The Forbidden Fruit

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Write a story where flowers play a central role.... view prompt

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Fiction

      “You know, this is my favorite flower,” says Chris Roberts to his son, Alex. “Of all the flowers I’ve grown and nurtured in my lifetime, this one is my favorite.” He strokes the pink petals of a radiant tulip he has growing in a vase of cloudy water. The scant evening light shines through the basement window and touches Alex’s face like a ghost’s finger. It shows Chris the blood on his son’s face, a dry line of scarlet running to his chin from the wound on his forehead. Alex whimpers, shifting anxiously on the wooden stool below him. “Why are you still afraid?” his father asks. He turns to Alex with a desperate, sad face. “Why do you fear me, son?”

           Alex chokes on a sob and turns his head away from his father. Through his tears, he stares at the shelves on the wall, each lined with vases of flowers that have grown under the eyes of the most meticulous gardener in the world.

           “Please look at me when I’m talking to you, Alex.” Chris gently puts a hand beneath Alex’s chin and turns his face so their eyes meet. “Son, why are there tears in your eyes?”

           Alex wipes away the salty water and sniffs the snot from his nose. “I didn’t want to be alone with you,” he cries. “You’re scary. I loved Mom more.”

           “I know you did, Alex, but that’s why she had to go, buddy.”

           “She didn’t have to go!”

           Chris nods slowly with pursed lips. “Yes, she did. Otherwise, I would’ve never seen you again.”

           “Where is she?”

           “Your mother?”

           “Is she dead? What did you do to her?"

           “Jesus Christ, Alex. Of course she’s not dead! I’m not a murderer. She’s just… well, like the police said, she’s missing. You’ll still see her tomorrow morning, okay? We had a deal.” Now it’s Chris’s turn to fidget in his seat. “The only thing is, I’m worried about how that will go.” 

           “What does that mean?”        

           “Well, she might try to take you away again.”

           Alex shakes his head insistently. “She won’t, Dad. If she could, she’d already be here.”

           Chris smirks. “You’re the smartest kid I’ve ever met, Alex.”

           The day before this harrowing conversation, Alex’s family was falling apart. His parents were in the midst of a divorce, shouting over who was going to keep the house when his mother asked if Chris had even thought of who was keeping Alex.

           “Well, that’s for the judge to decide,” Chris said.

           “He already has,” Alex’s mother said. “Alex is staying with me.”

           “We don’t know that yet, Cindy.”

           “Yes, we do. I spoke to the police yesterday and they said that based on your… disorders, I will be keeping Alex.”

           “For how long? Will we be switching each week?”

           Alex’s mother―Cindy―let out an exasperated sigh. “Chris, I’m keeping Alex fulltime. He already agreed to it; the only thing you can do is get your silly little flowers and go.”

           Chris didn’t like that. There was a series of shouting and gruesome name-calling that shook the walls, followed by Cindy’s screams as she was tossed down the stairs. Alex darted from the living room couch to see if she was okay, but his father shooed him away.

           “Stop, Dad! Put her down!” Alex pounded his fists into his father as his unconscious mother was carried toward the front door.

           “Quit it, Alex. I’m doing this for us, alright?”

           “Put her down! You killed her!”

           Chris carefully placed Cindy’s body beside the door and caught both his son’s wrists in an iron grip. Alex, being only eight years old, could do nothing as his father dragged him over to the rotting basement door and locked it behind him. Alex howled and smashed against the door until he heard an engine start outside and disappear down the dirt road.

           His father didn’t return until the next day, when Alex was ready to do just about anything for some food. The aroma of the hundreds of flowers around the basement had become sickening, and Alex wished he was big enough to fit through the tiny window. The lock twisting at the top of the stairs startled Alex. He had been staring at the trees blowing in the harsh autumn wind through the small glass pane.

           “Alex?” his father said. The stairs creaked under his weight as he made his way down into the ominous room. “I hope you’re still down here, I brought McDonald’s.”

           Alex sat up straighter at this and said, “I’m here, Dad.”

           “Good. Sorry I took so long, buddy. Here you go.” Chris handed Alex a greasy paper bag of salty fries and a hamburger wrapped in yellow plastic.

           “What happened, Dad? Why are you so dirty?” His father was covered in dirt, mud, and dust. His hands had blisters on them, as if he had been swinging an ax all day.

           “Well, I was helping your mom find a good hiding spot.”

           “I want to see her again.”

           “You will, Alex. In time.”

           “No, Dad, I want to see her now.”

           “Alex, we’ll see Mom when I say we can, got it?”

           Alex took one of the stools from the long wooden table―which was also veiled by a multitude of flowers―and hurled it at his father. “Where’s Mom? What did you do to her?”

           “I did what I had to do to keep us together!” Chris slapped his son across the face, then shoved him so hard he stumbled and whacked his head against one of the shelves. Chris leaped across the room to stabilize the vases on the shelf, then picked Alex up from the floor. A nasty cut leaked blood from his forehead and his body shook with sobs. “I’m sorry, Alex. I’m so sorry, son. I didn’t mean to make you fall.”

