The Apple Picker

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 When I was young, I would do the same thing every Sunday without fail. I would get up at the first hint of a sound from the bedside clock, which I waited impatiently for as I twitched and turned and tossed in my bed having woken up early out of subconscious eagerness. As soon as the shrill of the alarm would meet me, I would hop out of my bed and tip-toe to the other end, and nudge my sister with my elbow. As her eyes sparked open I’d see in them a lucid gleam – calm and at peace. She would get up and slowly hold my hand, and we would walk outside the house, without making a noise, to the apple farms.

We lived on the outskirts of Alabama, in a little town called Bridleway. There weren’t more than twenty houses in the entire village, and the apple farms were not very far from ours. So before the sun woke up, we would leave our cottage – two young girls skipping to the woods; a red figure and a white.

Once we reached the woods, the routine was very simple. We would wait among the boughs for the first ray of the sun to hit the turquoise grass. The sparrows would soon start chirping a beautifully knit symphony – this was our beacon call. We would suddenly become alert – I would position myself in the middle of two alleys of giant apple trees, the hem of my skirt staunch in my hands, while my sister skidded around picking the ripe apples that had fallen from the branches on becoming heavy with juice and pulp. In about fifteen minutes, we would be jumping back home, my skirt heavy and full of round apples that bounced playfully as I ran.

As we went to and fro from the apple farms every Sunday, I loved how my sister’s cold fingers held me in the warm sunlight of the summer months, and how she insisted on walking barefoot. I distinctly remember her fair face, strikingly white, as if she had spent a lot of time playing in the snow. Her pretty black hair shone like a silk drape in the glitter of the morning sun. She was every bit beautiful. Strangely so, I do not have any memory of talking to her; I do not recall any conversation we had and remain in doubt whether we had any at all. Nevertheless, she was my favourite person.

As I delivered the apples in the kitchen, Mother would consequently cook apple flavoured jam, pie and tart. “I pity how Mr. Noward lives in oblivion of the wonderful harvest of his farms; fortunately or unfortunately my brilliant little daughter gets it home just in time!” Mother would joke. In days of childhood, this feat made me feel eccentric; only in my later days did I learn that Mr. Noward was always secretly aware of our mischief, and mother underhandedly paid him the fair price of every apple stolen and collected. Yet, I am glad that she maintained this secrecy with me, for had she not, it would have robbed me of one of my greatest childhood experiences.

I disliked however, how she never made a mention of or glanced at my sister. I loathed her for looking right through her and telling me constantly that my sister died a long time back. No matter how much I insisted, she failed to understand my heart. How could I tell her that she wasn’t? How do I explain that it was she who helped me pick the reddest, most ripe, crunchiest apples from the bough?

When I was young, my mother paid no heed to the truth, so I kept my own mysteries from her. Thus, each Sunday my sister would hold my hand, and we’d walk soundlessly to the apple farms. This was my own little secret.

However, my sister’s memories are tougher today. The faint recollection I have of the sparrow’s chantey is a mournful note. Every speculation of my retention reduces the figure of my sister to a shadow, turning her translucent day by day; all that remains shining clearly is her white shroud.

Over the years I have come to terms with the understanding that maybe, this is how locked memories get back to you. Thus I have stopped recalling those days; else her memory might fade away altogether. Instead, I wait, but as I wake up on Sundays, more often than not, I find the other end of my bed empty and naked like a funeral bed.