Money was tight, but the apple tree was full. The large boughs of Gravenstein branches shadowing the salt lick in the corner pasture hung heavy, wrought with the weight of a good season. I was five the first time I remember feeling the bounty of wealth, and how it didn’t always show up as paper bills.
In those early years, wealth is watching afternoon cartoons with my older brother John, our animal crackers galloping along the arms of the wooden rocking chair until animalistic tendencies take over. My rhino’s tusks spar with his elephant’s trunk, crashing into each other with gleeful shouts until we bite the heads off, crumbs falling out of our lips and down the fronts of our hand-me-down shirts. Later on, the abundance of the entire world has me teetering on a wooden stool, shadowed by my mother. With our thumbs and forefingers, we pinch the dough for the pie crust—she on one side, me on the other—rotating the plate until her perfect pinches meet my crooked ones.
I make flour handprints on the front of my crocheted jumper, and when I hop off the stool, bits of flour and lard crumble from between my fingers and onto the linoleum floor. I skip to the room adjacent the kitchen where my brother and I like to play for hours. Except today he isn’t here. And he won’t be here at this time tomorrow, either. Or the day after that. Kindergarten has taken my number one playmate captive, caught him up in the abyss of time and space in a way my young intellect cannot comprehend. I wander around, knowing deep down in my gut that my search is futile. I look behind the couch, in the closet cubby where we sometimes play hide and seek, out by the garden spigot where the sticky rhododendron bush lives.
The loneliness I feel is heavy like sand and I want to shout to make the quiet go away, but instead I start picking incessantly at the arm of the stained, tweed couch. I kneel by the big picture window, my left hand clutching the large ball of pill. I peer out, focusing on the road in front of our farm house, my breath fogging up the pane every time my breath leaves my mouth. I notice the fog climbing higher and higher, so I make extra long ones to watch it take shape. The fog becomes a tree. Using my pointer finger, I draw circles in the branches—big, ripe, juicy apples. I wish I could climb it to the very top and pick them. Maybe mama and I can make more pie tomorrow. I wait with my nose pressed to the glass.
Outside, the giant feather grass sways in the wind. Behind me, the tv with foil-wrapped antennae hums softly in the background. I nod off, my forehead taking a spot above my nose, marking a clean spot on the cool pane.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…”
I jerk awake. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Our one o’clock show is about to start, which means this room will soon lose the stagnant, blank feel that makes me feel all alone. I hum along, “…I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.” Both palms pressed against the window, I look to the end of 72nd Street. Sure enough, I see it. There, at the top of the big hill.
A long, high-pitched squeak signals the arrival of the big, yellow bus that carries my favorite person in the world. My sigh of relief mimics the huge “whoosh” of the double wide doors opening, and I see red tennis shoes and white laces hop down the steep black stairs and leap to the gravel below. Brown, baggy corduroys are pulled up with one little hand, and the other adjusts the strap of a bulky backpack.
Tiptoeing across the room, I creak open the closet cubby and crawl in, stifling a giggle. The oak floor presses against my belly as I scoot feet first to the very back and hook the underside of the door with the edge of my pinky finger, drawing it closed to the last bars of Mr. Roger’s tune.
“… Let’s make the most of this day. Since we are together…”
All is right again in my world. There is plenty of apple pie and hide and seek for the rest of the day. Rich, thick swirls of cinnamon apple fill my nostrils and I wait for John to come find me.
In time, our family would move away from that farm kitchen where I made apple pies with mom; the place I would run and laugh with John underneath the bountiful Gravenstein trees but, for now, the apple tree is full and ours for the taking.
The above piece was featured in StoneCrop Magazine, 2019.