Upstate

Submitted into Contest #63 in response to: Write about two characters going apple picking.... view prompt

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Romance Fiction

Steam rises from the paper cup and brings the sweet smell of cider to my nose. The warmth of the cup feels nice in the grip of my cold, hard hands. It tastes of apples and cinnamon and brown sugar. It soothes the sting in my throat and chest. I feel it warming my belly my legs my toes.

She said she’d be here 20 minutes ago.

We met on a dating app. 8 million people in New York City and I had to meet someone over the phone. It’s been normalized, though I still feel weird about it. I wonder what my dating life would have been like in the fifties. Maybe social anxieties didn’t exist then. Maybe I would have been okay.

She told me she was deaf.

I was surprised. But then again I’ve heard a lot of things more surprising than that on the dating apps. I sent back the emoji with the tape over its mouth. For some reason it made her ‘laugh out loud’, and then I wondered if she would know if she had in fact laughed out loud.

She said she’d be here 25 minutes ago.

I should have met her at Grand Central. We could have taken the Metro North train up here together. But I was nervous about riding the train with her so I told her I’d meet her at this apple orchard at 10am. She said she’d be here. Maybe she missed the train. The next one wasn’t for 30 minutes after mine.

She said she’d be here 30 minutes ago.

And then there she is. She has on a mauve corduroy jacket over a white t-shirt with light blue jeans and black leather boots. Her long, amber hair bounces up and down as she walks toward me. She’s prettier than she looks in her photos, as if her image of herself is less than the beautiful truth.

She smiles at me and I smile awkwardly back.

She signs: I’m Jane.

I only know this because I looked up basic sign language during the train ride. I learned hello. I learned my name. I learned her name.

I point to myself and then try clumsily to fingerspell my name.

She smiles. It’s a smile that says, ‘that was awful but I’m happy you tried’.

I point to the cup of cider and then to her. I say: “do you want some?”

She nods and rubs her hands on her arms like she is cold. I hold out my hand and tilt my head toward the cider stand. She puts her hand in mine and we walk over together.

I don’t know what to say to her but then I realize she is used to silence. Maybe silence is better. I don’t know how we are going to communicate anyway. I ask the lady at the stand for a refill and another cup for her. I point to Jane. She smiles again. I notice how white her teeth are. They glow even under the darkening clouds.

I grab an empty bag from beside the cider stand. The bag says: $8 half a peck. I wonder what in the world a peck is. I wonder what it is in half.

We walk together. My right hand holds my cider and the bag, my left hand holds her hand. Our fingers are intertwined, so intimate for a first date. I’m worried I will start sweating soon and she won’t want to hold my hand any longer. I’m anxious that I’m worried. Anxiety makes me sweat.

By the time we make it up to the orchards our cider is gone. We toss the empty cups in a trash can and continue toward the rows of apple trees. There are all kinds of apples here. I don’t recognize all of the names but I do know some: Gala, Red Delicious, McIntosh.

Jane points to a tree and signs: tree. Her left arm is horizontal to the ground, her right arm straight up, her right hand blowing as if in wind.

I pick an apple and point to it.

She smiles and signs: apple. The index finger of her right hand is curled like a hook, the knuckle of it twisting back and forth on her right cheek. I notice her cheeks are flushed red from the chilly wind. I take a bite of the apple.

I point to someone’s dog down the way from us.

She signs: dog. Her right hand pats her hip a few times. And then she puts her hands up like claws and attempts a bark and a growl. It makes me laugh which makes her laugh. She does it silently, though I suspect she’s holding back real laughter.

We walk on and we pick apples and we hold hands. I find she’s very good at describing things physically so that I can understand what she is saying almost as if she is speaking it. She tells me a story of when she was out drinking with her friends in Brooklyn. She signs taking a drink with her thumb and pinky finger extended. She begins to stumble around falling clumsily into branches, knocking apples loose and onto the ground below.

Laughing, I try to grab her to stop her from stumbling around only to fall on the ground with her. We’re both laughing now. She has a beautiful laugh when she doesn’t try to control it.

“I like your laugh,” I say. Her head tilts and her eyes squint. I shake my head and say, “never mind.”

We look up at the trees above us. They blow softly in the wind. I think of her sign for tree. I think of her hair blowing in the wind.

Jane puts two fingers to her nose, swoops the fingers up, and then slams them down on two fingers on her other hand.

“What?” I say.

She smiles and fingerspells slowly: F – U – N.

I point to myself and then hold up two fingers.

I stand up. I reach my hand down to hers and help her stand. The back of her jacket and jeans are covered in dirt. I wipe her off, starting high and ending low. She jumps when I reach her butt.

“Sorry!” I shout. I put my hands up like I’m being arrested. “I wasn’t thinking!” I point to my head and then do a thumbs down, my own version of saying I’m stupid.

She signs: it’s okay. And I can tell it really is.

Then she brushes the dirt off my butt too.

I blush, smile, and then shake my head.

She hooks her fingers together, sends one hand toward her nose and hooks them together again. I give her a puzzled look. She thinks for a moment and then lights up.

She lifts the left sleeve of her jacket and reveals a tattoo of a heart. She points to her left breast and then to her tattoo. She does it again, slowly.

“Tit for tat,” I say with a widening grin. She nods vehemently. “You’re ridiculous,” I say as I twirl my finger in circles around my ear. Apparently that’s a real sign because she understands it and shrugs.

Our bag of apples is almost full when Jane points to a Cortland apple way at the top of a tree. It’s the perfect apple. It’s the kind of apple you picture on an elementary school teacher’s desk. The kind you imagine Adam and Eve biting into and dooming the entire world.

I pretend to reach for it and then shrug my shoulders. It’s too high. She points to both of my shoulders and then mimes getting on top of them. She has both of her legs around an imaginary me and is reaching toward the perfect apple.

I look to the apple and then to her. I shrug my shoulders again and kneel down.

She smiles big as she hoists herself onto me. When I feel her grip get strong and steady I lift myself off of the ground, grunting as I do so. She rises toward the apple, her right arm stretched out long. Still it seems too high.

I stand up as tall as I can, onto my tippy toes, my calves burning under the weight. Her hand is reaching, reaching. Her fingertips brush the ruby skin of the apple.

She just might make it.

October 13, 2020 19:30

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