The Apple Tree

Avond (Evening): The Red Tree, by Piet Mondrian

Looks can be deceiving. Things aren’t always what they seem.

That apple tree, for instance. It had a life all its own, growing out there in the forest, stubbornly; a strange place for an apple tree in the first place.

No one even knew it was an apple tree until the year it bore fruit. And it did that just the once and then never again.

People said that it was because of where it grew, in the forest rather than in an orchard, that there wasn’t enough light. They said the one year of apples was an aberration. That it had been bewitched. Touched by evil.

It wasn’t any of their business. The tree was on our land. But they made it their business, because we were different. Because we didn’t go to church. Because it was just us three girls and Mama. Because she was strong and independent and her own person.

People often aren’t what they seem, either.

I don’t blame Mama for what happened, just as I don’t blame the tree, no matter what those townsfolk said. But I do agree with them on one thing. I blame the evil that resides in the human heart.

Back then, when my two sisters and I were kids, we used to run out of the house and across the meadow toward the forest, our bare feet slap-slapping the sandy ground, sending up clouds of dust with each step.

We were drawn to that old, gnarled, twisted and boney tree – it was perfect for climbing adventures and hanging upside down.

One spring day, we were surprised to notice its branches budding. Soon, it was dusted with snowy blossoms that eventually blew down in a smothering blizzard, leaving the ground carpeted, white and fragrant.

Mama smiled when we told her, and she promised to make something with the coming fruit. As autumn approached, the three of us watched with anticipation as the apples swelled and turned the whole tree red. Almost daily we reported their progress to Mama.

Finally, the day came that Mama walked out with us to check the fruit. We waited impatiently as she circled the tree three times, then approached it and placed her hand gently on its trunk. Closing her eyes, she whispered the necessary request to the tree.

“May I pick an apple?”

When she opened her eyes, she reached out her hand toward the closest, reddest apple. It seemed to let go of its branch all on its own to land softly in her hand.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

She turned to face us and, smiling serenely, announced, “They’re ready to be picked, girls!”

We returned to the forest after supper with two baskets and Mama’s instructions.

It was twilight and the sun, just setting in the West, hovered beyond the tree, shining red and gold through the leaves, as though it, too, was an apple.

We set our baskets on the ground and performed the required rites. I don’t know what my sisters felt but I know that when we murmured our request to the tree, I felt a yielding, a giving way. I never questioned it; it was part of the harvest.

As we worked, the sun set and the moon rose, coming to rest above the tree, bathing us in cool, blue light. The stars seemed to swirl around us, as though the tree had a gravitational pull all its own.

When we had picked all that we needed, we thanked the goddess and returned home.

We hadn’t noticed Prue Mondrian hiding in the trees.  Good, obedient Prue. But she had seen us, and heard us and she carried her news home with her as fast as her legs could carry her. Her parents spread it the next morning in church.

The townsfolk stopped at the tree on their way to question Mama. They wanted to see the apples for themselves.  But the tree was bare and the apples were rotting on the ground.

Like the tree, we thwarted their plans. We were out when they came, but they marched right in anyway and saw the two apple pies cooling on the counter and Mama’s pots of apple jelly sitting beside them. When we returned home, we found the pies and jams smashed and trampled on the kitchen floor.

We managed to leave town undetected.

I am an old woman now. Lately, everywhere I look I see that apple tree. But looks can be deceiving.

Word count: 746

Written for the Speakeasy #153 at Yeah Write. The prompts this week were the line “Looks can be deceiving,” and the painting, Avond (Evening): The Red Tree, by Piet Mondrian. Please click on the icon above for full details of the writing challenge and to check out the other submissions.

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36 thoughts on “The Apple Tree

    • I’m glad you liked that detail 🙂 And, yes, old-time, small town judgemental herds are a force to be reckoned with. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

    • Thank you for your kind, enthusiastic support, Maggie. I’m glad to have had something (albeit a very small role) to do with sharing new information with you about Mondrian.

    • That about sums it up!
      Her name was actually Prue (short for Prudence – very Puritanical!) but Pure would have worked equally well in getting her and the town’s character across. Thank you very much for your kind and amusing comment.

  1. You made this story feel so personal – it drew me right in. And placing the mystical nature of the tree (and the family) against the backdrop of everyday small town life was really effective. The comparison between the setting sun and the apple was just beautiful. Really, really great story.

    • Thank you for this very thoughtful and detailed feedback. I’m glad the mystical aspect came through so well and it’s also very rewarding to hear that you liked the effect I tried to create with the sun. Thank you!

  2. I very much enjoyed reading this. It captivated me from the beginning. I have always lived in small towns so the mentality was recognizable and humorous to me. I could just see the girls taking off running. Great job. 🙂

    • Haha – I, too, have lived in small towns, though I started out downtown in a big city. I’m glad to hear you recognized the small town mentality and that it made you laugh – it means I got it right! Thank you for sharing your impressions with me.

  3. What a bitter-sweet tale!The greed of human beings-the tendency to grab and lust for things that do not belong-to spy and interfere-to use force and intimidation are the worms that are always feeding on the core of those apples-no wonder they rotted!Excellent take on the prompt and I loved how the tree yielded when the mother and later her daughters asked permission-such a sweet touch and am so glad that they escaped from that mad mob of villagers! 🙂

    • I like that you continued and deepened the metaphor with your thoughts on the worms eating the apple cores. Perhaps they managed to escape because of the same connectedness and respect with the world/universe/nature that they felt when asking permission to pick the apples?
      Thanks for your comments!

  4. Such a wonderful story about magic and our connection to the earth – contrasted with those who choose to see only what’s different and judge it as wrong. I love the way their mother taught them to approach the tree. Fantastic, creative take on the prompts! 🙂

    • Thanks Suzanne, and I’m glad you recognized and enjoyed the elements of magic and connection to nature. I couldn’t get this story going for ages and then it just hit me all at once. Now I quite like it 🙂

  5. Wonderful story. I loved how the family connected with the tree and how the story focused on how evil and jealous the townspeople were, how they broke into their house and destroyed the pie and preserves. That is just wrong on so many levels but in their minds their actions were justified.

    • It is wrong, and yet such a prevalent reaction by so many, in some form or another. I’m glad you liked the story, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

  6. Beautifully written. I liked how you got across the fear of those perceived to be different, and how the family respected nature. Also loved the storyteller’s voice.

  7. Such an interesting set of characters. They’re obviously familiar with the old ways, as evidenced by “asking” the tree for an apple. The descriptions throughout were wonderful. I could picture this story vividly. Too bad ignorance pushed them out of their home as it so often does.

    • Yes, the old ways, I’m glad you picked up on that. Ignorance and fear are enemies of us all!
      I’m so happy to hear you could picture everything vividly – that is high praise indeed. Thank you!

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