Matthew Kabik. In the Orchard, in the Field.

Matthew Kabik
In the Orchard, in the Field

Harry lived in a farmhouse his family owned since the hard times, bought out from under a senseless, desperate apple grower. Not a farmer—he had nothing to do with cultivation. He sold the farm to Harry’s grandfather like W.C. Fields may have: drunk and comical for anyone not directly involved.

Harry’s grandfather was quick to turn over any forgotten bottles of liquor and scrub every interior surface with boiled water and hard soap. He wasn’t a man to waste time. He didn’t wait for signs—he made them from tenacious, bulldog dedication.

His hands looked like rusted iron when they found him in bed fifty years since signing the deed. He’d never held a single apple grown from his own soil. Something like a W.C. Fields movie in that, too, though Harry knew better than admit any humor in it at all.

Harry’s father, who received none of the monk’s stubborn faith his own father was known for, left Harry the farm and moved upstate to live with a woman. Harry’s mother wasn’t alive since his birth, so he could only find fault in his father’s flightiness and not much else. Harry guessed by now his father was dead. Maybe not, but probably. It was all together unimportant.

Harry cared for the orchard and farmhouse alone, never seeking out a wife and never having need to. When the want struck he’d go into any of the three towns nearby and get as close to drunk as his convictions allowed. Sometimes he’d try to flirt with the lonely women desperate enough to flirt back, but he was aware of himself and left before any conversation led to what was next.

Most days he waited for a sign. Peaceful but expectant—quiet and hopeful. What he felt wasn’t quite boredom, he was happy in the waste. Harry found things in it: memories from his kin, the tilt and uneven lines made of hastily planted trees, the boot carved porch.
Walking through the orchard in the evening was as close to God as Harry expected to get, in a way. The Garden made of useless, crooked plants.

He was inside when the truck pulled up to the house. He heard the doors open and close, both sides together. It made him think it might be an official, but when he looked out from the front door he saw a man and woman—boy and girl, really, given the age. The boy was oily, a yellow T-shirt and arms too long for the growing body. The girl’s clothing clung grotesquely. Sexual and lewd. It made Harry feel sick and attracted all at once—such an unpleasant feeling to walk with as he turned to the young man reaching out his hand.

“Abe is the name, sir. I sure would be thankful if you could give some help for me and Sarah,” Abe said, nodding over his shoulder to the woman near the truck.

“Well, what sort of help are you needing?”

“Thank you mister, we’re in a spot. We’ve been traveling from a few states over to here. The old girl is having a hell of a time with it.”

“Who?”

“Sorry, sir. God I’m sorry, I have a sailor’s mouth and should speak more clearly. The truck, sir. The truck seems to be giving up the ghost.”

“Looks about time for it,” Harry said evenly. He tried to smile, but he was afraid it may come out more like a grimace. Instead he rubbed his palms together absently and walked towards the truck.

“You’re right. Shoulda gave up on her a long time ago. But I guess things just turn out the way they do,” Abe said through over-smiling teeth.

Harry nodded to Sarah as he got closer, who smiled and stood next to Abe. Harry allowed himself to notice the way she walked. A girl who just gained the hips of womanhood. He focused his eyes back to the truck.

“So.”

“You see, I think the alternator is shot. I had an old Pontiac that was doing the same thing,” Abe said quickly. His voice sounded strained to Harry, maybe rehearsed was a better word.

“To be honest with you, I’m not much of a mechanic.”

“I thought all farmers were.”

“Not much of a farmer, either,” Harry said dryly, smiling more to himself than anyone.

“Oh, well I was kinda hoping for something else,” Abe said from behind.

“Oh?”

“I was hoping you would be willing to put us up for a night, just one, so we could rest and decide how to deal with this.”

“Well,” Harry sighed, looking at the orchard and his hands, “I don’t think I could turn you out and sleep well with myself.”

“That’s truly kind of you, sir. Very good of you,” Abe smiled, tapping Sarah with a grease smeared hand.

“Thanks,” Sarah whispered. Her voice and manner reminded Harry of a dog that’d been hit too much or a Starling hanging to a branch in winter. It made him feel useless and sombre.

