A longer version of this story was originally published in Crepe and Penn.
Have you ever seen an apple tree bathing under the sun, the largest apples sagging toward the ground, tinted red from overexposure to light, waiting to be picked? Rows and rows of trees – Pink Pearls, Hudson’s Golden Gems, Jonagolds – bending towards a path you meander through thrice a day, tempted. I pluck the apple hanging closest to my feet; it comes off the stem easily – left for another day and it’d end up on the ground, bruised and invaded by ants and worms seeking the respite of its sweet flesh. I stuff three Pink Pearl apples into the largest pocket of my bag, scuffed up from all the times I drag it across asphalt roads devoid of vehicles and people.
I bite into the fruit: sour – not fully ripe – a taste that forces me to catch my tongue between my teeth and clamp down hard. When I sink my teeth into the skin, it feels like lightning strikes the corners of my mouth as the cracked skin stretches and tears. I can live off Pink Pearls, Hudson’s Golden Gems, and Jonagolds; just beyond the evergreens blocking my view of the sunset, apple orchards grow for miles beyond mouldy mailboxes and apartment buildings now overrun by pine trees; trees that began as cuttings severed from their parents. As to what severed them: I can only the guess, sharpened by anger. I find it ironic that man-engineered apple trees leave a legacy of orchards. A miracle? A sliver of hope that I can do more than survive, and if that’s true, can I be so presumptuous as to negotiate the conditions that permit me the luxury of an existential crisis?
When I walk through the orchards, I notice which apples seem starved of sunlight. These are the smallest apples, their color a uniform green-yellow, the branches of their tree unable to reach the next one over, leaves lacking in all but chlorophyll. This tree is weak, leaching what little it can when the others need nutrients too. I pull out the Swiss Army knife in my pants back pocket and begin to cut at the trunk, only specks of young bark flaking away from the mass. I cut until the sun leaves no more light for me to distinguish finger from bark – until everything fades to silhouettes and the moon reflects off the blade into my pupil, a piercing glare.
I dig the dirtied blade into the now one-centimeter-deep wound on the tree. The temperature drops over these few weeks – I think it is September now. I like to keep track of time, not for counting the days until winter, but because I find it comforting; at one point in life time could solve all problems, or at least numb their sting. I continue to cut while the leaves fall to the ground around me, cushioning my steps. My fingers and toes grow numb, my nails purple and my body shivering no matter how often I soak my hands in fresh urine or how many times I dance my feet against the once soft cotton of my jacket. The Swiss Army knife falls from my grasp and I watch my arm reach back out toward the executioner’s axe only for my fingers to play deaf to my commands extend, grasp, tense, clench, retrieve. My head sways and I see stars glimmering among cloying apples. Maybe next summer, I think. Next summer I’ll chop the tree down so the remaining ones will be bountiful and strong.
About The Author
Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on the weekends like a normal human being. Her work has appeared in various publications, including After Alexei, Digging Through The Fat, and Bending Genres.
Bandit Fiction is an entirely not–for–profit organisation ran by passionate volunteers. We do our best to keep costs low, but we rely on the support of our readers and followers to be able to do what we do. The best way to support us is by purchasing one of our back issues. All issues are ‘pay what you want’, and all money goes directly towards paying operational costs.
Leave a Reply