Beneath the Picking Tree

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

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I stand in attention before the Colonel as he goes down the list.

 "Rule number ten," he commandingly says.

"Don't be a jackass,” I answer. “Focus on her and her alone." 

"Rule number eleven." 

"Don't be a pansy,” I say. “Project power. Women like power no matter what Oprah told them." 

"Rule number twelve." 

I don't know if it's the nervousness from finally getting my time at bat, but I freeze on this one. 

The Colonel's hand comes down to rest firmly on my shoulder, "Don't pop The Question until you're one hundred percent sure." 

Summarizing, he concludes, "Don't fuck it up." 

What’s at stake suddenly hits me all at once and as if he can feel my tension, his hand on my shoulder turns tender like a father’s touch.

"You're our last hope, soldier."


I would take bubble baths before my blind dates because I read somewhere they make you feel sexy. But one time I slipped out of the bath and busted my head leaving a “sexy” gash in the middle of my forehead. Or there was the time I tried to get fancy and use candles and there was a “sexy” burn on my forearm. But a solid sixty-five percent of the time, I escape the clutches of the bubble bath unscathed and I feel at least an inch sexier. 

Then I would look in the mirror and lose it all again. It’s a shame I never learned how to do my makeup blindfolded. Besides being a good circus trick, my ego would be higher a McCoughney at Woodstock. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to get through the day without performing that silly ritual. A bit of foundation a dash of rouge all to remind you how much you’re covering up. 

Of course, I had no reason to feel unattractive. I was the toast of the town. Men would come far and wide to date me. They would say they were from the town from up the way. But that was impossible because the town “up the way” was Crawford and everyone there despised. I should know because I received a petition from every man, woman, and child telling me exactly how much they specifically hated each kernel of my guts (the children signing was particularly hurtful). 

Oh, I won’t go into the details, but the summary is as follows: 

Dear Rose, you are a disgusting, disgusting, person. Signed All of Us, Amen. 

So, here I am. Cursed to live alone tending to my own farm. Cursed to spend every day trying to forget Robert.

I look myself in the mirror one more time to make sure everything is perfect. It isn’t. Oh well. I leave the house anyway.


Why couldn't she be somewhere closer? I didn't mind the drive, but it was the extended silence that got to me. What failure would mean to my squadron of guffawing chauvinists. I guess that's the problem with being around only men for so long -- the machismo goes into overdrive and every nonaggressive gesture gets misconstrued for excessive softness. 

But today was my day to show them. I would beat them at this game. The most macho game in town: I would get the girl. 


I had stopped questioning why it happened. Why men would just pop up in the Apple orchard asking for a date. But it happened regularly every Saturday for the past three months. Yes, maybe they were horrible stalkers looking to toss me in the back of their trunk and do me harm. And, yes, I'm an awful role model for crime stoppers but i happened to like the attention. I question many things. The meaning of life. The existence of free will. The macarena -- when that was a thing. But I refuse to question the sudden appearance of unusually hot men at my doorstep. 

After "It's raining men" the weather girls after all say "Hallelujah" not "Something's fishy, we better investigate."


As I approached the orchard, I imagined someone unattractive. No, not ugly, but someone who didn't appeal to me. But what I saw instead was the perfect mix of divinity and girl next door. The way her brown hair flowed with the wind as if it was playing with it. The ease of her motions as she plucked the apples from the tree. She doesn't even look up as she says the words. 


"You're late," I say, sensing his presence. I stand up toward him and tilt my chin upward in feigned sassiness. 

"The others are never late," I point out, arms folded. 

But behind every joke is a certain seriousness. For all those minutes I waited -- thirty two apples in all -- I wondered if the miracle had ended. If the mysterious men had found out the truth.


Her sass catches me off guard and I temporarily panic. Have I already screwed this one up? Will I have to go back to the base, head hung in shame? I look at her expression for a hint. Her left eyebrow is cocked, her ruby lips pursed. I take it as an opportunity for levity. 

"How can I be late?" I say, repeating the story we were all supposed to tell, "I'm just a weary and hungry traveler who happened upon your apple orchard." 

She rolls her eyes but is suppressing a smile. I have, technically, broken the rule of sticking to the story because my sarcasm shattered all pretenses her previous suitors had presented. This is a date and we both know it. 