Harry nodded and walked both inside. He showed them the bathroom and fetched towels. When he was clear of Abe’s repeated thanks he walked downstairs to prepare supper.

Sarah came down first. She stood in the kitchen door, distracted by the smell of ham steaks and boiling potatoes. Without the sun or truck to distract him, Harry saw the overworked teen body, the bony shoulders holding up what may have been beauty sometime before now.

“You don’t have any other clothes?”

“We weren’t expecting—I mean,” Sarah stumbled, wrapping her arms around her body, “We weren’t planning on going this far.”

“What were you planning?”

“I don’t know. Just going I think.”

“Sit down here if you like,” Harry said by way of dismissal, pointing to the kitchen table.

Sarah sat quietly, her back to the door and her eyes immediately focused through the window. Harry caught glimpses of her calves as he finished making supper, trying to figure out what he was feeling: pity or attraction.

“Are those orange trees?”

“Apple. I don’t think you can grow oranges this far up.”

“Do you make a lot of money on apples?”

“I surely do not.”

“Then why do you do it?” Sarah said carefully, turning her head towards Harry but keeping her eyes on the window. It made her look like a painting or a staged photo.

“Because I like looking after the place. I need to do something I guess.”

Sarah turned her head back towards the window and breathed out deeply. Harry finished making the food and put it in front of her.

“Do you have any of your apples, to try I mean?”

“I haven’t seen a single apple grow from any of these trees. Not in my whole life.”

“Oh,” Sarah said, pulling herself up in the chair and smiling at Harry.

“I think it has something to do with the soil,” He said as an explanation, though she just nodded at him.

“You think we should wait for Abe? I don’t know why he’s taking so long.”

“I think we can go ahead, shame to let the food get cold.”

“Ok.”

Sarah piled her plate and went to it. Harry ate slowly, finding he enjoyed the sound of someone other than himself at the table.

“Where do you folks figure you’re heading?”

Sarah shrugged, “anywhere, I guess.”

“Just an adventure away from home, then?”

“Could we go out in the orchard later tonight?” Sarah asked, finally looking at Harry directly. It made his heart jump. He thought the food on his fork might drop off.

“Sure. It’s nice on a night like this,” Harry said.

“I’d like that. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an apple orchard.”

“Ok, then.”

They sat without talking until Abe came in wet and smiling.

“This is some home you’ve got here, Mister. You wouldn’t think it from looking outside, but it’s some home.”

“Thank you. Here,” Harry said, standing up and patting the backrest of the second chair.

Abe nodded and sat, pulling a plate towards himself and filling it up. He ate like what Harry thought a king might: huge pieces of ham and potatoes disappearing into his mouth, a careless sort of eating that suggested there was always more to be had. Sarah looked at him while he ate, smiling whenever he took a moment to look up.

“So,” Abe said after drinking half a glass of water, “you think it’s the alternator?”

“Oh, well, maybe. Yeah. It might even just be your battery.”

“Wouldn’t that be good?”

“It would save you a whole heap a bother, that’s true,” Harry smiled.

“How much would it cost, you think, if it were the alternator?”

“Oh, I don’t know really. Depends on if they have the part, how much they charge for labor. maybe two hundred or so.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s what it could cost. But, you know, it could just be the battery.”

“How much is the battery for your truck out there?” Abe asked, pointing blindly at the window with his fork.

“I think about sixty or so.”

“Wow,” Abe said, looking at Sarah with wide, embarrassing eyes.

“Everything in a truck costs more than what you’d expect.”

“I guess so. Thanks for dinner, Mister. I haven’t eaten in a while. How much did you eat?” Abe said to Sarah.

“I am full.”

“You sure, we haven’t eaten this good in a while, baby. You sure you don’t wanna muscle a little more down?”

“I’ve got plenty for you,” Harry said to them both.

“No, no I’m ok.”

“Ok, sweetheart,” Abe smiled. “I won’t twist your arm about it.”

