Counting in Three’s

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Five

Your mother was fond of saying things don’t always happen, but when they do, they always happen in three’s. So you learned very young to count events, not apples or sticks or stones, on your fingers. When you got to three, you’d start all over again. When your mother picked peaches, you only knew there were many. You’d watch her shake them out from her apron into an old tin tub full of water, kerplunk, kerplunk, kerplunk. She swished them ’round and ’round, then left them to dry under the sun that gave them their blush. Later, she brought them into the kitchen, lined them up like a marching band on the gingham oilcloth next to a knife, a cutting board, and a rag to clean up the spills. Jars boiled away on the wood stove. Things happened, as they do, and the peach jam jars gathered dust in the cellar. On your sixteenth birthday, the day you’d hoped your father would bring you a necklace with three charms you’d always begged him for — a ladder, a star, and a kitten, he never came (#1). Mother shook her head, trooped down to the basement, wiped the dust from a jar, brought it upstairs, and took an angel food cake out of hiding from the cupboard. She was muttering always in three’s as she spread the peach jam on top of the cake, so you stiffened when she called out your name and the kettle screamed and grandmother flopped over in her chair and spun down to her rag rug, her cigarette spiraling after (#2). In the excitement over the cake and Nana’s tumble and the call to the volunteer ambulance, no one else noticed the burning ember, but you can’t forget, all these years later, how the whole house caught fire (#3), how flames scorched the pink ballet shoes that hung over your dresser mirror (#1), how you and your sister and your mother had to bury your grandmother and the char of your kitten under a sky that would soon be starry, Nana and Mittens interred together in a hole so inky and deep surely no ladder could touch the bottom (#2). Two weeks later, lightning struck the peach tree (#3). You broke off a piece of the charred bark to use in sixth period art. You sketched a peach tree laden with fruit, a mother slicing peaches, a Lucky Strike smoldering on an old rag rug, and a grave pit so deep and dark and dense you tore the newsprint and the teacher scowled. But the stars, the stars were still shining, too numerous to count, and just down the road, a peach tree sapling swayed in an open field.

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