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

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Fiction Fantasy

We always pick the green apples first. 

We go out of the cottage together with our rough straw woven baskets. Most of the straw has already loosened and is falling off, and the handle has already thinned so much that it rubs lines in my hand whenever I carry it.

All of the straw has changed colour, from light gold to caramel brown, and at the edges of the basket, the edges that have been bumped and hit against stones and tree bark for as long as I can remember, dark brown spots have appeared.

We walk and into our garden. The green apples are all the way at the back, so we have to step carefully around roots and loose dirt to get to them. I stumble over a root, you laugh. I can never really get used to our garden. Just when I think I’ve got the hang of it, that I’ve memorised every tree stump, root, and rough patch of bark, a new one pops out of the ground, and trips me over; you however, never stumble, despite being the oldest person I know, you move around the harden with a timeless kind of grace, my mother said you’d mastered it even before I was born, that when she was young, she too saw you dancing among the apples trees, pirouetting, laughing, dancing, and when you finally stopped, she’d inspect, marvelled, at the fresh apples that had somehow landed in your basket whilst you twirled. She told me the apples seemed to hear you, they fell into your basket in perfect synchronization with your dance, she told me she wished I’d seen it before you grew old. 

Now, although you still knew the garden better than anyone else, there was no dancing, no singing, only picking one apple after another.

We finally make our way to the back of the garden, we can see the half-built wooden fence from here. 

The few wooden bars that have been put up are rotten, filled with holes and green from moss. Compared to the last time we picked apples together, the moss had grown significantly thicker, like a wild animal devouring the fence as revenge for trying to keep it away from the garden. 

My brother had tried to set them up when he was visiting, at the time, you were living alone in the cottage, without a fence, or even a lock on your door. 

“I don’t need it,” you’d said. “The trees will protect me. 

After an extensive argument with my brother, you’d finally compromised, allowing him to buy and install and lock in exchange for him not building the fence. Immediately after that, the apples started to rot, once green, red, and golden became brown shrivelled lumps. Even the few apples that did survive became bitter and tasted like charcoal. 

On the night my brother was due to leave, a tree fell down on him, a sturdy tree that had never shown any sign of falling before. He broke his leg and became blue and purple all over. He had to stay for longer after that, but the day after, the apples stopped rotting, and the winds howling through the trees sounded like the gleeful laughter of a child. 

When he left, you asked me to remove the door for you, you had black shadows under your eyes and you were crying non-stop. I told you no.

I couldn’t leave you defenseless.

You ignored me for a week after that, and I could swear I heard you voice at night, singing to the trees. On one night especially, it was raining, and I could hear weeping outside. Not just one voice, but multiple, you were crying, and singing, and ethereal, distant voices were chorusing you, singing along with you, crying along with you. The morning after, only red apples had fallen, the ground was littered with different shades of red, dark red, light red, like the trees had been bleeding. 

I removed down your door immediately that morning. 

“I knew you’d understand,” you said when you inspected my work. 

You never removed the half-built fence though, you told me that all creatures of nature should always have access to your garden, but that any creature that deserved your garden should be able to overcome adversity to reach it. 

I asked you how a fence could be considered an adversity, and an apple fell onto my head, I didn’t even see it on the branch on top of me. The fence started creaking after that too, like it was speaking to me. 

You frowned, I almost felt like I understood the words. Like a familiar phrase from a language I’d long forgotten.

I think I showed it in my eyes, because immediately after my flash of understanding, you smiled, and the fence stopped creaking. When I picked up the apple that’d fallen onto my head, it was completely ripe, golden, with glossy skin, like the outer layer was made of diamonds. At that moment, I thought all the light in the world was trapped in that one apple and I knew it would sell well. You told me to eat it though, refusing to sell it despite my insistence. You told me that it was a gift, a gift for understanding. 

You said your first gift was a golden apple too. 

“What are you thinking about.” you ask me, I realise your basket had already been filled, and I immediately get to work. 

“Nothing much grandma, just the fence.” 

My brother had never been invited back to the cottage, and he never came. I went back to the city as well, but I missed the garden, I missed you, so I came back, and I’ve stayed here ever since. 

“Yes, your brother was quite a determined spirit, he didn’t understand though.”

We fell into silence after that, picking apples seemed even quicker than usual, I had filled tree baskets by the time you finished your second one. Soon, there was only one apple left. We never picked the last apple, it was a gift back to the garden. 

Once, when I was four year old, I had set my sights on the last apple. I needed it, the urge to eat it was so strong that I came out after midnight, but when I arrived at the garden, the apple was gone.

I searched all over the ground for it, dirtying my clothes and rubbing my hands full of mud, but the apple was gone.

Every time after that, the last apple disappeared as soon as we left the garden.

I don’t really remember picking anything after going to the golden apple trees, I just remember the apples laying in my basket like traffic lights, and you smiling a lot. 

After starting to make our signature apple jam, you went to bed. You’d never gotten tired so soon before. It was only about 4:00 p.m. and last fall, on apple picking day, you stayed up until midnight, until I forced you to go to sleep. 

I knew I couldn’t finish the jam, every bottle took care and precision, we usually spent a month preparing the jars, selling them just before winter officially started, but I did as much as I could, and went to bed as well. 

That night, I turned over a lot in my bed, I felt wide awake and unable to fall asleep. I suddenly felt hot and cramped, annoyed by the humidity in my room. Fearing to wake you, I got dressed haphazardly and tiptoed out of the cottage. I realised I was wearing the same white dress as when I was young. 

A walked around the garden casually meandering, I began humming too, the same melody I learned the night before removing the door, subconsciously, I had gone all the way to the green apple trees, I looked around, the last apple was still there!

I looked at it, stared at it, stunned. I didn’t eat it, in fact, I ran through the garden back to the cottage as fast as I could. I’d never run so fast without stumbling before, but the stumps seemed to move out of my way. I fell asleep as soon as I got to bed. 

The next morning, you woke up two hours later than usual. You weren’t as energetic as before either, you told me you were tired, and new wrinkles seemed to have appeared on your skin. You looked like a child had drawn all over your face. Different coloured lines crossing each other, trying to form something that didn’t quite take shape. 

I didn’t want to tell you about the last apple, you seemed old, you’d never really felt old to me before, you always had an alert air around you, but now, it had disappeared. 

It was in the afternoon when you approached me, smiling. Your eyes seemed to be prompting me to tell you something. A final wave of clarity shone in your eyes, I knew it’d be gone soon. 

So I told you. I told you about the final apple, about the strange feeling of awakening in my body. 

When I was done, you had the strangest expression on your face, like you were sad, but content, like you had given up, but realised you weren’t chasing anything in the first place. 

“It’s your turn now,” you said simply, and you walked into your room. “Oh, and eat the last apple, it’s a gift.” you said turning around. 

As I crunched down on the apple, something changed in the garden. 

Everything felt alive, I could sense the knowledge of the old trees, wise beyond what I’d ever be. I could sense the energy of the flair for the younger trees, still exploring the garden and expanding their roots.

Some roots were linked together as well, like they were holding hands. 

“Welcome,” they chorused. The trees, flowers, and each individual apple spoke together, “Welcome home.” 

October 13, 2020 04:36

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1 comment

Ben To
00:42 Oct 22, 2020

Great story! I really enjoyed it.


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