We end an incredible month of short stories: flash fiction, pushing genre labels, and magical realism, with a week spent examining dramatic structure. Our Short Story Month has celebrated the ways in which stories work in many forms, but what of the traditionally composed tale? Toward that aim we give you, “The Orchard” by Matthew McKenzie Davis. This story follows classic Freytag, and is a wonderful example of how emotional tension and theme come to life as traditional plot structure moves forward. These characters are as real as they come, fully imagined in a world filled with compassion, mistakes, and regret.
by Matthew McKenzie Davis
At the edge of the orchard, Sonny asked Jason to stop the truck so they could examine the gutted remains of his house. The roof had collapsed, and what had been the living room and kitchen were now piles of cinder and charred lumber. Sonny tried the drawers in the roll-top desk by the front door where he’d kept his papers, but the blackened wood did not give. He sat on the edge of the desk and lit one of the thin cigars he carried in the front pocket of his shirt, the lighter unsteady in his shaking hands. It was the first time he’d been back since the night of the fire.
“Still don’t seem real to me.” Jason was rail thin, but had a voice that carried. “I had the TV and stereo right there.” He pointed at a corner buried beneath plywood and shingles, then pivoted and took four long strides, measuring the distance. “The door to the kitchen was right about here. I had the screen turned so I could see it all the way to the refrigerator.”
Sonny had taken Jason in after he was released from prison the previous summer. When his daughter, Lydia, heard the news, she called to declare that the entire family opposed the idea of him habitating with a convicted felon. Sonny replied with the truth as he saw it: his grandson was a good kid caught up with the wrong people. The same thing had happened to Jason’s father when he was this age. “But my brother never stole from you,” Lydia hissed. “And he was certainly never a drug addict.”
They repeated this argument when Sonny hired Jason to work on his land after the fire. The doctor ordered a month of rest to heal the shoulder Sonny separated in his escape from the burning house, and his daughter installed him in one of her spare bedrooms to make sure he followed orders. When Sonny asked her to pick up cash so he could pay Jason for feeding the cattle, she said, “Why don’t you just deduct what he’s owed from the $10,000 he already stole from you?” Sonny tried to explain again that Jason’s ex-girlfriend had stolen the checks, and that the police had only blamed him because of the blood relation. Lydia called Sonny an old sap. “His handwriting is all over those checks,” she said. “I have the photocopies in the closet anytime you want to look.” Sonny dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “You can’t tell anything from that chicken scratch. You see what you want to see.”
SHORT STORY MONTH
To read the rest of “The Orchard” click, here.