Zack has never fit in with the rest of his family, and for as long as he can remember, he has experienced strange nightmares of a shadowy man. His therapist, Nancy, says these dreams are his subconscious mind’s way of trying to reveal something, but Zack isn’t so sure. After all, what could nightmares filled with tigers and apple orchards possibly mean? Luckily, he has the beautiful new girl at school to take his mind off his troubles.
For his final assignment in art class, Zack is tasked with showing the darkest depths of his soul, and he knows that his nightmares are the perfect subject for a painting. But when a long-repressed memory from his childhood suddenly surfaces, Zack’s life is thrown into turmoil, and he discovers everything he thought about his family is based on a lie. Zack must finally confront his past before he can have a future free of the secret that haunts him.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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|Age Range:||12 - 16 Years|
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The Tiger Orchard
By Joyce Sweeney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Joyce Sweeney
All rights reserved.
The smell of gasoline. So strong and so sweet. Is he hanging upside down? Then something silver running by, very fast. Yards of silver satin. Ice, maybe. The Man's voice says, "It's only fair ..." Zachary looks at himself in a mirror. A tiny little mirror. Four years old, blond, freckles, hair blowing in the wind. "Hey!" says the Man, and the mirror disappears.
Then there are trees, tall scary trees like in The Wizard of Oz, throwing apples, but they get past that.
Then they, Zachary and the Man, are in a car, pulling up in front of the house where Zachary used to live. "Wait here," says the Man, and he goes up the steps and into the house.
Zachary is scared for the Man. He's worried. The Man doesn't come back. They're hurting him in there. Zachary has to go to the bathroom. He doesn't like to disobey, but the house is so quiet and he doesn't want to wait. He wants to see if the Man is all right.
The house is silent. Zachary climbs the porch steps and opens the door. The knob is high and hard to turn. He goes into the living room. There's no one there. It's a trap. Then he sees it in the shadows. A Bengal tiger big as a car, walking slowly forward, gazing at Zachary. Coming to eat him.
He feels himself jump back against the door. It's latched and Zachary doesn't want to turn around to work the latch. He's scared of the tiger. It's coming to get him. It's coming to eat him, and Zachary tries to scream, but no scream comes out ...
"Zack! Zack! Hey. It's a dream. It's a dream."
Joshua. Joshua. Always at the end of a nightmare there's poor Josh having to wake him up. Zachary breathes deeply until he's not a little boy anymore but an eighteen-year-old, in a safe suburban bedroom with his sixteen-year-old brother. And no tigers in sight. In the dim light he focuses on Joshua's sweet, virginal face and mussed hair. "It's okay, man," Joshua says, gently prying Zack's fingers from his arm, where they're cutting off the circulation. "It was just a dream."
"Okay," Zack pants. He tries so hard to breathe correctly, he almost wears himself out. "It's okay now. Thanks."
Josh pats him gently. "Anytime."
He means it. Josh is a saint; so patient night after night, getting his sleep disturbed because Zachary has a problem. Zack is the only problem person in the house. Josh and Mom have no problems. They cook dinner together in peaceful silence, like robots. They play piano duets. Zack, with his bad dreams and messy hobbies, stands out.
But Josh is philosophical. He's back in bed now, cuddling down under his spread like a contented baby. Ready to continue his dreams about, what? Maybe musical notes falling around him like autumn leaves. Something gentle like that. Josh has a normal mind. He's no trouble at all.
Zack is trouble. Not that you can tell from his high grade point average or his neat closets and drawers. When he leaves for school in a T-shirt and jeans, there are no outward signs. No one in the senior class at Taravella knows. They think he's a good guy. He's more popular than Josh. Better at sports. Better with girls.
But here at home they know. Josh knows. Mom knows. Nancy, the psychologist, knows. And Zack knows. And that's why he has to stay awake now while Josh sleeps, and turn on the flashlight by his bed and write down the whole dream in a notebook, like those old-fashioned punishments where they make a kid write something a hundred times until he's brainwashed.
