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.