Fiction logo

Verdigris

by CJ Miller 3 months ago in Short Story · updated about a month ago

Vermont. 1965.

Farewell, budding summer

Bittersweet

Come winter's chill

My longing replete

Raised amid God's greenest pastures, I attended the county fair every August of my bucolic youth. Though most have since faded into a haze of caramel and edible cotton, the summer of '65 remains sovereign, a period in which the world conspired to unfold in plain view, revealing avenues unconsidered.

A quiet child of nine, I spent the previous school term fending off bullies and my own burgeoning insecurity. Back then, we didn't discuss anxiety with such incisive introspection. One simply went about his business, ignoring the queasy hum in the pit of his gut. By the time the weather turned thick and slow, that pit and I were old pals.

My grandfather Bill, always Pop to us kids, was a respectable gent of fifty-eight. While we were humble folk, he favored his nicest hat for taking in the exhibits, arguing that a man represents kin when out on the town. I believe he secretly intended to do Gram's memory proud. Shyness at full tilt, I almost holed up under the covers, but he insisted we end the season with a bang. "You can't let the bastards knock you down, Jamie."

Thank goodness his wisdom prevailed. I can still recall, damn near to the last stitch, the swirling tops of canvas tents, the way the wheel loomed as it spun through a sky of puffy white. Fried dough wafted and candied apples, red as slippers from Oz, tantalized. There were petting zoos, games galore, and enough grub to make one pleasantly ill. It was a fleeting dream come true.

In the center of it all was a pear tree, Ashford's claim to fame. Having survived many a northern storm, it grew by its lonesome in the middle of the grounds, tall and sturdy with welcoming limbs. Nobody had ever encountered one of such scope, and thus they made it our star, arranging attractions in deference to nature's grandeur.

Even with the plethora of treats for sale, boys and girls would scramble to gather its fallen yield, squabbling over each piece, for there were never enough to go around. I looked on from a distance, envious as jade but weary after too many blows from classmates.

Pop must've noticed my reticence. Leaving no room for protest, he hoisted me onto brawny shoulders and strolled in the direction of the promised land. From that altitude, I could see the valley and what lay beyond, verdant hills rolling and peaking towards Heaven's gate. He maneuvered beneath the mighty branches, searching for something ripe and low. "That one. To the left with the long stem. Can you manage it?"

Though initial attempts floundered, third time's the charm proved veracious. Stretching with all my might, I wrested the swollen bulb free from its parentage. "That's my boy!" Pop cheered, causing the crowd to take notice. There was a smattering of applause at the sight of my spoils; I must've beamed brighter than the noontime rays.

Once my feet were firmly planted back on earth, I shined up my prize against a checkered shirtsleeve, ready to indulge in that first piercing bite. Before I could proceed, Pop interrupted, crouching so that our eyes were level. "You know the legend of this tree, don't you, son? That's not any ol' hunk of fruit."

"It isn't?" I asked, staring with rapt attention.

"No, sir! This tree is bewitched. If you eat a pear that's been kicking around in the dirt, you'll be charmed for a day. But if you can steal one of these babies right off its arm? You're in store for a lifetime of dancing with Lady Luck."

I offered him a nibble so we could share in my blessings. Selfless to a fault, he declined, insisting I deserved each morsel. That moment haunts me, any residual naïveté giving birth to thoughts of what if... When finished, face covered in juice and a smile, I stuck the tawny stem into my pocket, checking to confirm its presence. This was a motion I would come to know intimately.

We visited the fortune-telling booth next, a shadowy mix of crushed velvet and sweet-smelling fog. Her legion of bracelets jangling, the woman inside declared I would soon turn foes into friends. Astonished, I left with a pep in my step.

It didn't take much effort for the pear's magic to surface after that. We tried our hand at the shooting range. I came away with a model airplane. We were waiting for the merry-go-round when a stranger offered up her ticket, allowing me to ride twice. By the time my mother kissed me goodnight, I felt imbued with potential from bow to stern.

•••

The kids at school matured to a manageable degree, and those who didn't knew to steer clear. I developed a talent for art and music, exploring both with equal gusto. By the following year, I'd grown three inches and was chosen for little league. I attributed every last smile and gain to the tree's influence, still toting my souvenir wherever I went.

The month before I turned twelve, Pop was stricken with chest pain and taken to the hospital. One day he was working in the fields, the next he was struggling to breathe. If only anatomical hearts were as resilient as their metaphors. I stayed by his side when permitted, praying that my luck would hold out.

When the doctors said he was gone, I didn't know how to react. It was like hearing someone had burned a half-read book you knew contained all the answers. I never thanked him enough for shaping my destiny. Snot-nosed and lost, I told my father of my regrets.

"You changed things, Jamie. You created richer days through perseverance. That's all Pop wanted for you."

"You don't believe in the legend?"

"There was no legend, kiddo. You were having a rough go of it. He made that up to encourage you."

"But... I've been happier ever since."

"Because you believed it would work. Where some matters are concerned, reality is limited only by what we decide to do with it."

I don't know that everybody can pinpoint the moment childhood became unmoored, but this was it for me. That threshold is a one-way portal.

We buried him beside my gram on a balmy Tuesday in September. I placed the pear stem in his open palm, positioning his fingers into a fist for safe passage. It was the most precious thing I owned of any tangibility. I wanted it to keep him company as he flew over the mountains and returned to whatever waits behind the horizon line.

I was uncertain then, just as I sometimes am now, of how to carry on without his anchoring voice, but solid roots find a way.

Short Story

CJ Miller

Receive stories by CJ Miller in your feed
CJ Miller
Read next: "Images"

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2021 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.