school. He hardly mentions the island anymore except to say he went there once and wasn’t it a nice trip. He no longer speaks about his old family or mentions the name Richardson.
He does well in class. He makes friends. The teacher calls him a joy.
His mother enrolls him in a youth football league. Saturdays she sits with the other mothers in the bleachers and sips coffee from a thermos. They talk about cellular phone plans, they talk about illness. They talk about successful relatives.
At the break she comes down to the sidelines and gives the boy a meatpie wrapped in foil, a twist of salted caramel. She kisses his head and hops back up the steps before he can yell. He eats quickly, jostling and swapping bites with his teammates.
The whistle blows. The boys line up. The ball rises and falls. She watches her son sprint across the field, tremor of cleats and winded shouts, the frost still melting on the grass.
Excerpt from \THE ORANGE GROVE/////::::::::::::::::::A new novel::::::::::::::::Out this Fall::::::
The summer after she put his things in the driveway and disappeared to California he took the Piper Cub across the country.
Over Montana he flew into a thunderstorm he should have flown around. He thought he could thread it but he couldn’t climb out of it. Columns of air electric. Black rain. Drafts of boiling wind. He didn’t have the fuel to fight so he decided to come down and see what he could find.
He sped up and dropped under the clouds. Gray fields. Farm land flat enough. He cracked the window triangle and got his face out to watch for fences. The acreage held. Grassland lone and level. It was one of his best landings and he’d been drunk for six months.
He cut the prop and sat back in the raindrum. He lit a cigarette and cracked a beer from the box on the jumpseat. The world gone white. The world just gone. He brought up the radio and caught a station in the foam. Maybe Missoula. A phonograph in a dancehall. An abandoned hotel. A million miles of ghosts.
When he was drunk he climbed down to piss. Lightning rails on the horizon. A barbed wire fence not fifty yards ahead. He laughed and slept in the plane. In the morning he couldn’t get out for dairy cows bumping graze around the door. The rain had quit and the sun was shining and he looked across the field to a farmhouse built up on a little rise with cupolas and a wraparound porch. A woman out there barefoot on a swing. He started the engine and the cows pushed off. She was watching him now, rocking on the swing holding a cup of something hot. He took off his jacket and left it on the seat, rolled up his sleeves and walked to the house. A dog started to bark and she hushed it with her hand. When he got to the porch she was swinging in a bathrobe.
Hello, he said.
I had to land last night. The storm.
Was there a storm?
Yeah. Big one.
Was it thunder and raining?
I must have been asleep.
I guess you must have been. I had to land.
I guess you did.
Worked out all right.
I was wondering if you had a vehicle I could get a lift into town for some gas.
I don’t know.
You know where you are?
She nodded again.
Yeah. Well I have a pump here.
You want a plate of breakfast?
He sat at the kitchen table and drank her coffee with fresh milk while she cooked the eggs and bacon and onions.
Where you flying to?
Across the country.
Right or left?
You want me to flip these eggs?
Yeah you can flip those.
She opened the oven and took out a plate and served the food.
I don’t know. I don’t think so.
She sat down beside him.
You want any peppers?
I don’t know.
She got a jar from the fridge.
He’s in the service.
It’s a nice farm.
It’s his mother’s place.
She live here too?
No. He put her in a home somewhere. Doesn’t cost us anything to stay.
I guess you must like all the space.
I guess I married into it.
She shook her head.
Try those now.
He ate some peppers with the eggs. Cold salt brine.
Alright, he said. That’s good.
You get drunk last night?
In the plane?
In the storm.
I had a couple beers.
If I was stuck in a plane in the rain I’d get drunk.
Yeah I got a little drunk.
You want to get drunk now?
After we eat?
Well it’ll be better before.
She got a bottle from the pantry and a jug of juice.
I try to be civilized, she said. I make a little progress every day.
They left the plates in the sink and took a bucket of ice and glasses up a ladder onto the roof.
You got neighbors?
Somewhere I suppose. There’s someone who comes by and does things.
What about the cows?
I don’t know they’re cows.
Well I don’t know. Maybe you milk them.
Someone does I guess. Someone who does those things.
It’s a nice farm.
You get lonely?
Yeah. Sometimes. I watch TV.
What do you watch?
I don’t know. The ones where they win things.
She took a drink and crunched the ice.
I’m glad it rained and I had to come down.
Yeah. It’s nice here after it rains.
He put his hand on her leg. She didn’t look at him.
Let’s just drink then.
They lay in the sun. She started to talk about a dream she’d had. She was supposed to make a choice but she couldn’t decide.
I kept going back and forth. I kept changing my mind. Time was running out. I knew what they wanted me to pick. I knew the one I was supposed to pick but I wanted to go my own way. I didn’t want to pick something because it was already great. I wanted to make something great in my own right. I wasn’t scared though. I knew I could do it. I knew whichever I picked would turn out right.
The ice melted. They drank from the bottle. In the field the cows switched their spots.
