The orchard on Columbus Day, teeming with families. A school holiday. Cider and pie and apples. There was a bluegrass trio sawing away and some hippyish kids, unkempt and happy, watched over by their smug parents, dancing their little pagan dances. JJ and Lila, childless and unmarried, neither here nor there, wandered through with cups of strong coffee in paper cups. A grayish day but not too cold. Leaves, yellow, orange, and red, bright against the overcast sky, grass still green and the smell of fall everywhere. A good rich soulful smell, evocative of time passing, making up for the odor-free death-zone of winter to come. JJ’s favorite time of year.
JJ asked, “Ever think of having kids?”
Lila looked at him. “Sometimes I think it would be nice to already have them. But it takes two to tango.”
“Yeah. You’re talking about sex.”
“Do you want to talk about sex?”
JJ was thinking about sex, that’s for sure. As they walked through the orchard, he stole glances at Lila and tried to put out a certain vibe. Hungry, but not desperate. He tried to send out smoke signals, instead of flaming arrows meant to pierce a covered wagon of pioneers.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
His heart did a leap and a twist. In all their on and off years, he had never wanted her more. They had come close almost a year ago. But a deer got impaled on an iron fence and that killed the moment.
“We came close last year,” he said.
“That’s what worries me. Some force is against us. Every time we try…”
“The deer was a freak thing.”
“Yeah, well, what about the other times? The fire in the old school bus? Or that hobo and the heart attack?”
“That wasn’t a hobo. That was Brad. And he survived.”
They both watched a tall man, dressed for an outing from an LL Bean catalog, devour an entire apple, core and all, in four bites. Then he did it again, with gusto, while watching his gypsy children dance to the fiddle.
Lila asked, “What do you think about people who eat the whole apple, core and all?”
“I think it’s arrogant. I think such people are unreliable.”
“You don’t think it shows a certain hunger, a devil-may-care attitude, taking life by the horns?”
“Apple eating is not bungee jumping. Show some fucking respect.”
Lila turned to him. “Do you have a certain hunger? Right now?”
He almost fainted. Mouth dry, he croaked out, “Yes. I have a certain hunger.”
“Then let me buy you an apple,” she said and turned away with a flash of hair, walking toward the stand. She looked back over her shoulder and beckoned with her eyes and he realized he was frozen on the spot, gawking at her jeans with those hips up in there. “Come on.”
They went to the bins of apples. Cortlands, empires, macs, and macouns. Lila picked out a large macoun and showed JJ. “How’s this one?”
She could’ve held up an apple the size of a radish and he would have said it was a good one. Lila picked another and went to pay. He stood and watched, entranced, holding back the worry, trying to outrun the tacklers of fate with a stiff-arm out behind. Things were headed in the right direction. He felt good in the world, more comfortable in his skin. There wasn’t the old morbid desperation to sabotage, to tear it all down. They were in the red zone, a touchdown within reach. He just had to cross the goal line.
Lila was back next to him. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “Take me to your farm.”
No settling for a field goal this time. Four down territory. They had moved down the field with precision and flare. Fate was tired, hands on hips, gasping for air. What could possibly go wrong?