“You tell her about your sisters and their boyfriends, how they would hide in the back of the grove, give you a dollar not to tell your parents. You tell her about how you’d watch them on the bus, the way they’d blush when the boys nudged them or made a joke.”
Of Rugs and Lemons by Hannah McSorley
You tell her about the lemon trees, about the bright yellow bursting forth from the vibrant leaves, about how you used to lay beneath their branches while your Mom hung sheets on the clothesline.
You tell her about climbing the lemon trees, about daring your brother to eat the rind, and laughing as he winces through the texture. You tell her about the fort that you and your sisters made with clean sheets despite the punishment you’d receive the next day. How you hung the sheets from branch to branch, with twigs sticking out of the top of the structure like antlers. You tell her how you sat circled in the fort with your sisters in the middle of the night, held hands and told ghost stories. How you’d race back to the house so the spirits you’d conjured couldn’t grab you. How in the morning the fort would be cleansed by the early light curling through the branches. How you thought the grove was impregnable, safe beyond elsewhere in the world.
You do not tell her that you’ll take her there.
You tell her about your sisters and their boyfriends, how they would hide in the back of the grove, give you a dollar not to tell your parents. You tell her about how you’d watch them on the bus, the way they’d blush when the boys nudged them or made a joke. You tell her about the girl in your fifth-grade class with golden hair like light through the lemon tree branches. You tell her you didn’t know enough to label the way your stomach jumped behind your spine, pushed the rest of you ahead, when she talked, or even just looked your way.
You do not tell her that when your Dad found you in the grove with your first girlfriend he grabbed an axe and cut the lemon trees down one by one. That he didn’t even tell your Mom when he came back inside, that he expected you not to look for somewhere else to go, and he expected you to find someone else to love. You don’t tell her that this was the first time you thought that there was something wrong with what you felt.
You do not tell her about the time, ten years later, when you peeled the skin from your sour heart, laid bare all that left you quiet, silent, scared. You do not tell her that your parents examined the past for bugs or mold or disfigurement that they might have caused or missed within you, that they handed you a backpack and some cash and said goodbye, until you would choose differently. You do not tell her that your siblings have split half and half, siding one way or another, defending your parents or fighting them to bring you home. You do not tell her that you do not want to go home. You don’t tell her that you feel at home already.
“When will you take me there?” She asks, pulls the sheets over her shoulder against the night leaking through the window.
You think, I will take you there in word and story, point out light and color that takes me back to the grove that no longer stands. But you say, “Someday.”
She nods and takes a deep breath.
She tells you about a rug in the living room of her childhood home. She tells you how her parents got it in Istanbul before she was born. She tells you about the way her Dad used to stand on it, hold onto her arms and spin her around so her feet lifted from the ground. She tells you about how they used to dance on the rug. How her parents would go to fancy parties, and her Mom would lay down on it when she finally took her heels off at the end of the night.
She tells you about the river behind her house, about the one-hundred-year flood that leaked into her home, soaked the rug with mud and leeches. She tells you how her parents were so upset, they cut a tiny piece of the rug, put it in a vacuum sealed bag, and framed it in the living room where it once laid.
She tells you that when she stood in the driveway, holding hands with her first girlfriend, her Mom stepped onto the porch for only a moment before stepping back inside. She tells you how she sat on the driveway, in that liminal space between before and after, too scared to go in the house.
She tells you that when she finally went inside her parents were huddled around the desktop, with the framed piece of that rug in hand. Her Mom turned around first, then her Dad. She tells you they were looking for a rug like the one they’d lost so that one day when she bought a home and built a life, they could pass down the rug, and the love and laughter that seeped into its symbolic fibers.
Hannah McSorley is a recent graduate from SUNY Geneseo in upstate, NY, with a degree in English Literature. Her writing has previously been published in Crabfat Magazine, Gandy Dancer, and Eastern Iowa Review.
This piece was sponsored by Allie Blum as a part of our Nonstop Beginning of 2019 Fundraiser.