           “Let go of me! Let go! I want to see Mom!”

           Chris clamped a hand over Alex’s mouth and shushed him. He looked at the window, listening intently. The crunch of shifting gravel emanated from beyond the glass; someone was outside. Chris climbed to his feet and brought Alex over to the window, maintaining a grip on his mouth. A police cruiser was in the driveway, its headlights bright against the falling sun. An officer was getting out of the driver’s door.

           Alex bit down on Chris’s fingers and Chris cried out in shock, releasing him. “If you don’t bring me to see Mom, I’ll tell the cops what you did. I’ll say you’re the one who made her go missing.”

           “You won’t say anything to them,” Chris said. “You are going to stay down here while I talk to them, because you are my son, and you will obey me.” But the officer was already knocking on the front door, and Alex smiled smugly through the blood on his face. “Alright, fine, we can go see Mom tomorrow before I take you to school.” Chris hastened up the deteriorating stairs and closed the door behind him. At the front entrance, he greeted the female cop with a pleasant smile.

           “Good evening, Mr. Roberts,” she said. Her skin was the color of caramel and her smile made Chris think maybe he’d kidnap her, too. “We received a call from you earlier today about your wife never coming home last night.”

           “Yes, she still hasn’t turned up. My son and I are beginning to worry.”

           The officer asked Chris for his wife’s first and last names, her height, skin color, and inquired about the last time he’d seen her. She wrote the information down on a pad of paper and said, “okay, thank you, Mr. Roberts. We’ll let you know if we find anything.”

           Chris thanked her dearly, then shut the door with a sigh of relief. He returned to the basement where he cleaned Alex’s face and made a bed for him on the floor. “You’ll sleep down here tonight, okay? I trust you, but right now I can’t take any chances.” A dark line of dried blood remained on Alex’s face. He sat on a stool, finding it difficult to keep his eyes open. While he sat, his father began to stroke one of the tulips on the table and explained to Alex that that tulip was his favorite flower.

           As the sun rises over the tree tops the next morning and casts long shadows across the forest floor, Chris puts his rusty pickup truck into gear. He drives down the old dirt road that leads from his house to the highway, Alex riding shotgun. The air is crisp and cool up in the forested hills this morning and they both wear plaid lumberjack jackets. At the end of the bumpy road, they turn right rather than left, leaving the town behind them.

           They drive for a good while, further into the country than Alex had ever been. The highway has turned quiet this far out, and Chris parks the truck on the roadside. The sun is higher now, shining over the rolling hills and into Alex’s squinted eyes. The pine trees are golden in the morning light, and Alex finds them beautiful, though he could never appreciate the elegance as much as his father does.

           “Dad, come on,” Alex says, tugging at his father’s wrist.

           “Just let me look for a second.”

           Alex leans against the truck with his father, taking in the glorious Canadian landscape. “Do trees have anything to do with your… what do you call it again?”

           “Most people call it a conspiracy,” Chris chuckles. “And I’m not sure, honestly. Like I’ve told you before, Alex, I’m not even sure flowers have anything to do with it; I just like looking at them. However… I can’t help but wonder if the flowers in Eden were the same as the ones we have today.”

           “Probably more pretty.”

           Chris laughs. “I guess you’re right. Anyway, let’s go see Mom.”

           The two of them hop across the ditch and delve into the forest. As they plod across the carpet of browned pine needles, Alex notices his father is following a trail of holes. The holes are spaced at about ten feet intervals and are the size of a shovel’s blade.

           “Dad, can you tell me about the conspiracy again?”

           Chris lets out a deep sigh and scratches at his greying beard. “Son, you ask me about that every other day.”

           “Yeah, because it’s interesting!”

           “Okay, I guess I can tell you one last time. In the beginning―according to the Bible―Adam and Eve lived alone in the Garden of Eden.”

           “Wait, wait. What does ‘according to’ mean?”

           “It just means the Bible said it. Anyway, the Devil came to them one day and convinced them to eat the fruit from the tree of good and evil. God cast them out for disobeying him and listening to Satan. Now, the way I see it, this section of the Bible is the single most important thing God has given us. For all I care, son, you can believe nothing in the Bible ever happened, so long as you keep this section in mind. These first few pages warn us that Satan is everywhere, and that he is constantly tempting us. You see, the forbidden fruit is a timeless metaphor. It is something we all stumble upon, eventually, and God’s question is this: will we eat it, or will we obey him?”

           A frown darkens Alex’s face. “So, the tree of good and evil still exists?”

           “No, no, I’ll explain it to you. The fruit is a metaphor for all the temptations we face in life, Alex. Temptations are usually pleasurable to indulge in, which could be a whisper of Satan telling us if we indulge in them, we will be like God, just as he told Adam and Eve the fruit would make them like God. One of the forbidden fruits I came across in my younger years was alcohol, son. But I got over it; Satan couldn’t take me.”

           Alex ponders this as he walks, and as far as he can tell, it makes sense. It’s a simple way of seeing things, and he likes it. Watch out for the fruits, and he’ll be fine. Sounds fun.