He responds by apologizing for his tardiness for this imaginary event. Which isn't an apology at all but a veiled declaration of my insanity. Still, he is the first to mock the awful story all the other men came up with. I want to see where this goes. He offers to help pick apples to make amends for his fictional tardiness. And I would like for you, dear reader, to think I am a filthy, nasty whore and the first thing I notice about him is his massive thighs begging for release from his tight jeans or his massive biceps the prickle as he as he stretches to pluck an apple off the tree. 

I am ashamed, dear sisters, to report, the first thing I noticed was his eyes and their earnestness.


Soon the words were flowing like wine and we were talking about everything. I don’t know. How rapport seemed effortless. I knew she was tired of men showing up at her orchard like they were trying out for a part in a play and I was tired of the six months of regimented training just to court this one girl.

All pretenses dismissed, we can now be ourselves.

"Don't you get tired of apples?" I ask at one point. 

"History doesn't get tired of them. Why should I? They are, after all, associated with knowledge. The tree in genesis, Newton discovering gravity... Good Will Hunting." 

I laugh at the reference, "How you like them apples?" 

And now I see my opening. I put on a smile which I hope is suave but I know from practicing in mirrors it comes off corny. Still I ask, "What prompted Will Hunting to tell that guy ‘how you like them apples’, anyway?" 

It's so cute the way she lowers her head a bit, and smiles when she answers, "He had just gotten a girl's number."  


I take a step toward her.  

She doesn’t step back.


This is usually the part where I find the perfect excuse. This is the part where I give the It's Not You It's Me routine and in the kindest way possible, I tell them to fuck off. But I cannot tell this man that. He's not like the others -- reading from a script trying to get laid. 

Against all odds and logic, he likes me. I have to tell him the truth.


“I like you,” she tells me. “The others treated me like an object and I accepted it... but I shouldn't have..."

I look at this beautiful as if trying to figure out a puzzle. Why is she so isolated? What has been holding her back from love? I try to ask a simpler question. 

"When was the last time you went to town?" I say. 

"Well, it's going on two years now. I was banished. That's a thing in 2020. Banishment." 

I can tell she is bothered as she paces away and begins to mess with her hands. 

"I mean, who needs people and supermarkets. I've got creepers who show up at my doorstep and an apple orchard. I guess I finally kept that new year's resolution of going vegan --" 

I stop her and come around to look her in the eye. "Why were you banished from the town?" 

Then she tells me the horrific truth.


It is one day later and I am lying in bed crippled by depression. The pale ceiling my only window to the world, I dream of a reality where he takes me in his arms and tells me everything is OK. That my past does not matter and we live out our lives on my farm in our own perfect little fairy tale. But that was a vacant wish for a foolish mind. 

I wish he would have at least cussed me out, called me horrible names -- even spat in my face. But instead I received a more ghastly response. Pure silence. 

He simply kissed me on the lips and left. It's been silent ever since. But he didn't need to say anything, I've seen that look before. So here I lay waiting for the mob.


I didn't believe it. The cruel cosmic irony of it all. I raced back to the base ready to tell all. That the operation was over. We took advantage of her isolation and she therefore didn't know that after the nuclear holocaust (followed by famine) she was literally the last woman on earth. When someone stumbled upon her, we were quick to come up with the plan: court her, make love to her, and have babies to carry the human race. But our cynical game had met its match because she could not have babies for the same reason she was banished from her backwards town. For becoming her true self and turning from Robert to Rose.

It’s painful to do, but I have to tell the Colonel. It is my duty. A soldier’s duty. 

"How did it go?" the Colonel asks anxiously as I stand in attention before him. 

Preparing him, I shake my head. But then I think-- how will these men respond? These hyper-masculine meatheads who shiver at the thought of mere vulnerability. The words write themselves, "I got another date with her." I say. Sounding just convincing enough to impress the Colonel. 

A party ensues with fun and drinking and homophobic jokes -- making my mission more clear. I'll keep her secret to the grave. Whether she has me or doesn't, I'll keep it to protect her from these beasts. All the way to extinction.

October 16, 2020 22:40

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1 comment

The Rookie
20:02 Nov 06, 2020

Love the subtle sarcasm sprinkled through the story! Quite unique structure as well:)


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