My mother left
the first time in late spring
of that same year
We stood on the front steps, my older sister holding my one-year-old brother, my little sister beside me
. Then my father
, my anchor, tears streaming down his face.
All the land
spread out before me, all my previous escape routes, and I could not now run away. There was no safe haven from the reality of her leaving
The metal links of the swings in front of their bedroom windows, beneath my favorite tree
, clinking. The tree, crawling with ants, along the soft bark. The ribbed edges of the leaves
. The leaves
new and soft on the branches. And beyond that, the rows of old Jonathan trees
, the buds just gone. The trees old and twisted; though my father pruned
them, they grew along their own curves. Down the hill in the front lawn to the large trees beside Star Route, with their fingery twigs, and in the autumn, brown dirt-smelling leaves
in piles. Farther than we were allowed to go, our property sloping onto the road below.
Beyond the highway, other orchards
, newly blossomless
. The irrigation pond
we couldn’t wade in, the fig
tree with its roots in the water. The lush pasture, sparsely cowed. The Navarro River
wide and bridgeless, cutting through the farm. Acres of trees and dirt and seeds and tomato seedlings in fish emulsion
across the river from us. The grove crowded with old-growth redwoods
. The state woods beyond.
The sun was already disappearing behind the ridge
. The air was beginning to cool. The hot smells of dry grass and of the redwood steps, the cooling air, the angle of the sun, the empty expanse of sky
, suddenly sharpened
reversed our red station wagon
, eased down the driveway, and turned east.
We stood still, exposed
, framed by the living room window, its drawn curtains baring the house to the street outside. It was the first time I’d seen my father cry
, and I wanted to put my arms around him
. I remained frozen instead, beside my sisters and brother, gazing at the stretch of road where she had just been.
from The Book of Revelation
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