When he woke the sun was on the low ledge and the roof was cold in the shade. He looked for her but she was gone. Just an empty bottle, his shoes and curled socks.
He climbed down the ladder. The doors were locked and the curtains drawn. He circled the porch, knocking on the windows. The glass rattled in the pane. Nothing moved. The dog didn’t even bark.
In the barn he found the fuel pump. Nozzle cobwebbed, probably dry for a decade. A Cadillac with fins parked under the hay loft. He got the keys off the visor and pumped the accelerator until the engine rolled over. Then he backed up into the field and sat looking at the house. Nearly dark out now. No lights inside. He rubbed his eyes.
He got his jacket and map from the airplane and studied a compass. Then he wrote out a note and set it on the dash.
He put on the Cadillac headlamps and rolled out slow into the grass, the windows down and the cool air settling over his arms. He found the phonograph again on the radio and waded out into the night, cows waxing up white inside the beams, bells or buoys lumbering off at solemn nod, bobbing and gone, washed away clean in the bootblack wane.
Excerpt from \THE ORANGE GROVE/////::::::A new novel::::::::Out this Fall::::::
Bradford came to Santa Fe from Denver to get in on selling firewood. His buddy said it was easy money for a season. Everyone needs wood for the winter. Old Adobe homes. No central heat. Pine going for a premium.
It’s illegal to take trees from the forest so you buy the wood uncut from hicks out in the country. These forest people. Piles of timber just sitting around. You buy it and don’t ask questions. Far as you know these people live on special patches of earth where trees grow cut down and stripped for firewood.
Bradford has some money saved so he leases a couple pickups and starts in buying wood. He gets orders. Makes rounds. Chop and deliver. One hundred and sixty for a cord of pine. Two fifty for cedar.
Sometimes there were problems.
This guy Chad calls the day after his delivery.
That load was light, says Chad.
What do you mean? says Bradford.
I mean I weighed the wood and it ain’t no two cords.
It’s early. It’s cold. Bradford’s still in bed, still half asleep. Probably stoned.
I told you, he says, I don’t go by weight. When I say cord I mean load. That’s one truck full and another truck full. Stack it up and measure it Chad.
A cord should weigh what a cord weighs.
Measure the stack Chad.
You measure it.
It took me and another guy two days to get that wood. I’ve got two blades in it.
I’m not paying no four hundred and fifty dollars for a light load.
The time to bitch is before I unload Chad.
I’ll bitch now.
You want me to work for nothing?
I want what I paid for.
Bradford decides fuck it. He’ll return the guy fifty bucks. Make him satisfied. It’s a small town. People talk. Give him the fifty and forget it. Never talk to the guy again.
The season goes on. People buy wood. One day Bradford gets a call from a guy who wants two cords delivered out at the Super Wal-Mart in Española. Says he has a trailer there for offloading. It takes Bradford a couple days to get the wood together. Then he and his buddy drive out to Española and wait in the parking lot. He waits half an hour and then calls the number. No answer. They drive around the parking lot thinking maybe they’re in the wrong spot. It’s possible. Wal-Mart big as an airport.
After an hour he calls the number again. This time someone answers, laughing. A voice says all sales are final bitch and hangs up.
The next week Bradford’s out selling the wood by the highway. He goes to get some lunch at the diner. Coffee. A bobcat burger.
The waitress tells him this other guy’s been working wood up and down the highway, doing pretty well.
Oh yeah? says Bradford.
Yeah, says the waitress.
He come in here?
Sometimes for a burger.
You know his name?
Chad I think.
So Bradford asks around. His old friend Chad. He finds out he’s operating from El Dorado. Real remote. A bunch of trailers out in the desert.
He thanks the waitress. Eats his burger. Maybe he leaves his phone number.
A few nights later he goes off on a bender. Him and another guy and a bottle of vodka. No food, no ice, no nothing. Just a bottle of vodka and two glasses and a boatload of blow. Maybe a couple or three girls fresh from high school.
When the sun comes up he decides he’s driving out to El Dorado and raise hell. This is twice Chad’s gotten over on him. First for the fifty bucks and then for the two loads he had to cull out and sell half off on the highway. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he gets there but he takes off anyway, snorting and driving and waving to people up on the sunny side of Sunday shoveling snow out their driveways.
He puts the truck on 4X4 and takes this one road out past all the houses. Everything drops away. Real remote. Mountains and hawks. That cold winter sky.
He finds Chad’s trailers and parks a quarter mile out. Decides to hike in on foot. He sees some quail, a bunch of tusked pigs. He walks right up to the trailers. No one around. He’s standing on the doorstep of the one marked OFFICE with a baseball bat in his hand when he hears the bolt click on a rifle and feels a pock of air go by his leg.
He spins around. The snow starts popping everywhere. Mud and rock. Chad’s coming up on him with an M16 level at his hip squeezing off bursts aimed right at the trailer door.
Bradford hits the ground. He thinks he’s been shot. He doesn’t know.
