Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
   

Under the Pear Tree

by Dan Korgan




My three aunties sit at a picnic table under our pear tree. They pass Momma’s small box filled with stones from one rugged hand to another. Their bony fingers click against the stones. And the stones glint in the early afternoon sun. “I miss our Jacky terribly,” says Marnie and cries a small while before she straightens-up. So I get up from my dead mother’s rocking chair and make way to the front porch where I can wait for the buyers from sunny California. It’s 13:03. I am not seller. I am not a salesman. I do not want to sell Momma’s house. I do not want to sell anything that belongs to momma. Not anything.

I have spent time more than you could imagine hauling Momma’s things to the second-hand store. I packed-up her agate collection. Drove it to my apartment down the road a ways and placed her polished eggs along the footpath to my complex. In the hospital last week, momma leaned against my shoulder and reminded me of the morning she filled my duffle bag with soil and with clay. Johnny, she said, you were so imbued with the fever and adventure that you left the fat dairy cows behind you with sleep still in your eyes. You should know that after you waved goodbye to papa and me from the train station the cows became so upset they would not produce milk for ten thousand years. Well, my aunties sit so properly and so beautifully there in the shade. They make quiet negotiations over momma’s fancy stones.

The couple from California speeds into the driveway. I stand up and straighten my tie and brush my pants. Jessica has told me she builds giant bird sculptures in her free time and Leif is only her boy friend. He is still in school studying architecture and I do not want to sell anything that belongs to mamma. I have learned from the Navy to deploy effective visual systems. I am not a salesman. I offer Leif my left hand.

“Nice to see you again,” Leif says.

Leif’s hand is limp and dry.

“And it’s my pleasure,” I say.

“A snowy plover,” says Jessica. And we have a small laugh together.

From the checkered foyer I walk them west to the dining room. The chandelier must be stunning to them. Cut-glass-cascading-diamonds. In the bottom drawer of the oak server sits momma’s hobby maps – a place where most people I gather keep their linen, but she has always stored her hobby maps there. I spread out the countryside and began to trace the times gone by with a finger. Below you, I say to Jessica and Leif, looking over concentric lines - the ocean floor begins to collide with the continental plate, one shelf sliding under the other, the heavier rock descending, scraping sand and mud against the edge of the continent, an incredible mess of sedimentary rock crushed and jammed together in a hopeless confused heap. And I begin to feel his mama’s presents and begin to swell a little. My legs weaken and I pout for short while.

“So what about those volcanoes,” Jessica asks me.

“Yeah, how did they get here?” says Leif.

“Quite an observation, have you.”

Bent over the Cascade Range I put the history into a reasonable order for them and I begin to hiccup uncontrollably. With a sidelong glaze, I see Jessica run to the kitchen cupboard to fill a small bowl with water for me. When I gain my dignity I tell them what I tell all these prospective buyers. “In a few million years,” I say, “all of the continents could be stuck together again. Can you imagine that? They were, once, you know, all stuck together.”

My three aunties pass through the living room and through the kitchen and through the dinning room as if they are a field of energy – a field of white daisies. “Don’t be nervous,” says Aunty Sandra. And Aunty Marnie says, “Are you the one who studies architectures? He must feel very curious right now.” My three aunties lead Leif to the white rock and through the beds of dried-up tomato vines. I could not have ever imagined Leif would follow my aunties so easily! I have seen them throw rocks at boys.

On my knees, I move a hand through the green water. The swimming pool is one of momma’s most valuable memories. I should have used our machine to clean the bottom of the pool. It moves the leaves and dirt with its weighted tentacles under the water. "If there is one thing I've learned, Jessica, is that you would never swim in the water you drink.”

“I like your tattoos, Johnny," says Jessica.

"I like them too," I say.

"If you don’t mind me asking, what do they mean?"

"In the war they reminded me of home. I’ve been home for a while and now they remind of the war."


"That’s a complicated thought," says Jessica.

She rolls up her jeans and shows me her ankle, "It's an orange blossom," she says, “Not quite finished."

"Nice drawing," I say.

I bolt myself back together again. I sit on the stairs and Jessica sits next to me. We cannot see the birds in the holly tree but they sound drunk and hungry.

