Cultivation of Prosperity
Fiction Short Story
I gaze longingly out the window of the rusty teal pickup my sister is driving. She smiles as she chews a toothpick in the corner of her mouth. She drives with one hand, her left arm hanging out the window. We hit a bump and the bed of the truck jumps up and down. Through the open window I see trees whizzing by, heavy with fruit.
It’s mid-August, and the farms are working tirelessly to harvest and supply the local markets. The one we are visiting also hosts visitors, anyone who wants to come and pick by the pound. The endless grassy fields are populated by a multitude of fruit trees, from peaches to plums, apples to pears.
“So what’re you planning to pick today?” my sister asks, tonguing her toothpick back and forth in her mouth. “Plums,” I pledge, “Same as always.” She knows how much I love coming to the farm, so she always teases me. Coming here as a family, we would run up and down the rows of trees playing tag or hide and seek. On the massive property it was easy to get lost. We hid behind the trunks of the larger trees, or climb up a few branches to stay out of sight. One time I climbed high enough to see the entire pear orchard. It looked endless. The rows went on and on, vanishing with the horizon. I will never forget that day, I felt like a bird in the sky. I was perched in a place where no one could get me, and where my sister certainly could not find me. It was late summer then, and some trees were beginning to yellow on top, as if they were wearing amber coloured hats.
Mom and Dad couldn’t make it this year, they left yesterday to visit Nan in the hospital. Today it is just Lily and I here to pick bushels of plums to bring to her. Lily got her full license last summer, so it’s our first trip to the orchard on our own. Nan is in no condition for canning, but at least she will have the joy of fresh fruit.
We turn off the main road down the dirt path that leads to the farm, passing under the rusted metal archway that reads “Leslie’s Orchards”. Leslie could never pick all the produce himself, so he just employs the public to come for their share. Whatever you can carry you can gladly take off his hands.
After Leslie’s wife died, he opened the farm up to everyone. It must have gotten lonely out there with all those trees and no one to enjoy them with. It’s all the better for us, because we can visit every year and never tire of our tradition.
Leslie’s grandfather planted the orchards at the turn of the last century, adding a new field of fruit every year. A couple hundred years later the farm has become a landmark for our little town. I wish I could have been here back when they planted these trees. I can only wonder what the land looked like. I’m sure the sun scorched the backs of the men that tilled the earth, labouring long to prepare the soil.
Lily pulls into the parking lot and kills the engine of our old Dodge. “I think it’s best we split up,” she affirms, “I’ll meet you at the pear field around noon.”
When we were kids, we would always stay together, running up and down the rows in matching denim skirts. We would scream with laughter when we collided. That’s all over now. It’s more efficient to split up anyway, it gives us more time to think.
I peer up at row upon row of leafy green trees lining the field. They are adorned with imperfect orbs of delicate sweetness. Some are small, round and golden, like the glow of the adoring sun that created them. Others are ovoid and deep purple in colour. The clustered gems decorate the emerald foliage. They hang elusively. So plentiful, yet just out of my reach. Their dark mottled hue reminds me of a Persian rug I used to play on as a child. I would roll over on its scratchy soft surface and laugh, soaking up its plush colour. I feel a similar way now, soaking up the comforting memory as the trees do the sunlight. There is a sense of safety in this place. The closeness of the trees protects me, and the hawk circling in the bright blue sky overhead will warn me of visitors. The warm wind kisses my face as it gently blows through the orchard.
The grass has been flattened into a narrow path from those who walked before me. I move off the trodden trail and stop beneath a tree of violet plums with blue shadows. I stare up between the branches. A black-capped chickadee in a neighboring tree chirps out a jubilant “dee-dee-dee”. The sun filters through the leaves and branches, scattering sunbeams along the tall grass. I look up, star gazing at a night sky of boundless fruit. The suspended little planets transport me to a universe of plenty. Staring back at me from their stems, they are dressed in waxy green leaves. The branches of the tree are curved to smile down at me. I wonder to myself if anyone else notices things as I do, seeing each tiny detail and almost feeling what I can see.
I crouch as I come out from under the tree to scan the fruit. I choose one just out of my reach. It is rare for me to challenge myself this way, but I feel like it must be this one. It is large and a deep purple, swelled with so much juice that the skin appears taut and ready to burst. I’m not going to let it get away. After years of returning to this place, I must finally prove I can obtain the high up fruit. Lily never thought I could, and my parents would tell me it was too dangerous. Now I’ll show them. I devise a plan to capture my pick. Jumping is not an option. After a few failed attempts at defying gravity, I decide to shake the branches. No luck, so I spring and as I clamp onto a branch some leaves flutter to the ground. Holding firmly to the branch I pull hard, bending my knees and lowering to the grass. With both hands clasped, I start to release the grip of my right hand to grasp the plum. Pulling down and reaching up, I strain to keep my eyes on the focus of my desire. Slowly my fingers inch closer and closer as the branch lowers so slowly it feels like it will never come. At last my fingers graze the skin and I stretch just a little bit further and grab the plum firmly, pulling down as I pull it from the branch. I jump backwards as the branch whizzes upward and grazes my nose. It springs back to its resting place and shakes some leaves free. I admire the plum, smooth and warm in my hand.
After the tree settles back and is rustled only by the gentle wind, I notice Leslie harvesting across the path. He smiles, beckoning me from his ladder leaning against a plum tree. Walking toward him I marvel at his basket brimming with amethyst jewels. He cultivates treasure in this grassy field. As I reach the bottom of his ladder, he steps down and hands another to me. This time it is a golden yellow, a small sun in my hands. I accept it with eager readiness. When he gives me a knowing smile, I notice a cheerful glimmer in eyes of his wrinkled face. I bite through the thin skin of the fruit and taste its muted sweetness. The flesh is firm and gelatinous. As I chew it, I feel a growing gratitude toward this man and the endless reward of his cultivation of prosperity.
Illustrations by Aankshika Bheem
Laura Dalton loves to read and write. She is in her third-year studying journalism at Ryerson University, where she especially enjoys the vivid details of long-form feature writing.
She wrote Cultivation of Prosperity for a creative writing class. “The inspiration came from one of the prompts we were assigned,” said Dalton, “[It] helped foster that idea and that creativity.”
At Etobicoke Civic Centre farmer’s market near her house, Dalton completed a photography project showcasing the beautiful array of fruits sold there. “I don’t want to say it’s a happy place but it's sort of a happy place,” she said. This became the inspiration for her to write her short story.
“It's so colourful there,” said Dalton, “The visual that sticks with me are baskets filled with whatever fruit you want — peaches, plums, it's just giant baskets. It's really satisfying.”
After her time in Ryerson’s journalism program, Dalton said she wants to pursue a career in broadcast, but hinted that she might like to write a novel someday.