But the lemons have never worked. At best, they give us eight hours of peace. We aren't talking about the lemons.
"Longer than I've let on. I'm sorry."
"Well, maybe it's this crop. Those Alberti boys haven't been fertilizing properly, maybe the primofiore will turn out better."
Magreb fixes me with one fish-bright eye. "Clyde, I think it's time for us to go."
Wind blows the leaves apart. Lemons wink like a firmament of yellow stars, slowly ripening, and I can see the other, truer night behind them.
"Go where?" Our marriage, as I conceive it, is a commitment to starve together. "We've been resting here for decades. I think it's time . . . what is that thing?"
I have been preparing a present for Magreb, for our anniversary, a "cave" of scavenged materialsnewspaper and bottle glass and wooden beams from the lemon tree supportsso that she can sleep down here with me. I've smashed dozens of bottles of fruity beer to make stalactites. Looking at it now, though, I see the cave is very small. It looks like an umbrella mauled by a dog.
"That thing?" I say. "That's nothing. I think it's part of the hot dog machine."
"Jesus. Did it catch on fire?"
"Yes. The girl threw it out yesterday."
"Clyde." Magreb shakes her head. "We never meant to stay here forever, did we? That was never the plan."
"I didn't know we had a plan," I snap. "What if we've outlived our food supply? What if there's nothing left for us to find?"
"You don't really believe that."
"Why can't you just be grateful? Why can't you be happy and admit defeat? Look at what we've found here!" I grab a lemon and wave it in her face.
"Good night, Clyde."
I watch my wife fly up into the watery dawn, and again I feel the awful tension. In the flats of my feet, in my knobbed spine. Love has infected me with a muscular superstition that one body can do the work of another.
I consider taking the funicular, the ultimate degradationworse than the dominoes, worse than an eternity of sucking cut lemons. All day I watch the cars ascend, and I'm reminded of those American fools who accompany their wives to the beach but refuse to wear bathing suits. I've seen them by the harbor, sulking in their trousers, panting through menthol cigarettes and pacing the dock while the women sea-bathe. They pretend they don't mind when sweat darkens the armpits of their suits. When their wives swim out and leave them. When their wives are just a splash in the distance.
Tickets for the funicular are twenty lire. I sit at the bench and count as the cars go by.
That evening, I take Magreb on a date. I haven't left the lemon grove in upward of two years, and blood roars in my ears as I stand and clutch at her like an old man. We're going to the Thursday night show at an antique theater in a castle in the center of town. I want her to see that I'm happy to travel with her, so long as our destination is within walking distance.
A teenage usher in a vintage red jacket with puffed sleeves escorts us to our seats, his biceps manacled in clouds, threads loosening from the badge on his chest. I am jealous of the name there: GUGLIELMO.
The movie's title is already scrolling across the black screen: SOMETHING CLANDESTINE IS HAPPENING IN THE CORN!
Magreb snorts. "That's a pretty lousy name for a horror movie. It sounds like a student film."
"Here's your ticket," I say. "I didn't make the title up."
It's a vampire movie set in the Dust Bowl. Magreb expects a comedy, but the Dracula actor fills me with the sadness of an old photo album. An Okie has unwittingly fallen in love with the monster, whom she's mistaken for a rich European creditor eager to pay off the mortgage on her family's farm.
Excerpted from Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. Copyright © 2013 by Karen Russell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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