Harry went out on the porch while Abe finished. He breathed in the summer’s cooler air and let his mind wander out to wherever it wanted. He gave a few thoughts to Abe and his easy-going brashness. The only visitors Harry really ever had was the postman and the occasional state electrician. While he didn’t mind the solitude, he found the comfort in hearing movement other than his own to be pleasant, at least for tonight.
Harry heard something hit the floor, a plate. He stood with the shattering of it.

“Oh God,” Abe yelled out for Harry’s benefit, “I went and made a fool of myself. I’ll get this cleaned up right away Mister. God I’m sorry.”

Harry stepped back in to see Abe holding the pieces of a plate awkwardly in his hands, looking for a trash can. Harry smiled away the nervousness in his eyes and helped sweep up the floor. Sarah didn’t move. She sat mute and staring out the window.

“I figure we’ll go to bed now. We’ll be out of your hair by tomorrow morning if we can be.”

“In the morning I’ll drive you into town—”

“Which way is that?” Abe interrupted.

“Just down the road to the left of here, maybe ten minutes or so. I’ll drive you down there and see about getting someone from the shop to look at your truck.”

“That’d be very good of you Mister. Which bed do you want us to use?”

“Well, take the one closest to the bathroom. It’s got the biggest bed in it.”

“Ok then,” Abe said nodding. He turned his face to Sarah, “come on.”

“I don’t want to go to bed,” she said quietly.

“Sarah, don’t you be difficult now. I said come to bed.”

“Sarah and I are going to walk through the orchard, actually. I promised her we would,” Harry said a bit more loudly than he intended.

“Oh. Alright.”

When Abe’s footsteps disappeared Harry realized Sarah was crying to herself. He went to the sink and filled a glass with water to give her, not knowing quite what else to do. She took it and held it against her chest, not looking at him and not drinking from the glass. Harry tried to figure out how to make whatever happened better for her, or at least make her feel better in spite of it.

“Listen, if—”

“Can we go to the orchard now?”

“Yea. Let me give you a coat.”

When the two reached the middle of the orchard Sarah sat down. She looked like a child in Harry’s jacket, pulling her whole body into it like a baby in its mother’s T-shirt.

“Why do you keep the orchard, the farm?”

“For something to do, I guess.”

“That isn’t it,” Sarah said.

“What?”

“That isn’t why you keep the orchard.”

Harry looked at her paleness, brought out more by the darkness. He wanted to tell her she was beautiful but knew it could sound frightening to her. Instead he looked past her at the silent apple trees and distant lights of neighbors.

“I’ve been waiting.”

“For what?”

“Hell, I don’t know.”

“Yeah,” Sarah said, breaking eye contact and standing, “Yeah, alright.”

“I’m not saying it right.”

“No, I understand what you mean. Thanks for taking me to the orchard.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have any apples for you to try.”

“You shouldn’t be sorry for that. I don’t mind.”

After ten minutes of silence, Harry walked her back to the house and let her go up the stairs alone. He crept into his own room an hour later and shut the door. He fell asleep quickly and didn’t dream, though he expected he would.

He woke up just before sunrise and crept past the creaking floorboards to get breakfast ready. Harry noticed the missing boots first. He stared at where they should be, knowing what happened but creating a dozen other reasons why they moved. He walked back up the stairs to the bathroom, finding the soap, towels, and safety razor missing.

It wasn’t anger that Harry felt. Whatever started in his stomach and moved cool and snakelike to his face wasn’t anger. Regret maybe. The unfamiliar sensation of being used, perhaps. Whatever he would eventually decide it to be, he ignored the sensation as he walked back down the steps and through the porch door.

The hood of his truck was propped open. As he got closer to it, he realized the battery was missing, and Abe’s own battery was sitting in the driver’s seat.

“Well,” Harry said, pulling his hand over the back of his neck and feeling the warmth of the morning sun begin its steady summer heat on his face, “well I guess that’ll have to do.”

2 Responses to “Matthew Kabik. In the Orchard, in the Field.”

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  1. Matthew Kabik’s story “In the Orchard, in the Field.” | pea river journal - June 17, 2014

    […] Matthew Kabik. In the Orchard, in the Field. […]

  2. Best of the Net 2014: our nominations | pea river journal - September 14, 2014

    […] Matthew Kabik. In the Orchard, in the Field. […]

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