THE ORCHARD • by Eve Francis

Annie’s grandmother died when she was seven. She left Annie’s mother everything she ever owned, including the orchard of apple trees and jasmine blossoms and her jewellery box. She left her clothing, too, but they remained inside the very large trunk. Annie’s mother cried reading the will. Annie hummed a song her grandmother taught her.

When her mother wasn’t looking, Annie took the string of pearls. She opened the jewellery box with a key her grandmother had given her for times of emergency. She cradled the large string in her hands and brought them outside. She dug through the earth in the backyard quickly, using her sharp nails. When all her nails broke off, she began to cup the dirt with her palms. She moved past the beetles and the worms. In her teeth, Annie stuck the string of the pearls. She pulled. Again, again, until they all snapped off in a white explosion. Annie gathered the pearls into the small hole and began to cover them. Her brown curls bounced around her face, sweat collecting on her forehead. Her red dress became stained in a matter of moments.

In her ear, she heard her grandmother talk of sunflowers.

“This is the sunflower seed. You plant this and get a flower.”

“But what if I eat it?”

“Then you must water it. All life comes from water.”

“And a flower will grow out of my mouth?”

“You will be smart and beautiful, yes,” her grandmother had said. “You will have a sunflower.”

Annie buried the pearls. She cupped her hands over the earth and spit in order to make mud. She wanted to go back to her mother’s jewellery box and take out the rings and bracelets she kept for herself. Annie saw the apple trees against the skyline and imagined planting ruby trees. She imagined diamonds and sapphire flowers. And the final pearl bush in the centre of the orchard would be Annie’s one prize from her grandmother’s death.

“You will be given the garden, child. You will have to grow things on your own,” her grandmother had said. This was just before she died.  Annie’s mother came in the room, and pulled Annie into the hallway and sat her down in a chair. It was her mother’s turn to talk to her grandmother, even if she had nothing much to say.

“Your house,” Annie’s mother said. “The orchard…”

“I am not dead yet,” Annie’s grandmother said back.

“But your estate.”

“I am not dead yet.”

Annie had cupped her ear to the wall. She heard her grandmother’s first name uttered in the hallways of the sick house. Hushed whispers from her mother.

“But Pearl, Pearl.” Her mother gasped. “Listen to me, please.”

“I am not…”

Annie laughed in the hallway. Her grandmother was made of pearls, Annie knew. She could not die because of this. But everyone seemed to forget.

When Annie was done burying, her hands caked with dirt up to the wrist, she lay back down and looked up at the sky. She waited for her garden to grow.

Eve Francis‘s work has appeared in The Fieldstone Review, Hyacinth Noir, Black Treacle, and Iris New Fiction. She is the poetry editor for Prosaic Magazine and a regular contributor to Absynthe Magazine. She lives in Canada.

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