THE APPLE TREE
By Mark Head.
Just off a quiet roadway, bound by high stone walls and a dead end laneway with a locked shed at the end of it was an orchard.
The night was still; and lit by full moon glow, a small barefoot boy in corduroy shorts and a well torn football guernsey carefully observed the fruit that glistened from the branches of an apple tree overhanging the wall.
No sound, no dogs barking, no traffic along the road.
Carefully looking about and clinging to the shadows, the boy edged along the wall beside the laneway, and
acutely aware that Indian feet make no sound, looked for advantage that might offer opportunity to scale the wall. Towards the end of the laneway and a shade too close to the shed for comfort distance, found one; and seconds later was astride it and looking for a way of descent into forbidden ground.
He had not missed the notice on the wall, but since he could not read, interpreted what it said favourably.
It was a general invitation to a fete to be held in the orchard the next day.
Just beneath him, a lean-to lay drunkenly against the wall, which he closely observed for any sign of canine occupancy, but hearing nothing, lowered himself cautiously onto its iron roof, then froze momentarily imagining sounds of discovery, then jumped lightly to the ground, wincing slightly when his right foot struck a twig which snapped like a rifle shot across the clearing in the centre of the orchard.
Instantly the boy melted into deep shadow and waited.
No sounds of discovery were heard. After waiting a minute or two to be sure, he selected the tree he wished to scale; an apple tree of regal proportion standing alone in the centre of the clearing.
Wraithlike, he flitted across open ground, and quickly seeking sanctuary under the tree, peered up into its canopy to find the easiest way to scale the trunk, which was not hard to do, for this tree had many knothole battle scars that gave easy purchase to one of determined mind. Once in the security of the upper branches the boy, continuously looking about him for signs of possible discovery, and seeing and hearing nothing, cautiously snaked his way along the most favourable branch towards his prize.
It was the largest apple he had ever seen, a ripe and tender orb glistening in the moonlight supported by a stem so slender it seemed that the merest breath of wind could snap it and allow its charge to fall to ground.
Gently, he extended his arm, and with a sigh of relief eased tension as his open hand closed around the apple, supporting it from underneath should it chance to slip before he could grasp his prize.
“All right you. Come down from up there.”
Flat words said in the stillness of the night.
The boy attempted invisibility, but a moment later the leaves of the tree rustled angrily as something invisible parted them and struck the apple the boy had plucked, sending it spinning from his hand to the ground with a thump.
He tried to make himself smaller and clutched the branch closer. Again the leaves rustled, and this time, the missile, an apple, struck the boy in the side, and, looking through an opening in the foliage, saw the solid outline figure of a farmer wearing overalls, gumboots, and a hat.
There was the shadow of a stick in his left hand and in the other an apple missile at the ready for release.
Slowly the boy backed down the branch and hugged his way to the ground, fearing to cry out as shins and knees scraped and shuddered across the gnarled bark of the tree. After landing on the ground and looking for somewhere to flee, he realized there was nowhere to go, for the farmer was directly in front of him, a threatening figure with raised hand, but no stick, for there had never been one there.
Out of breath, he turned to face the farmer directly, and as he did so his foot struck something and he nearly fell.
Recovering his balance, he looked down and saw the apple that had been in his grasp initially; and another, then another, for they lay littered in profusion about his feet, but smothered by the mantle of his own darkness had seen none of these.
“Hold out your hand.”
Dumbly, the boy did so, closing his eyes in anticipation of pain following a blow, only to experience the
sensation of cool smoothness, and opening his eyes, perceived the apple in his hand, and then the figure of the farmer stooped to the ground picking up apple after apple, disregarding those that were too ripe.
When his arms were full, the farmer stood up and said “Fold your arms.”
Still holding the apple in his right hand the boy did so, and the farmer filled them with apples; then beckoned to him and walked away, the boy following, until finally both stood before a gate in the opposite wall to the one he had climbed earlier.
It was wide open.
“This gate is never closed” the farmer said.
One of the apples in the boy’s arms fell, only to be instantly retrieved by the farmer.
“Good night and good morning to you!”
The farmer vanished.
Safely through the gate, the boy looked in wonder as fingers of dawn-light rippled through the leaves of the trees, and on the horizon saw applestars twinkling in the mantle of the heavens.