Thursday, October 19, 2006

THE APPLE TREE

A few days back I invited people to join me in an assignment. We were to write a short short, using the apple tree as metaphor. The only other stipulation was that the story had to be under seven hundred words. Below is my contribution. It comes in at about 399 words. Let me know what you think. Or, if you want, send me your own apple tree story.

THE APPLE TREE

The apple tree stood on a rise in the cemetery, its branches providing shade for a stone angel whose sorrowful eyes looked downward upon the marker for a child dead at age nine, some fifty-eight years ago.

Maria knelt and pulled a stone from a pouch she carried about her waist. She smiled, said a quick prayer, and carefully placed the stone before the marker. Before rising she retrieved an apple that had fallen from the tree. Using a small knife, she cut away a wedge and set it beside the stone. Another piece she set in her mouth, closing her eyes as she slowly munched it.

“Good?” someone asked. She opened her eyes. The caretaker stood close by. He nodded at the tree. “The best looking apples come from that tree. I surely can’t eat them though. You know.”

Maria stood and moved to the next monument marking the passing of a child. Another prayer, another stone. The caretaker followed. He didn’t try communicating until she had repeated the ritual at seven sites.

“That’s nice what you do,” he said at last. The caretaker turned his gaze to the apple tree. He scratched the back of his neck and whistled to himself. “I wonder how far out those roots go.”

Maria looked at a plant poking through the leaves on the ground. New growth.

“I think you missed one,” he said, indicating a stone overgrown with weeds. Maria walked over to where he pointed and studied its weather worn surface. She was able to read the date, 1833-1840, but the last name was illegible with the exception of the first letter of the first name. M.

Maria ran her fingertips over the surface.

“Not even a name any more. I guess that’s how it happens,” said the caretaker. His voice had a bitter edge to it.

Maria turned and looked at him. She nodded and offered a stone from her pouch. He grinned sheepishly. “You know I can’t take that,” he said. “I thank you kindly for the offer, but you save that for the children.”

When he refused her gift, she said her prayer and placed it at his feet. He stared down at it and didn’t look back up. Smiling secretly, she glanced back toward the angel, and moved on toward the cemetery gates.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

why that was just beautiful.....

bee

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I enjoyed the tale, Stewart. In a backwards kind of way, when I was working on my 1996 collection WITH WOUNDS STILL WET, the cover photographer had me follow him around the Forest Park cemetery soon after the shoot to show me this tombstone for a long-departed child named Wilhelmina. Even though the collection was complete, I wrote a piece about as long as yours using the girl's name as the title and Harry took a photo that acted as a frontispiece.

Susan Miller said...

Nice and slow. It invites you to relax as you are reading it. You have a wonderful imagination and paint a very vivid picture. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Lori Witzel said...

Very gently evocative. Nice.

(Seems those voices have suggested it was time to post...)

:-)

Ed W. said...

Wonderful story. This has great atmosphere for being a short piece of work. I can visualize it very well. I'll have to foward this on to somebody I know that simply loves to spend time in old cemetaries. He'll enjoy the story too I am sure.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

What if she places an apple wedge at his feet with the stone, and it sprouts and the roots work their way into his feet because he can't leave any more than the children can...? Something creepy about him wondering how far out the roots go, and the tree being nourished by the dead children, as if that comment was foreshadowing of some kind... maybe the old apple tree was once his father, the caretaker before him... and something about how marble gravestones dissolve in the rain faster than granite, with the names fading from existence as memory of the children's existence dissipates...

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thanks for the comments. I am thinking of taking this story and doing something more with it..expanding it into something else.