We’re pleased to publish an excerpt from Jessica Jopp’s novel From the Longing Orchard, out now via Red Hen Press. Jopp’s novel follows one young woman’s formative years in a New York suburb, exploring the roots of her familial discontent and the development of her artistic talent. Anne Dyer Stuart hailed the novel’s characters for being “both complicated and alive on the page.”
Then briefly the cold paused, and the warm returned. It was on a Saturday afternoon like this that he came roaring into the dirt driveway, beeping the horn repeatedly. Lois and Sonya emerged from their room, and their mother from the kitchen. They peered out the front door.
“Whose car is that?” Lois asked. Their father had left earlier in their old car.
“He just bought it. Grab your jackets, girls.”
The three of them walked out and met him halfway to the house. “Do you like it?”
“It’s cool,” Sonya and Lois said together. They walked around the red wagon, another VW.
Their father addressed their mother and proudly presented his assess- ment. “It’s got 75,000 miles on it, but the tires are practically new, and the engine sounds smooth.” He knew the basics about automobiles, like how to jump start one by pushing it down a hill, if he had to.
“Did you bring him down at all?”
“He knocked a hundred off. I threw in a set of bowls and a carafe.”
“That’s great, Mitchell,” their mother said, and squeezed his arm. “We’ll have more room in the back.” They stood beside each other smiling.
“Let’s go for a drive,” he said.
The girls climbed in the back seat, and their parents slid in the front.
He detailed the car’s features for them on the way out of town. “And it doesn’t have a radio either, but what the hell.”
Their mother said, “When we take it on trips, you’ll have to sing for us.”
“Marie, you know I can’t sing.”
“Yes you can,” she said. “I hear you in the shower every morning.”
“I didn’t think anyone heard me,” he said, laughing. “Well, I’m not ready to take my act on the road.”
They reached a county road far beyond the suburbs. There were fields on either side. Their father said, “Let’s see where this goes.” Since the day was warm they had rolled the windows down, and the smell of dried November fields and cut hay drifted into the car.
Their father started the song softly, as if he were talking at first; then gradually the notes rose up and over into the back seat. It had a quick beep-beep rhythm, and he tapped against the wheel to keep time. Their mother already knew the words about love and a new moon and before long joined him, a new new moon begun, and tapped too, against the dash, rocked gently to the beat, the new moon over the fields and when their life is done, they would still feel it, it would still be there, the new moon, the moon just begun.
And the song lifted so clearly to the back seat, carried there by the open windows and the warm air blowing in and blowing their hair, and blowing the fields they flew along and blowing the singing words about the car, and sounded as if they hovered just above their heads. The words held still just a moment above their heads, so they could get a quick look at them before the afternoon air washed them away, out the windows, to float out over the fields somewhere. The speed was part of it too, as Sonya and Lois looked out the windows at the fields and far trees and scattered houses in the sun flying by, all with the lovely notes attached to them, set in motion by the tapping, lifted on the warm air, sent out by their parents’ voices. And it didn’t matter that the car had the faint smell of a cigar, a slight tear in the back seat, and a stain on the square of carpet beneath their feet. It did not matter that it had lots of miles already on it. There was the warm air, the singing, the fields they were flying past. The earth feeling wide and smelling warm out the windows. The moon, wherever it was besides the song, the long curved road ahead, the beat to keep. There was the warm air, the singing, and the fields.
Jessica Jopp grew up in New York State. She holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. From the Longing Orchard is her first novel. Also an award-winning poet, Jopp has published her work in numerous journals, among them POETRY, The Texas Observer, Seneca Review, and Denver Quarterly. Her poetry collection The History of a Voice was awarded the Baxter Hathaway Prize in Poetry from Epoch, and it was published in January 2021 by Headmistress Press. Jopp teaches in the English Department at Slippery Rock University. She lives in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where she is on the board of a non-profit working to protect a community woodland.