Fourth period is a sanctuary. The Temple of Art. That's Mr. Taylor's joke. If there's too much talking and giggling, he raises his perfect eyebrows and says, "Frivolity in the Temple of Art?" He's a nice guy; knows how to laugh at himself. He's brave. Zack thinks it's brave to be an art teacher. Sometime in his life Mr. Taylor must have wanted to be a real painter with shows and galleries, but it didn't happen. It takes guts, Zachary thinks, to help other people get what you missed out on.
Zack needs inspiration. They're supposed to be doing pencil portraits of one another. Mr. Taylor said pick a student who inspires you and draw the inner person. Nobody inspires Zack. He pretends to fuss with his equipment, scanning the room, looking for an inner person that doesn't make him sick. Mr. Taylor looks inspiring, but that would be a bad idea. Zack watches them all, sitting at strange angles to one another, their sketch pads turning into little mirrors of what's going on in the room. It's like an M. C. Escher drawing. Maybe Zack could do that. No, that's not the assignment. Pick some one. Focus on a personality. Zack decides he doesn't like anyone in his art class well enough to spend talent on them. He decides to bring this up with Nancy tonight. Maybe he's antisocial.
Zack is saved by an interruption. The door opens and a strange girl comes into the art room. Zack is inspired. She's wearing three shades of purple; that's the first thing he notices. Her blouse is blue-purple, like lilacs. Her jeans are violet. Around her waist is a band of magenta. Her hair is short and dark and curly, and she has the sweet, valentine face of Spanish and Italian girls. She's short and just a little chubby. All circles. She goes to Mr. Taylor's desk and leans over it, handing him a note. Her violet jeans are snug. Zack has bad thoughts in the Temple of Art.
Mr. Taylor stands up. "If I might break into your divine inspiration for a moment. We have a new student. Clarissa Benedetto."
She has faced the class now, presenting her valentine face and the swell of her lilac blouse. Zack's heart is singing opera. Clarissa Benedetto! Clarissa Benedetto!
"Clarissa is from East Orange, New Jersey," Mr. Taylor says. He turns to Clarissa. "You'll feel right at home here in South Florida."
Everyone laughs but Clarissa, who doesn't know what he means. But she doesn't seem to care, either. She's scanning the room, looking at the kids. Zack is impressed. Most new kids die a thousand deaths under scrutiny. But Clarissa Benedetto is scrutinizing everyone right back.
Mr. Taylor gives her a sketch pad. "Look around the room and find someone who inspires you and make a sketch that reveals the inner person."
Clarissa scans again. She looks directly at Zack.
Yes, yes, mi amore, he encourages her silently.
She walks over and sits down on the floor near him. She smells like lilacs.
Zack is overjoyed but not surprised. People are often attracted to him. In classes teachers lecture to him, comforted by his steady gaze. When he sits in a bus shelter, strangers invariably strike up conversations with him. He always thought that trait was a nuisance, but finally it has paid off. "I'm glad you came over," he says, choosing his pencil. "I couldn't find anybody to draw."
"That's why I chose you," she says. "you looked so lonely over here."
Zack is angry. Was that an insult? He doesn't want her pity! She should see that if he's off in a corner by himself it's because he wants it that way. He would tell her so, too, but she intimidates him. He feels she's maybe psychic or something; has some way of knowing his worst secrets, like the fact that he's hot for her, or that he's concealing insanity. Zack decides not to talk. Whenever he's in doubt, he holds still and does nothing.
"What's your name?" she asks, cocking her head back to look at him.
"That's a good name," she says, beginning to sketch. "Do you like to be called Zack?"
"Yes," he says carefully. "Do you like to be called Clare?"
"No. I like to be called Clarissa. I let a few people call me Clara, but only really special people."
Zack feels she is telling him he will never be one of those people. He feels the most peculiar sense of loss, as if he'd missed an important train. Then he thinks how truly crazy he has become. She's a total stranger and she's jerking his emotions like puppet strings.
Now she's staring at him. "You aren't drawing," she says.
She has pushed him so far, he's almost angry. "I'm having trouble with you," he says coldly. "You're a difficult type."
She laughs. "Leave my personality out of it."
