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.