Salome Magazine
covenant dance chamber archives gatekeeper
LAce Posted Monday, February 11th, 2013
Pick Your Own
Leah Browning

On the first weekend after the surgery, I took my niece to a farm to pick peaches. She was nine years old and liable to ask all manner of uncomfortable questions, so I had braced myself for the worst, but she didnít seem fazed by my appearance.

We parked the car and walked out toward the orchard. A woman wearing a big sun hat was sitting at a folding table, and she gave Heidi a silver bucket for our peaches.

The trees were in neat rows, and we walked past the ones that had already been plucked clean. The ground was covered with dead leaves and rotten fruit, one peach after another broken and mottled by bird bites.

Heidi directed me to a more remote corner of the orchard. She wasnít very tall, but she could reach the lowest branches.

I tried to help, but I was having trouble with my new hands: the fingers didnít bend the way my old ones had. There seemed to be something wrong with the joints, which were too stiff, but I knew that I needed to be patient. The doctor had said that it would take some time to break them in. He had a shoe on the desk in his office, and he picked it up and bent the sole back and forth to demonstrate.

The sun was bothering me, too, and I couldnít seem to get the hang of blinking. The new eyeballs were just a bit bigger than my old ones, and it took more effort to open and close my
eyelids than I was used to.

When Heidi finished picking peaches, she took the bucket back to have it weighed. There was a little wooden farmhouse that served as a sort of country store. In addition to the peaches, I paid for a jar of jam to take back for my sister-in-law, Heidiís mother. The jar had a homey cloth cover that reminded me of my childhood.

At the opposite counter, we ordered two hamburgers and a thick slice of peach pie with a light, flaky crust and a dollop of fresh whipped cream, and we carried the food to one of the picnic tables behind the farmhouse. I couldnít eat much, but Heidi was growing fast, and she finished both hamburgers and the pie. It was hard to remember ever being young enough to eat with such pleasure.

It took me a minute to get out from the picnic table. I was still working on it when Heidi returned from clearing our plates. Sitting is murder on my hips, and I canít begin to describe the pain of standing up again. The pills were wearing off. The sun felt too hot on the back of my neck, and my clothes didnít fit right all of the sudden. The fabric was too bunchy and too tight.

As we walked back to the car, Heidi took my hand. She was carrying the sack of peaches in the crook of her other arm and holding the jar of jam. ďThank you,Ē she said.

I didnít know whether she was thanking me for the trip to the orchards, the peaches and jam, the lunch, or for something else entirely. I wanted to smile and squeeze her fingers,
but nothing would move. My hands, which had been so comfortable and lightweight earlier in the day, now seemed merely ill-fitting.

Heidi had to unlock the car door, and I drove with difficulty, holding the steering wheel with what felt like several layers of rubber gloves. When we pulled into her driveway, I watched
to make sure that Heidiís mother opened the front door when she rang the bell, but I didnít get out of the car.

Before she stepped into the house, Heidi turned back to wave at me. Her hair was a golden flame in the sunlight. It seemed impossible, but I was that same girl, once, waving goodbye to my friend and her father as they dropped me off. The years ran together as I sat in the car, watching myself on the front step.

There was a time when I thought that I would be a young person forever. Even now, the advances in medical science are remarkable. Perhaps by the time Heidi is my age, the surgeons will be able to go in and replace everythingóblood, bones, and all the internal organs, even the heart and mindóand after the scars have healed she will be able not just to look but actually to be young again.

If I could, I thought, I would go back and begin again from that moment on the porch. Forget the two failed marriages, the ovaries like shriveled raisins inside me, all the love and heartbreak.

But then, I would also lose this trip to the orchard and any possible future with Heidi. It had been a year since my brotherís death, and when I imagined giving up his little girl, too, her hair shining in the sunlight, the cost began to seem too great.

The question hovered in front of me, unresolved. I was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything but the bottle of pills waiting for me in the medicine chest at home. Without them, I was in a cloud of pain.

Heidi was still watching me. I could feel the tight little stitches around my lips, so I didnít try to move them. Instead, I raised my glove-hand in an imitation of a friendly wave and drove away, toward the only kind of relief I could imagine.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Donna Levy [ ] on Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 at 8:01 AM
What a fascinating story. I like the way you juxtaposed the setting of an old fashioned farmhouse with the futuristic idea of bionic replacement parts. It makes one wonder about the issue of quality of life vs. extended longevity. Well done. Donnachka

© Copyright 2002 Salome Magazine. All rights reserved. email gatekeeper