It's a magical incantation. They both laugh and the barrier between them shatters. "That's okay," Zack says. "I'm a difficult type too."
Clarissa Benedetto sucks her pencil. "In that case we better stick together."
He rides home on clouds, elated. Even being crazy isn't so bad now. Nothing will really ever be bad again. Trees are better, grass is better. Zack nears his yard and sees his golden retriever, Sunbeam, on the lawn. It's enough to make him weep. He kneels down and lets the dog run to him and vault into his embrace. "Beamer," he chants, snuggling sun-heated fur. "My best, best, best, best boy. My sweetie-honey-boy." Sunbeam feels the same way, is licking and struggling against Zack's body as if he wanted to push through to the other side. Zack always lavishes love on Beamer, but it's even worse today because he has to get rid of his excess love for Clarissa Benedetto. "Big, blond baby," he tells the dog solemnly. They hold the embrace a long time. Beamer is Zack's dog more than Joshua's because Zack pays more attention to him. Joshua's love is restrained and universal. Zack's is intense and specific. Joshua pats Beamer and says "Good dog." He would never stoop to a phrase like "sweetie-honey-boy."
"I'm in love, buddy," Zack tells his dog. "Don't tell a soul. We blonds have to stick together." That's an old joke. Zack feels a little left out because Josh and Mom are so alike. Zack joked once that the only person in the family he looked like was the dog, but Mom didn't think it was funny. "Her name is Clarissa Benedetto," he continues, leading the dog toward the house. "Wait till you see her. She's like a Botticelli angel. Are you hungry?"
They go inside. The house is deserted because it's Wednesday. On Wednesday Josh has orchestra practice, Mom goes to the grocery, and later Zack has therapy. So they make no effort to eat a family dinner. Zack loves Wednesdays. He and Beamer share a few Twinkies, and Zack tells the dog all about Clarissa Benedetto. "We're going to fall in love," he explains. "She's going to let me call her Clara, and we're going to— Well, you're too young to hear what else. You should have seen the drawing she did of me. She likes me. I should have asked her to eat lunch with me, but I chickened out. I'm going to tomorrow, though. Do you think I should dump Tracy?" Tracy was Zack's current, unofficial girlfriend.
Beamer tilts his head, several times, considering the angles. Then he barks.
"You're right. I'm going to do it. Clear the field."
Zack picks up the phone and dials.
"Hello?" Tracy says.
"Hi. It's me."
Instantly coy. "Hi, Me."
Suddenly Zack hates her. "I've been thinking ..."
Coy switches to wary. "About what?"
"About us." He glances at the dog, who ducks his head.
Wary to hostile. "Oh?"
"We're getting into a rut, aren't we?"
"Going through the motions. You know?"
"What are you trying to say, Zachary?"
Bitch. He hates her. She's in his way. "I think we should see other people."
A calculated silence. "I don't think I want to see you at all on those terms."
He glances at the dog again. "Okay."
"Okay, what?" She didn't expect that.
"Just like that?" She sounds really upset.
He could kill her. Who does she think she is, making him feel guilty? "I guess so."
She hangs up on him. Manipulating and rude! What did he ever see in her? But now that she's gone he feels horrible. "I'm a bad person, Sunbeam," he says to the dog. "I'm the worst. I'm a coldhearted bastard. It would serve me right if Clarissa won't have me and I end up all alone."
He feels exhausted. He's glad it's therapy night. Nancy will fix this. Maybe.
Beamer suddenly runs into the living room. A second later the door opens. "Is anybody here?" his mother calls.
"Yes." Zack gets up and rushes in quickly in case she needs his help.
Mary Lloyd is a pretty woman. She looks like Joshua with her round, trusting eyes and soft brown hair. She's the kind of woman everyone rushes to help and everyone admires—a widow, raising two boys alone, holding down a job, keeping a house up. She's a saint. When Zack first discussed his mother with Nancy and explained how wonderful she was, Nancy said, "You must be holding back something big."
Zack looks for signs of disappointment that he's the one home, but he sees none. "Hello," she says. "The bags are in the car."
