By Kim Bonner
lights twinkle against the night sky, a reminder that
home is, as the crow flies, less than a half a mile away. The structure went up
about the same time that the town whipped up the slogan, Prosperity, Progress, Plenty,
and stuck it on a twelve-foot marker
at the county line. An occasional wink from the tower illuminates the sign for
a millisecond before it goes dark again. The town's promises, now-you-see-them,
now-you-don't, mock me. But when I take stock of my surroundings, it seems
right that I should end up back here, like this.
The Orangeland Fruit Company has owned this grove
over thirty years. It weathered hard freezes, low carb fads and a blight that
sucked the life out of most independent grower's trees. It's the only grove
still turning a profit in a county where meth replaced citrus as the town's
hottest commodity. Welcome to the dirty south.
families kept their land for generations, relentlessly clinging to the luster
of owning a piece of dirt that didn't love them back. At first, the locals
viewed Orangeland like a big box store, coming to town to put mom and pop out
of business. But the company grew on them after awhile. They paid cash bonuses
at Christmases. The managers handed out frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving. The
female employees got a bottle of Orangeland's Exclusive Valencia Spice perfume
on their birthday.
My aunt's boyfriend was the head groveman for the
company. That winter, he'd pick me up from kindergarten aftercare because my
aunt had headaches.
usually had a lady friend with him. Just giving them a ride, he'd say. No
reason to mention it to my aunt. Sometimes the women would talk to me, whisper
at me to jump out and call the police. One, with mangled teeth and scabs on her
arms, merely wept without speaking.
just a game," the groveman said. "Do you like the coloring book I
others. A doe-eyed clerk from the convenience store. The lady who ran the
laundromat. The others came from truck stops or bars, places they shouldn't
have been in the first place.
here, to this spot. Something about sound echoes more than usual here and the
smells of fruit blossom and muddy cowpens hang together in a putrid knot. This
week the ranchers hauled their spring calves to market. I know this because the
mother cows are at the fence, crying for their babies, who aren't ever coming
back. The mothers will mourn at the
fence line for a day or two and then forget about their babies and go to the
molasses bin and come back next year to do the same thing all over again. Right
now, they are inconsolable. I wish they would shut up and forget already.
supposed to look when the groveman took his lady friends for walks. I was
supposed to color or play with my new yoyo or count to a hundred real slow.
Later on, a detective asked me about our routine. His eyes and chin receded
into his puffy flesh, like there was a thin person inside trying to escape.
did you see your aunt's boyfriend do next?"
He took the
red head to a pump and forced her to gulp water straight from the spout. The
chemicals they ran through the pipes to kill citrus canker made her foam at the
mouth. She couldn't scream because he'd cut out her tongue.
gave the lady a drink of water."
even though the humidity sits at eighty percent. The back of my shirt feels wet
even though it hasn't rained. My fingers caress the dirt. Plenty flashes from
the road. Home is so close.
took over a dozen lady friends for walks. I got a yellow Walkman. Then there
was the one who got away. Cecelia, a bottle blonde waitress with cigarette
breath and chipped nail polish. At the trial, she pointed at the groveman with
a withered stump of a right arm. She would have gestured with her left hand
except he'd cut that off too. She cried. Said she couldn't hold her baby the
same anymore. Her husband wouldn't touch her. Some days she couldn't even get
out of bed.
prosecutor let me hold a teddy bear in court.
Where are your parents?
Do you know what it means to tell the
Can you point at the man we've been
He's sitting over there next to the bald
man in the brown jacket.
was one of the last to be executed in Old Sparky. The tower twinkled just now
when I thought of him. I wonder if it hurt much when they flipped the switch.
We never corresponded.
avoided me after the trial. I ate lunch alone all through elementary school,
then middle school and then high school. I still came to the grove from time to
time after my aunt gave me to the state and decided to stay in bed a while
longer. When I aged out of foster care, I moved to Michigan, a fresh start, a
change of seasons. I floated from apartment to apartment, cleaned office
buildings at night with a group of women who spoke no English. Boyfriends came
and went, nothing serious. Like a mother cow, I went to the molasses bin and
forgot to remember.
My aunt felt
guilty in her old age and wrote to me on Facebook––sorry about everything.
Regrets. Guilt. Whatever. She left me her house, though. Last month, I came back,
got a Netflix account and a job at Cracker Barrel.
winks at me again. I could be home in less than five minutes. But not without
my legs. They are currently lying in a heap next to me.
been holding a grudge all these years.
Stumpy has a
shiny prosthetic hand these days. It must have a GI Joe Kung Fu grip because
she keeps shoveling dirt on top of me with an effortless flick of her wrist.
I never told
the police that I helped him bury the others. He never told either, not even at
the end. Cecelia blathered to the fat detective that I wasn't an innocent
bystander, but he chalked up her crazy talk to the trauma of almost getting
hacked to bits. She didn't get a teddy bear to hold in court.
knew. You knew what he was. I begged you to help me. But you just smiled. Why
did you smile? Why?"
answer her. And I won't beg for mercy. Mercy is beneath the grove. She'll
probably get caught anyway. Probably was dumb enough to buy the saw and shovel
on a debit card, and she jumped me at a gas station with a surveillance camera.
Amateur. She really should do something about those roots,too. Bottle blonde
The tower lights dim a little with
each shovel full of dirt
until it blinks at me one last time and goes dark for good. The sweet of the
orange blossoms wraps itself around the stench of manure until they settle into
a reluctant dance. As I lay dying, the grove pulls me into the dank embrace of
the ones they never found, the ones I put in the ground all by myself after
they took the groveman away. My friends, it's been so long. I always knew we'd
see each other again one day. I am home.
appeared in the Barely South Review and will be featured in the fall
edition of the Flying South Literary Journal. She is a graduate of
Stetson University and writes short stories in multiple genres, as well as
Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which
tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your
peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as
life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color
and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking
their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding the ways and
means of any story.
Digital arts mastery provides what Darren
wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how
their own minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process
which sync intrinsically to the expression of the nearby written or implied
word he has been called upon to render.
the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart,
YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author
/ intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion -
SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.