had never known a model with this woman's talent for stillness. And talent
was the word for it. For that she did not have to be taught or trained.
She did not have to be reminded or cajoled. When told to pose in a particular
position, she assumed it immediately and held it without protest. Without
protest? Beyond that. She took to motionlessness eagerly, as if stasis
were her natural state and she had been waiting for a reason to return
Furthermore, her stillness had a quality as amazing to him now as when
she first posed for him, though Weaver was at a loss to put a name to
it. It had nothing to do with lethargy or languor. She did not relax into
her pose the way some models did, leaving their bodies in order to let
their minds wander. Weaver hated that, and he could tell when it happened.
Energy and a degree of muscularity left the body. You wanted stillness,
but not the repose of a cadaver. Even when she was in a pose-lying back
on the bed, for example-that would have allowed her to relax so completely
she could fall asleep, she never did. She was still, but she was there.
Perhaps even more remarkable was her lack of self-consciousness about
her body. Weaver knew she was not immodest or vain, yet she disrobed in
front of him as openly as . . . what was Weaver thinking? As his wife?
Harriet had her own art: finding the odd angle or obstruction that permitted
her to undress out of his sight. Back when she modeled for him, she often
used the screen and stepped out draped in the sheet he provided. But this
woman . . . When Weaver first told her she could undress behind the screen,
she looked at him as if he were an idiot. "I'm going to be naked before
you, yet I should hide myself while I get that way?"
She undressed like his daughters. That was it. She undressed as easily
and efficiently as Emma and Betsy had when they were young and he'd supervised
their baths. A task lay before them that required they be unclothed, so
they quickly attended to the matter. The carpenter picks up his hammer,
the artist takes brush in hand. This woman shed her clothes, nakedness
her craft and art.
Occasionally, Weaver's curiosity-or was it his perversity?-led him to
test the limits of her talent. He devised poses difficult to hold, like
this one, which required her to kneel on the bed but keep her body's jointed
parts strictly aligned and perfectly angled: head in line with shoulders
and hips, arms straight down at her sides, knees bent at ninety degrees.
Weaver wanted all the curves in this pose to come only from the parts
of her she could not control-from those magnificent breasts; that gently
rounded bulge just above her pubis; the flare of her hips; the long, slight
swell of each thigh-as if her eroticism were asserting itself without
her consent. Weaver thought that forcing her to hold that pose-how her
trapezius muscles must have knotted themselves with the effort of holding
her head up, how her knees must have ached!-might break her down, might
force her to ask him for relief. It did not. Weaver had also hoped, when
he first conceived of the pose, not merely out of a mild malice but out
of aesthetic intent as well, that it might at last reveal the secret of
her. It did not.
Sonja had often wondered why all men carried their rifles in a similar
manner. Had they been taught? Had they simply copied other men-their fathers,
as their fathers had before them? But on that day, when she walked to
the barn with Henry's Winchester cradled in the crook of her arm, she
realized, given the gun's configuration, its length and weight, there
were only a few ways to carry it. It was the same with babies. Sonja had
heard people talk of an instinct for motherhood, and she had silently
scoffed. If one wished to hold a baby, one simply lifted it, without thought
or education and certainly without knowledge in the blood. Babies and
rifles-their shapes furnished the necessary instruction: Carry us this
And though she would have needed instruction to tell her where on the
animal to press the muzzle of the gun, her husband had provided that lesson
on many occasions. He told her about the small brain that horses had,
though Henry always said it with affection, and if the horse himself were
present, Henry would tap with his index finger that white diamond high
on the animal's forehead where the hair seemed to grow in a different
direction from the surrounding russet coat. At Henry's tap, the horse
always blinked, and when the lids closed over those great liquid globes,
Sonja waited in vain to see tears squeezed out. Yes, if you could only
cry, she thought; if you could only show remorse . . .
She stood in the barn's chaffy dark, her nostrils stinging with the smell
of dung, mildew, kerosene, and sweat-soaked leather. She levered a shell
into the chamber, and the horse, as if he heard the metallic slide of
the Winchester as another animal's question, nickered an answer from his
stall. Over here, I'm over here.