He hurries to get them, Beamer at his side. When he comes back, laden down, she is in the kitchen, looking in the pantry cupboard.
"Mom, you got plastic again," he says patiently.
"They give you a choice of paper or plastic bags for the groceries. You should ask for paper."
"Oh, yes. I forgot. These are so much easier to carry."
With difficulty he swallows his environmental lecture. They are alone so rarely. He distracts himself by putting groceries away.
"Have you eaten?" she asks. "Are you hungry?"
"I had some Twinkies with the dog."
She turns and looks at him disapprovingly. But she doesn't say anything. She isn't that kind of mom. "I'm going to have some vegetable soup," she says.
Zack hates vegetable soup. "Me too."
They eat in silence. Every few seconds they pause to crumble crackers. "Your brother is late tonight," she says wistfully.
"That concert is Friday night," he reminds her. "They have to get ready."
"Oh! That's right! That's going to be wonderful."
Zack wants something comparable. "It's only a month till graduation," he says.
"Time flies," she agrees. "Did anything interesting happen to you today?"
"No," he says. "Same old stuff." Then he wonders what in hell is wrong with him. He fell in love today. He broke up with his girlfriend and now feels terrible about it. When Nancy asks what's going on, he knows he will pour all that out. But when his own mother asked, it was almost as if he couldn't remember. No wonder they aren't as close as he'd like them to be! Maybe it's all his fault. He gathers his courage and really starts to tell her, but now she's looking at a seed catalogue that came in the mail and he hates to disturb her.CHAPTER 2
"What does gasoline mean to you?" Nancy reaches for her cigarettes, probably as bored with this as Zack. How can you trust a therapist who smokes?
"Dollar forty-nine for regular," Zack says. Then he feels ashamed. They've already covered using flippancy as a mask, but it comes so easily to him.
Nancy gives him a brief, baleful stare and pushes back her messy hair. "In the context of this dream, what do you think the smell of gasoline might mean?" She lights up and blows out smoke like a pool hustler. Zack wonders if she is really listening or if she does all this stuff unconsciously.
"Dangerous," he says, "You know, like when they tie the hero up and start pouring gasoline over him."
"Better," she says, making a note. "This is a scary dream for sure. The apple trees are attacking you, and that tiger, for God's sake. This man you're with, though. Is he scary or do you like him?"
Zack has to think. "Both."
"What does he look like?"
"I can't see him."
"Yes, you can. Concentrate."
"No, I can't see him. He's like a shadow."
Zack loses his concentration. "I don't know."
"What do apple trees mean to you?"
"I like them." He shifts in his chair. He doesn't like her chairs.
She writes this down. "Why?"
He is suddenly sick of all this. "Who doesn't like apple trees?"
She stops writing and gives him a tough-girl stare. She is so unlike the sweet, warm therapists of television. Zack had pictured himself getting somebody like Robert Young, who would pat his hand and tell him it's okay to cry. Instead he got Nancy Kline, an anorexic chain-smoker who glares at him and challenges every word he says. Still, in a funny way Zack likes it. No one has ever treated him like this before. It makes him feel important just to know he can actually piss someone off. She glares at him a long time for effect, then sits back like she might really be giving up on him. She looks up at the ceiling. "It's your money, junior," she concludes.
Shamed, he makes a true effort. "I've always liked the feeling of apples and apple trees. It's one of the reasons I don't like Florida. Up north you get this magical feeling in the fall, in October, when everybody puts ghosts in their trees and jack-o'-lanterns on their porches."
"People do that here."
"It's not the same! The air doesn't smell like fall here. In Ohio you could drive around and see these roadside stands out in the country where they sell apple cider and doughnuts ..."
"Did you do that every year?" she asks. "With your family?"
"No. You just drive by and see them. I never— I don't think our family ever stopped at one. I ..." Suddenly he feels really confused. "Maybe when I was really little or something. Anyway, it's a wonderful feeling you can't get in the tropics. All we have here is the goddam lobster season. It's not the same."
Excerpted from The Tiger Orchard by Joyce Sweeney. Copyright © 1993 Joyce Sweeney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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