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Submitted on 10/16/2020

Categories: Contemporary Friendship Mystery

He does little things to amuse himself. Knitting, sewing, even yoga. He does these things to amuse himself but mostly he does them because he is lonely.

There is a picture on his bedside table of an apple tree. It is burdened with red fruit yet holds itself up proudly with a straight trunk. The date on the photo is written on it in permanent marker.

5.10.15

The day he lost her.

Mr. Martin Ginsburg lives alone. He does not go to the orchard anymore. His sister, Vanessa, wants him to “face his demons”. She is a therapist, programmed to say certain things. Martin does not mind his sister, but he does not care for her advice.

Martin molds red apples out of wax. He gives them stems and hints at glorious leaves. They are apples meant for Eve, too perfect to look at. People would buy them, but Martin does not sell them.

Vanessa tells him he should date again. “You need to put yourself out there,” she says. “Who knows? You might find someone.”

Martin does not want anyone.

Vanessa makes him an online dating profile. She uses a photo she has Photoshopped to smile and puts ‘apple picking’ as his sole interest. No one sends him a heart. No one even sends him a nudge.

Until she comes.

Poppy Haven shows up on his front door one afternoon without an appointment. Martin suspects she made an appointment and that Vanessa approved it would his consent. He cannot turn her away; she is his age with a white smile and hopeful eyes. He invites Poppy inside for tea. The sound of her shoes on the floor jolt him into realizing he is not alone today.

Poppy clasps her bony hands behind her and wanders through his living room. It is a small room and every corner is filled with antique furniture. Old tables and chests. Room for his wax apples to sit in the shade.

Martin boils water and prepares a tray with biscuits without thinking. He carries the tea to the small tea table in the middle of the living room and sits down in his chair. Poppy sits opposite him in a wicker chair slashed with sunshine. They eat and drink in silence.

Poppy takes an orange out of her silk purse. It is a knitted orange, round and plump. “I lost someone too.” Her voice is light, and she is pretty with blue eyes and white hair.

Martin jolts upright. He stares at her. She understands. He wonders if her home is a sanctuary for yarn oranges.

Poppy takes a photo out of her bag next. It is in a gilded silver frame. The picture is of an orange tree and the date is written in a corner of the photo with permanent marker.

6.12.18

“The day I lost him,” Poppy says. “I have not been back to the orange grove since.” She sips her tea but it is growing cold.

“I have not gone to the apple orchard since either,” Martin admits.

“We should go,” Poppy says.

Martin shakes his head. “I cannot. I wonder—if her ghost still lurks there.”

“I will go if you go,” Poppy says. She puts down her cup. “This tea is not very good.”

Martin hesitates. He planned on filling up the next two hours with yoga.

Poppy notices him looking at his neat stack of yoga magazines on a small table under the window to their left. She remarks, “We subscribe to the same magazine.” She nibbles a sugar biscuit to take the bitter taste of the tea out of her mouth. “I almost did not come today. I planned on painting my orange tree.”

“I want to sketch my apple tree,” Martin says suddenly. He looks down.

“You do not remember what it looks like,” Poppy says gently. “I have the same trouble.”

Martin stands up. “Let us go. You are right. This tea is stale.”

“I brought my painting supplies,” Poppy says. “Just in case.”

Martin picks up a notepad and tucks a pencil from the hall table behind his ear. He locks the house door behind him and Poppy. They go separate ways to their cars in the gravel drive and drive in opposite directions. His is the only car in the parking lot of the apple orchard. Martin gets out into crisp air and wraps his scarf more tightly around his neck.

Martin walks past the closed board store in front of the orchard. The trees are pruned and beautiful, ripe with fruit and glowing in the sunshine. He sees mountains in the distance as he steps onto the paths made between the fading green grass under the trees. It is quiet here.

Martin comes to his tree. He looks up at it; it is alive, not frozen in his photo. It moves, breathes, and winks at him.

The branch that fell and killed Sarah five years ago has been removed, but Martin sees it in his mind. He sees her lying crushed, watches the hate from die from her eyes, and remembers the sense of freedom he felt without her.

Sarah is the woman who owned his mind. She would not let him go, but the tree freed Martin. He swears it felt his pain and cut down Sarah, demoness, where she stood as she reached for an apple with cruelty in her eyes.

Martin touches his tree. He has done everything to worship it, to thank it except come. He picks an apple. It is red and mottled. Imperfect. Better than his wax fruits.

Martin sits down with his back to the tree. He eats his apple and sketches the bold limbs and passionate fruit of his savior. He leaves the orchard jubilant.

Martin meets Poppy back at his home. They stare at each other.

Martin holds out his sketch of the apple tree. Poppy takes it and gives him her crude painting of an orange tree dotted with apricot-colored fruits. No words are spoken. None are needed.

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2 comments

Chelsea S d
22:17 Oct 28, 2020

I loved this. The reveal/twist at the end; that all was a celebration of the tree and a day of joy, yet Martin is still "stuck". Well done.

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Jaya Avendel
19:32 Oct 29, 2020

Thank you! I enjoyed writing this piece.

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