Thursday, February 5, 2015

Short One Orchard

When Barney Murphy married Blanche O'Brien, he told her almost every day from the wedding on that she was apricots and peaches, an orchard that was his alone to wander, plucking fruit as he saw fit, all of it ripe and juicy, something he would savor for the rest of his life. Blanche, a shy woman, really liked the way Barney could talk. He made nonsense sensible, she told her parents. Blanche was a very happy wife.

From the sixth month on during her first pregnancy, Blanche would ask Barney every day to pat her watermelon. When it finally burst, a boy popped out, and then a girl right after the boy, and then another boy right after the girl. Blanche had given birth to triplets within minutes of each other, lovely infants, all three of them plump and crowned with hair that ran in rivulets of curls. 

Six additional children, born one at a time over the next 12 years, were just as beautiful. Even the neighbors were amazed at the fecundity of the couple. Some ladies on the block thought Barney should take up bowling. 

"I've certainly got my hands full," Blanche would tell her lady friends but she still seemed happy. Barney remained unperturbed. He earned terrific money as a defense attorney, a vocation to which his rhetorical skills had called him. He tried to find a partner to share the workload but no one could talk the way Barney could. The bigger the crime the more the criminal would pay to hire Barney. 

Life was very good for the productive couple. Their nine children studied hard in school and graduated from college. Unlike the trend today, they all married early and settled down. Blanche was even happier once the last child had married and moved out of the house. It would be another honeymoon with just her and Barney home alone. And it seemed that way until the eve of their Golden Wedding Anniversary. That was the night Barney told her, after a nice dinner at a Russian restaurant, that she--his Blanche--was no longer apricots and peaches. More like prunes and raisins

"Nine children," Blanche said, "can take a toll on a woman." 

"I know, I know!" Barney said, "I'm not blaming you. But this is life. And I'm short one orchard."

Barney pointed out that he had plans to prospect for another orchard. He wanted fresh fruit again, ripe and succulent. For days Blanche was stricken. She couldn't believe Barney would go looking for another woman--or maybe women. But as her mother told her when they were courting, Barney was never meant to be a priest. Still, she had no reason to believe that in 50 years of marriage Barney had ever been unfaithful. Still, the kids had kept her busy and Barney often worked late into the night--or so he said.  

In her youth, Blanche, in addition to being apricots and peaches in the eyes of Barney, had also been in the Olympics twice. She had won five gold and silver medals as an archer, a feat Barney over the years had proudly mentioned many times to any neighbor who would still listen. Frankly, everyone on the block was tired of hearing about Blanche's medals. But thinking it might help keep Barney as her husband, Blanche went looking for and found her ancient bow and arrow in the attic. That night she told Barney she was going to practice for the Senior Olympics. 

The Senior Olympics was something Barney had long wanted Blanche to compete in. He wanted her to win more medals. The price of gold and silver had skyrocketed and he figured another stack of medals would be another insurance policy for retirement. Barney even decided to help Blanche train for the competition, taking time off from work to do so. He set up targets in their big back yard and brought the arrows back to her after she had shot them. 

With Blanche practicing every day, Barney was kept very busy. He was so busy, in fact, that Blanche didn't think he had time to look for any new orchards. In addition, she had begun to regain her old expertise. In fact, she thought it was unlikely any other woman in the over-70 group would be able to beat her. "Bullseye Blanche," as they used to call her, was back in business. 

A month later, however, something happened. The story in the paper and the reporters on TV said it was an accident, a tragedy, one arrow out of hundreds gone astray, a large, loving family heartbroken. 

And the nine kids, all with big families of their own by now, believed it was an accident. Blanche in tears had told them at the time how the arrow had gone awry, had gone right through Barney's left eye and settled in his brain. 

"He dropped like a tree at logging time," she said. 

There was nothing the first responders could do. Barney was pronounced dead at the hospital. All the neighbors turned out for the funeral and took turns bringing Blanche a hot meal every night for weeks. And then the story seemed to die. Blanche wore black for months and months.

Nevertheless, not everyone was satisfied that things had happened exactly as reported. At closing time in a local pub frequented by friends, every now and then, maybe once a week or so, the same drunken neighbor would declare for all to hear: "The cops can't ask old Barney what happened that day. We've heard what Blanche has to say. But Barney can't say a word."

Maybe Barney's death was an accident. One arrow out of hundreds can go astray. Blanche refused to talk about it anymore and would begin to bawl if anyone mentioned Barney's name. She also refused to compete in the Senior Olympics even though her skills had continued to improve right up until the arrow caught Barney's eye. The kids all agreed Barney would have wanted her to compete. But Blanche said no--that to do so would be like putting an arrow in Barney's other eye and there was no need for that now. 

Donal Mahoney

Helpless I do not know if good intentions prevail among the elected, among the appointed, leaving me apprehensive that the fate ...