Shelle Stormoe "Great Smoky Mountains 1978"

Mountain View

In the picture, we both wear knee high boots, jeans, our hair loose. The same dirty blond, the same ruddy complexion, the same blue eyes squinting and grinning. The waterfall behind us is so perfect I forget it was my father behind the camera. We look done up professional, with lights and makeup artists and a clever stylist who knew just the right boots to give us continuity.

Mom did her makeup in the front seat of our Datsun King Cab because we couldn’t afford a motel. We must have showered in cold water, in a state-park restroom, standing on moldy blue tile.  I was five. My mother was twenty-two.

Later we parked in the middle of the highway and abandoned our truck there to run out into the forest toward a sunset-red lady slipper.

“Don’t you see it?”  My mother called to me. I  did, I saw it, a beating heart floating on a green sea.

“Look there it is!” She and I were off, leaping downed logs and briar bushes. Crushing fiddler ferns under the soles of our tennis shoes.

“Don’t you see it, Honey?” She yelled back to my father, who stayed at the road, fidgeting with his glasses.

“I don’t see anything,” He called to us.”You know I can’t see it.”

We crouched at the flower, ignoring him. Look at the way it glows against the  moss.

My father walked toward us, groping the air in front of him, feeling the nothing like a sturdy wall.

In the greenhouse in the back yard of our rent house in Little Rock, red and blue and yellow and orange and pink and cream flowers grew in soil only my father tended. All the cattleyas and phalaenopsis and oncidium and the one paphiopedilum inside that timber and plastic hut belonged to him alone. Momma and I watched from the yard, grasping on the barest flash of color when he left the door open. In the afternoons, after he came home from classes at the medical school, he spent hours fretting over his orchids, It was his first year, the year they take Gross Anatomy, the year his classmates bounced eyeballs on the morgue floor like rubber balls. In the greenhouse, he poured rain water into plastic spray bottles and wrote down numbers in a small paper covered notebook. Growth rates. Soil compositions. Humidity levels. He misted them every day, trimmed their dead leaves, inspected them for infestations.

“For Christ’s sake, Pam,” he said, finally standing next to my mother, in the dark Tennessee woods.

She pointed downward, at a sharp red splash against a jumble of rotting wood and leaves.

“For Christ’s sake,” he said,” I’m colorblind.”