Perhaps if she had faced the horse head-on, if she had stood a few feet
away from the stall, raised the rifle to her shoulder, and taken aim-there,
at the point of that white diamond behind which the horse's brain made
its horsy connections-perhaps if Sonja had acted quickly in this way,
she would have been able to pull the trigger. Instead, she entered the
adjoining stall, kicked her way through the loose straw, and reached the
rifle over the wooden bar to aim accurately. In this narrow space, the
horse gave off so much heat Sonja half-expected to see his body glow.
When the gun's muzzle touched the horse's head, his ear twitched the way
it would if a breeze blew down the length of the rifle barrel. His eye
widened and rotated toward Sonja. A white rim showed around the eye like
a sliver of crescent moon in the night sky. Then the horse stood still,
as if he knew his duty was to make no move that might tremble Sonja's
will or throw off her aim.
She could not stop her ears to prepare for the explosion, so instead she
tried, in her mind, to move away from this moment. And once she did, her
determination wavered and then left her completely. What was the use?
She could pull the trigger until the rifle was empty, but it would do
nothing to bring warmth back to her little boy's body or her husband's
Sonja pulled her finger out of the tiny steel hoop of the trigger guard
and in the corner of the stall set the rifle down, unfired but with a
shell still in the chamber and the hammer still back. She walked out of
the barn and sneezed twice in the sudden sunlight.
Henry carried the rifle into the kitchen, where Sonja sat at the table
peeling potatoes. He held the gun toward her as if it were an offering.
"What was this doing out in the barn?" The gun was just as she had left
it, cocked and ready to fire.
Sonja did not look up from her work. The peelings fell into the garbage
can she held between her knees. Each potato she sliced into quarters and
dropped into a pot of water.
"Did you take it out there?" he asked.
There was still enough pale autumn sunlight left to illuminate all the
room's corners, but Sonja had turned on the overhead light to help her
see any rotten spots on the potatoes.
Excerpted from Orchard by Larry Watson Copyrightę
2003 by Larry Watson. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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.
bestselling author of Montana 1948 comes the explosive story of
an artist, his muse, and the staggering price they pay for their chance
an internationally acclaimed painter, is famous in Door County, Wisconsin,
for his luminous workand for his affairs with his models. His wife,
Harriet, has learned to accept these dalliances in the belief that his
immense talent will ultimately make up for his shortcomings as a husband.
a Norwegian immigrant, came to America looking for a new life. Instead,
she married Henry House, only to find herself defined, like so many other
mid-twentieth-century women, by her roles as wife and mother. As circumstances
and destiny land Sonja in Neds studio, she becomes more than his
model and more than an object of desireshe becomes the most inspiring
muse Ned has ever known. When both Ned and Henry insist on possessing
her, their jealousies threaten to erupt into violence, and Sonja must
find a way to placate both men without sacrificing her hard-won sense
stark, lyrical prose that Larry Watson is known for (as fresh and
clear as [a] trout stream The Washington Post Book World)
and vivid characters who seem to breathe on the page, Orchard explores
the lives of four very different people bound together by beauty, art,
obsession, and betrayal.
was born in Rugby, North Dakota. His father, and his grandfather before
him, was the sheriff of this small town in northeastern North Dakota.
When he was five years old, the family moved to Bismarck, North Dakota.
junior college, during which he married his high school sweetheart, he
entered the University of North Dakota. He enrolled in a writing class
and began writing poems. With faculty encouragement, he abandoned pre-law
and decided on teaching as a career. He wrote stories for his M.A., then
moved to the University of Utah to pursue the flexible Ph.D. program in
creative writing. For
his thesis at the University of Utah, he wrote In a Dark Time. After
leaving the University of Utah, Watson taught at the University of Wisconsin
at Stevens Point.
novel Montana 1948, won the Milkweed Fiction Prize, a National
Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Mountain and Plains Booksellers
Association Regional Award, and many other literary prizes. He has published
short stories and poems in literary journals, quarterlies and anthologies.
His essays and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the
Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other periodicals.
taught at UW-Stevens for twenty-five years and
recently retired as professor of English. He will now be a visiting
professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he will teach creative
writing and other upper-level courses, which will provide him with a lighter
load and more time for writing. Watson and his wife, Susan, live in Plover,
Wisconsin. They have two adult daughters.