“Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star…” ~ E.E. Cummings
I have not seen the Orchard Man for months, but I was not surprised when he walked out of the rain and gloom the night before last.
There had been a thunderstorm after midnight, which woke me right towards its end. Apparently I had slept solidly through the storm’s worst. As the rest of our little family snuggled down to go back to sleep I crept out onto the back veranda, where I sat in my rocking chair, looking out over the gardens and the citrus orchard which span the hill behind our farmhouse.
I had sat there in the dark perhaps ten minutes when the Orchard Man came. He was dressed in long heavy pants and a thick checked shirt. In one hand he carried a lantern. He stopped just by the magnolia tree, less than ten feet away from me, seemingly unaffected by the downpour.
“Good Evening,” he said unexpectedly. His voice was warm and his accent vaguely Irish.
I was so surprised that I stopped rocking. The Orchard Man had never interacted with me before.
“My name is John,” he continued. “And this time here, I see you are Nicole.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am.” I was so bound up with excitement and curiosity I could barely get the words out.
“You’ve scant rememberings,” John smiled. “‘Tis how it should be. But you’re of the line. You know you carry the gifts.”
I nodded. A barn owl swooped down and landed nearby.
We both looked over to it. He cleared his throat.
“We’re known to each other, you see. Alice, who came to visit you and your sister; me, who came to follow Alice. We’re all soul kin. You’d be wanting to call us a Soul Group. We are each connected and we come through the line, together, or connected between this space and yours over and over through time and space.”
I felt it. I felt his words deep within me. I knew them to be true. And I felt something else, so sharp, so painful that my eyes pricked with tears. “I have no children, ” I said. “The line stops with me.”
“Aye. In the tree of this family the line stops with you. And it is as was planned, although you no longer remember. But that is not how a soul group works. We are threaded through the bloodlines of this wider family, and we will continue to reappear through the line as oft suits us. Younger souls, older souls – all helping each other, all growing and learning and becoming. Over and over again. Having no children in this life does not conclude the line, only this small branch of the tree.”
I couldn’t stop the tears that ran down my cheeks. I’d always thought that one day I would be a mother, and though I am resigned to it, part of me still aches that it will never be.
“You and I, we are gardeners tending the family line. We prune a branch here and there so that the tree may grow strong and true. There isn’t only this. We are eternal. You are eternal. We all endure. We all go on. And love, love binds us all. There’s no harm done in this line stopping here. It shall go on somewhere else in this vast old tree. We are always connected, and you are never, ever alone.”
I sniffled, and tried a smile. “Are you waiting for Alice?”
“Yes,” he smiled too, “but I was also waiting for you. It’s nearly your time, you see.”
I knew he didn’t mean dying. I can feel it too. This idea that something big is about to happen. I can feel it swelling within me, but I can’t put voice or shape to that thing yet.
I looked up and he was gone.
Another owl flew over and perched above me.
I will wait. And I will be patient. Because it’s coming, and that’s why I signed up for this life…
All is well.
We are never alone. And we are much loved. I know that with my whole heart.