           Soon, Chris says they’ve reached their destination. He climbs up into a pine tree and tosses a rake down to Alex. “I hid this up there for when I come back,” he says, then begins raking away the leaves and needles from a spot on the ground.

           “What’re you doing, Dad?”

           Chris doesn’t bother answering. They’re deep in the woods now, and he’s beginning to feel uneasy. A breeze rustles the leaves and brings a chill to his spine. What’s going to happen when he reveals the cage in the ground? Will Cindy escape somehow? Better keep a close eye on Alex and this rake.

           “Woah, what’s that?” Alex exclaims when the rake strikes a pane of glass in the dirt. When his father drags another pile of debris away, Alex realizes what he’s looking at. “Mom! Mom, are okay?”

           Cindy Roberts is crouched with her arms folded around her legs in an eight-foot-tall glass cage buried in the ground. A pile of wrapped sandwiches sits across from her. She looks up at Alex banging on the roof and shoots to her feet. She screams something, but Alex can’t make it out.

           “Soundproof glass,” Chris says. “Here, I’ll open it up for you.” A lock sits on top of the cage, holding a small square section of it closed. Chris retrieves a key from his pocket and unlocks it, opening the square.

           “Alex!” Cindy cries. “Sweetie, are you okay? What happened to your head?”

           “I’m fine, Mom. Why are you in the ground?”

           “Well, your father put me in here yesterday.” Cindy notices Chris walking away to lean the rake against a tree. Quickly, she whispers, “you have to tell the cops what’s going on, Alex. Do you understand?” Alex nods.

           “What’re you whispering to him about?” Chris asks.

           “Just about how much I love him, and how much I wish I could give him a hug.”

           “Well, you can’t. Not unless you’re ready to share him.”

           “Dad told me about his conspiracy on the way here,” Alex says.

           “The forbidden fruit conspiracy?” Cindy asks.

           “Yeah.”

           “Chris, have you ever considered that maybe Alex is your forbidden fruit? Or your flowers?”

           “What’s wrong with loving my son, Cindy? And what sin is there in growing flowers?”

           “It’s not about Alex or the flowers, Chris. It’s about your obsession over them; look what it’s done to us! Do you really think God sees nothing wrong with this?”

           “Obsessions are different from temptations, Cindy. Besides, you have no right telling me how I should live my life.”

           “Actually, I do. Everyone does, for that matter. You’re a sad excuse of a man, Chris, and anyone can tell you how despicable you are.”

           “Words won’t get you out of here, you know. The only difference your insults will make is a decrease in the food I’ll be bringing you.”

           Alex stands to the side, idly listening to his parents argue. He notices another lock on the cage, and it’s clear this one holds the entire lid shut. A plan forms in his head, and he slinks away from his father. He takes the garden rake in both hands and tentatively creeps back over to the cage. His father is shouting about how marrying Cindy in the first place had been the biggest mistake of his life, and that she was a worthier candidate for his forbidden fruit than anyone else. With a shuddering breath, Alex shuts his eyes and swings the rake’s blades into his father’s face. His mother cries out in shock as her husband’s body falls back. Alex fishes for the keys in Chris’s pocket and starts working on the lock.

           “Son of a bitch!” A hand wraps around Alex’s throat. He gags, turning to face his father. Chris’s face is gushing blood, the rake blades still stuck in his skull. Alex squeals at the hideous sight and wrenches on the rake’s handle. His father lets loose a bloodcurdling cry and loosens his grip on Alex. He drops to his knees and fumbles with the key. His hands are trembling, but finally he twists the key in the lock, then strains to lift the glass surface open.

           “Run, sweetie,” his mother says as she climbs out. “Run to the highway, I’ll find you.”

           But Alex only makes it a couple of steps before his father catches him. The rake has been yanked from his face, leaving a mess of blood and gaping holes in the flesh. Chris kicks his son’s legs out from under him and pins him to the ground, glaring at him through the river of blood.

“Let me go!” Alex screams. “Let me go! Stop it! Help! Help!” Alex goes on screaming his throat raw until his mother smashes a rock against Chris’s head. He collapses on top of Alex, who squirms free and hugs his mother fiercely.

           “Baby, I’m so sorry,” she sobs, hugging him back. “It’s okay now. It’s okay, we’re safe. We’re safe, baby.”

           Alex buries his face against her stomach, ignoring his father’s sunken skull. The cool air now feels frigid, and goosebumps rise on his skin. He keeps his gaze pointed away as his mother retrieves his father’s cell phone and informs the police of their situation.

           “Can you take us back to the road, sweetie?”

           “I… I think so. Mom, I can’t breathe.”

           “You’re just shaken up, bud. You’ll feel better once we’re out of here.”

           Twenty minutes later, they wait on the side of the highway as the officers investigate the scene. Alex notices a collection of tulips growing in the ditch, way off to his left. Their petals are bright pink and thin enough that the sun shines through them like paper. His father would have loved them.

March 24, 2021 11:36

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