"Most people must have no idea,” she says. “Being in a war and all."


"I’m still a dairy farmer," I say. "Just try to use what the navy taught me.”

Jessica sets her hand on my knee. "Leif has cold feet," she says. "He wants to go sliding scale. Can you believe that?"

I smell cucumber conditioner. The sour odor from her underarms. "What, Leif a commie?"

"He does not understand simple things.”

"He must be a real tiger," I say. “Wild animals do not dream of things like profit."

"He's going to be an architect, Johnny. He studies churches."

I look sternly into Jessica's eyes. “Scares the hell out of me to sleep at night. River-rats," I say. "Can you believe that? We called ourselves river-rats.”

"I'm so sorry," says Jessica.

"Don't be."

Leif bounces at the end the diving board. Jessica squeezes my hand.

"I dare you," I shout to Leif.

"I dare you," Jessica laughs.

"The water is green," says Leif.

"You're a tiger, a real tiger," I say.

"Twenty-two hungry green monsters hide in the water.” I grip Jessica’s skinny leg and check my watch.

“Oh, my. Oh, my,” says Jessica.


*****



It’s 15:56 PM. Jessica is floating with my three aunties over the tomato vines. I grab Leif’s limp hand and pull him into office where my mother made business deals. I set a foot the first rung of a ladder. Leif’s eyes sparkle at the dome.

"Abbott Suger was the first architect to use rib vaulting this way. See how the dome molds the light - directs it downward? In a few minutes you'll see.”

I climb the ladder. “It's awful warm up here. Is it cool down there?"


"Very pleasant," says Leif.

When I reach the tip-top and balance myself the only way I know how, I remove my sport jacket and fling it to the floor. "This window represents the culmination of Gothic architecture. Just think, Leif. Here is Reims. Here is Chartres and here is Amiens. Now close your eyes and imagine what must have traveled through the minds of those great architects who wore cotton frocks and sandals. It's time for your coronation, Leif. I say step forward into the pool of light."


I peel the shirt from my shoulders and reveal my cherry blossom tattoos. My calves are trembling. My heart is racing. Sweat beads from the pores at my forehead and the sun is in the precise position now. It shines through the rose window to spotlight this prospective buyer. "We are no longer talking about matter here, but rather the immaterial, Leif. Pure drawing, pure idea, pure beauty. Now take your step forward. You are looming above the congregation in a blaze off light. Glory! Leif. Glory! You are a man of ideal proportions in the circle and the square and therefore in touch with the cosmic order of the universe.”

I peer down. I see this prospective buyer drafting his place in society. In this neighborhood. In this very house. Mama’s house. Not my mama’s house! Not anything that belongs to mama.

“Sliding scale, come on Leif. Sliding scale! You are the perfect man, the most perfect!”

“Chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro,” I shout.

“Caravaggio. Caravaggio!” I say.

"Thank you," says Leif. “Thank you.”

I wobble as fast as I can down the ladder. But Jessica and Leif peel out of the driveway. Corvair tires burn rubber against the asphalt. Cloud of smoke. And I feel relieved they are gone. Waiting for the ground to rumble I gathered my thoughts at the dining room table. Short of air, gulping, groping for the right words to say to my aunties, I begin a sigh.


*****



Mama was not a superstitious woman. How are rocks formed? Are mountains born? Do rivers die? She said they must erode and dry up for biological and physical reasons. I weep again. Mother found freedom in milking her own cows. And she despised athletics. She wanted me to leave her but not to such a great distance. Where would Mother go? What would she say? Well, I want to climb into my little car right now and make my way down the volcano, Momma. I want to go to my apartment on the fifth floor. I want to go to my chairs and to my kitchen table and to my little room.

“Are you OK?” Momma.

“Give me just a minute.”

“Are you OK?”

I stride to the backyard again. I sit for a while and wait for my aunties to choose their favorite stones under the shade and quiet of the pear tree...



THE END


2017 Dan Korgan

Bio: Dan Korgan works as an associate teacher at Monarch School for Autism in Cleveland Ohio where he uses horticulture as therapy. Jane Bowles is his favorite writer. And he loves cooking.

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.