In honor of July, an excerpt from "Mayapple," one of a pair of linked stories in Fidelities. The story was first published in the online journal "Ray's Road Review," edited by Chris Duncan whose blog can be accessed at left.
Gerard and Kay are climbing up the wooded hillside, away from the city and the heat and the thickened air shimmering among the buildings, as if the flood-prone river had come up out of its banks into the valley.
The mills are on July shutdown, quenched, joining the permanent rusty silence of so many along the river.
He tries to hide his laboring breaths. Kay climbs without difficulty. She speaks occasionally but firmly, like a tour guide, pointing out a blue damselfly, the shell of a cicada where it had climbed a stem to molt.
“A deer bedded here,” she says, and he nods. The grass is pressed down in an oval space that looks too small for a deer. It looks like a dog’s bed.
Then they are in the place where the may apples bloomed. The leaves droop.
Kay turns them over, finding the yellowish fruit. She picks two and hands one to him.
“Here, Adam, it can’t hurt you.”
He takes it between his thumb and forefinger, remembering tales that it was a tonic to heal all, that it was a poison by degrees.
“Is it safe?”
“Don’t trust a country girl?” She nibbles at her fruit. “I used to eat these all the time.”
One side of her mouth curls higher than the other as she smiles, a rueful look.
Gerard stands outside himself, an artist considering his self-portrait. A soft man, with thinning sandy hair and weak shoulders. A man without distinction. Softening from within around the lie in his flesh, like poison in the fruit.
He bites into the may apple, trembling with fatigue or his own recklessness. The taste is wild, astringent, spicy, with an overtone of carrion -- at once sweet and bitter, hidden, to be found out.