Rochelle Bilow’s book will be available for purchase on October 1.
We had been talking about sneaking off into the rows of popcorn ever since Ian’s trip to California, and I made no bones about letting him know how much I wanted to. The stalks were tall and full, their leaves thick, encouraging obscurity. We were also growing sweet corn, Spring Treat and Silver Queen, but something about the popcorn had a certain allure. Something about it seemed like just the right amount of kitsch for a barnyard romp, an activity for which, Ian complained, yanking my arms down from around his neck, I was always ready.
But one Friday evening, he surprised me after farmstand. I was sitting on the bed, adding up sales with an old scientific calculator, the kind I used in eighth-grade math class, when he told me that he had a treat in store. I looked up and blinked.
“It’s not like, I mean, it’s not a real surprise, exactly,” he said, closing the flap to his shoulder bag and straightening his back. “You’ll know where we’re going,” he said, his voice trailing off before picking back up again. “But you don’t know what I have planned.”
“Ooh, I do love surprises,” I said giddily, rubbing my hands together. “Do I have to close my eyes?”
He considered it. “Maybe when we get outside.”
“Do I have to bring anything?”
I stood and slid into my sandals, offered him my hand and closed my eyes, squeezing them tightly shut for extra emphasis.
“You didn’t have to — you don’t have to close them yet,” he said.
“I know, but I want to,” I said with a laugh. I was excited.
Something about the popcorn seemed like just the right amount of kitsch for a barnyard romp.
He guided me down the staircase, my right hand skimming the banister as we went. I heard him open the big wooden door, and we paused as he slipped on his shoes, too. I gripped his hand and we walked down the three wooden steps in front of the house. I waited as he latched the door shut, listening for the click. I’d gotten us into trouble a couple of times the week earlier for being careless when I closed it. “You really have to be more mindful,” Beth had said in a tone that let me know if she had been the type to wag her finger, she would have done so vigorously. “I’ve noticed this door just blowing in the wind twice recently!” Her arm swooped and her voice billowed on the word “blow,” drawing it out to sound like what it was.
Ian guided me across the yard and took a right. I heard a car fly by and knew that we were on the side of the road, walking the short distance to the vegetable field. “We’re stopping here,” Ian said, and I paused momentarily before hearing a very delicate snap. Then he tugged my hand and we picked the pace back up. The slope of the ground declined, and I knew he had cut off the road, choosing the path by the stream instead. He didn’t speak when we reached the field, just pulsed his grip on my hand and pulled me along what I presumed was the outermost row of vegetables, filled with dill plants that had gone to seed. I could smell them.
I kept my eyes closed through the entire walk, even once we reached the popcorn and the leaves slapped gently at my arms and neck as I trailed behind Ian. My hand was still in his, but he let it go slack and slide out when he stopped moving. I stood too, on suddenly unsteady legs, teetering a bit. “Wait one moment,” he said, and I did. Then, “Okay, kneel down and open your eyes.”
My knees hit something soft and man-made, and I was surprised not to feel soil settling into my toes. I let my eyes open slowly and smiled. We were sitting on his red striped blanket from Kenya and between us lay a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, two jars, and a pile of what looked like wildflowers and weeds. “How very romantic.” I sighed.
“So first, we’re going to have a little wine,” Ian said, pouring some out. “I don’t know if this is any good — I hope it is — I just picked it out and didn’t know.” I swirled the liquid around in the jar and stuck my nose in the glass. It smelled pleasant, like very fresh hay and tart limes.
“Cheers,” I said. It was good, if a little warm.
“And then, you’re going to take off all of your clothes and lie back on the blanket.” He waited a beat. “When you’re ready.”
Author Rochelle Bilow getting busy in the kitchen.
I was ready, so I pulled my tank top and once-white jogging bra up over my head, shimmied out of my cargo pants and, lastly, a little shyly, took off my underwear, my right foot catching at the end. Ian helped pull it off, but didn’t place his hands on me, simply set it aside onto the blanket. He seemed to be in no rush, and I wondered what he had in store. I laid back then, feeling awkward and exposed, turned over onto my side, propping my face up with my palm.
“This is dill weed,” he said, handing me a flower, its stem ending in a fresh break. “And this is a zinnia — well, you know that,” he said, handing me a coral-colored flower I recognized from the field behind the machine shop, full of flowers and you-pick cherry tomatoes. Earlier that summer, he had stolen the first one that opened, presenting it to me with a proud grin. This zinnia was the same color, although its petals were smaller and tighter. “Black-eyed Susan, and dwarf sunflower,” he said, handing them over as well. “Common wildflower — a weed, really — and Queen Anne’s lace.” I held each flower in my hand like a makeshift bouquet, and looked at Ian expectantly. “Memorize what they look like,” he said. “Memorize what they feel like.” I held each one individually, considering their petals and leaves, their dark green stems and bright pollen centers.
“Okay,” I said, setting them back down.
“Okay. Now lie back and close your eyes.” I did, and waited. “I’m going to touch you with each plant,” he said, and a pulsing of anticipation ran through me. “You have to guess which one I’m using each time.” A breeze fluttered the stalks, and I shivered despite the heat-heavy late evening air.
He was quiet and still for a few moments before making contact with my skin. I giggled and squirmed. “That tickles!” Short, soft petals grazed my abdomen just above my hipbone, and I knew immediately what it was. “Zinnia,” I said confidently. The flower traced its way up around my breast, making lazy, swooping circles.
‘I’m going to touch you with each plant,’ he said, and a pulsing of anticipation ran through me. ‘You have to guess which one I’m using each time.’
“Very good.” Ian kissed my neck, just below the ear. “And this?”
There was more surface area on this flower, and its fronds touched my rib cage in a round shape. “Queen Anne’s lace?” I wagered.
“No, dill,” he answered, and did not kiss me. “Now try this.”
“Oh, that’s Queen Anne’s lace,” I said, feeling something similar to the last, but slightly scratchier. “That’s a giveaway.”
“Good job anyway.” He kissed my collarbone.
“Sunflower!” I said almost immediately on the next one, and guessed the wildflower, too, each time receiving a kiss, gentle and restrained. Once we ran out of flowers, I opened my eyes and reached my hand up to caress his jaw line.
“I won’t forget about dill, ever again. Not as long as I live,” I promised, moving my palm over my chest and pressing down on my heart.
“Be sure that you don’t,” he said and, grabbing at my waist with both hands, proceeded to make certain I never would.
Published with permission from the publisher, The Experiment. Available on October 1 wherever books are sold.