The door to the trailer opens and another guy comes out with an aluminum pipe. He gets a few swings on Bradford but Bradford manages to pop up. He’s still coked out. Doesn’t feel it. Doesn’t feel shit. He catches the pipe under his arm and takes it away and jabs it right back. The tip disappears into the guy’s eye. Just slides right into his skull.
Bradford looks at Chad coming with the rifle, the guy with the pipe in his face, the empty desert.
He bolts. Just takes off gone. Deadleg sprint toward the mountains.
Chad follows him. Running and stopping to aim, firing off a few rounds. Jogging, stopping, shooting. Like that for hours.
Bradford never stops. Doesn’t even look back. After a while Chad’s out of ammo. He ditches the rifle. Now it’s just the two of them on foot in the desert. Wiped out tired about a quarter mile apart. Both standing still, sucking breath, watching the other, watching the sun. Chad takes a step toward Bradford and Bradford takes a step away. That’s how it goes. Night comes.
They don’t sleep. They sit up watching, trying not to freeze. At dawn Bradford sees Chad coming across the plain so he gets up and shuffles on deeper toward the mountains.
They start eating snow. They start getting closer together. Staggering right up on each other. Bradford wings a couple of rocks and Chad doesn’t even move. It doesn’t matter. Close enough to talk. To hear each other grunt. They keep going because the other one does.
Bradford wakes up that night and Chad is on top of him. Curled up around him. At first he doesn’t mind. He’s freezing and it’s a warm body. He only knows that one thing. That it’s better than being cold. Then he remembers where he is. Why he is. He jumps up scrambling, crawling away. He’s thinking this is it. We’re going to the death. Right now to the death with rocks.
But that’s not it. Chad sits up, he’s shaking.
I’m just cold, he says. I don’t want to die.
You’re not dying, says Bradford.
Fuck yes I am.
Bradford watches him. He’s got a rock ready.
Fuck it it’s true. I don’t even care.
Bradford goes back over. They curl up around each other and that’s how they sleep.
In the morning there’s this Indian standing over them. Not a real Indian but a white guy who looks like an Indian. White hair and a beard. Bones. Dried ears on a rope around his neck. Caked in red dirt. Like he came out of the ground. Like he came out of nowhere, out of the sky. Like he’s a handprint on a wall. Like he just was.
The Indian waits for them to get up and then he starts walking. Doesn’t say a word, just starts walking. They don’t know what else to do so they follow him into the mountains. The black slopes. The iron steeples. They’re so weak and thirsty they can barely walk. When it starts getting steep they have to stop. The Indian waits though. Picking his teeth, muttering, drawing in the sand. Then they go on.
He takes them underground. Into a chamber. A cave. Some kind of den. A smokeless fire. Animal furs. Jars with fermented meat and grain. Pipes, horns, sharpened sticks, some kind of skin stretched over a drum.
The Indian shows them a pool of dark water. They fall down on their knees, gulping. Bradford and Chad. Drinking side by side until their bellies bloat. Then they just lay there. Drift. The warm stone echoes. The Indian plays a drum. The walls are breathing.
They crawl to the fire. They sit with the flames. They watch the light. Bradford’s starting to trip. Hallucinate. Wild visions. He feels God. Then he feels no God. He feels the absence of light, of love. He knows what black is. What death is. He knows separation. He knows the true death.
A day passes. A year passes. You don’t know the year. You couldn’t possibly know the year.
Bradford touches his face. He’s been weeping, curled fetal. When he can finally move he sits up. The Indian is playing the flute. Bradford watches him. He understands that the Indian is the first man, that the song is ancient, that he’s been playing the same song since the dawn of time.
He’s standing at the lip of the Earth, the Milky Way huddled over his shoulders, still playing, still spinning, all of creation here, all meanness, all grace. All things.
At dawn the Indian urinates into the fire. He tells Bradford and Chad that one must kill the other or neither will ever leave the cave.
I don’t want to kill anybody, says Chad. We’re alright now.
The Indian says nothing. He gets them more water from the pool. Bradford watches Chad through the piss steam.
Aren’t we alright now?
Bradford doesn’t answer. They drink the water. The Indian leaves. Chad starts looking for a way out. An opening, stairs, a chute, a crack, a passage. He’s scanning the rock with his fingertips, screaming, clawing, barking at the stone.
Bradford watches him. He sees Chad. He sees Chad’s whole life. He understands that what’s wrong with him is wrong all the way through and will never be right.
He gets up. He finds a spear among the Indian’s tools. Chad starts to beg, to plead, to promise. Bradford puts out a hand and holds him still. He drives the point through his throat into his skull. He lays the body on the stone.
As Chad dies Bradford understands that they were never in the cave. That the Indian didn’t save them. They died in the desert. This place underground was for the bartering of souls. And there was only room for one of them back in the world.
The way out of the cave becomes immediately apparent or nearly immediately apparent. Bradford wanders into the mountains. He takes off his shoes. He eats plants. He stares at the sun.
A few days later he finds a ride into town on a school bus with some church kids.