Apple Orchard This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 18, 2011
We searched endlessly for a tree with apples that were just right, big enough, the size of a fist, sweet enough, sour (a bit), and flawless, no abrasions or rotted parts. My attention was drawn to trees with dark red apples clinging to the branches in great clusters; they seemed to be the only apples left. Our hopes of attaining McIntoshes deteriorated. After biting into one of the dark red ones, I realized they were red delicious apples: yum. I began to gather these in my bag while Mother went off on her own search.

Later, after my bag had become half full, my mother reappeared holding a McIntosh out to me. I bit into it exclaiming, “Where did you get it?”

She pointed to a tree situated near the swamp. My joyous smile turned to a frown however when I realized they were too high for my 5-foot-2-inch body to reach. It occurred to me that there were apples scattered about on the ground. I did not collect these, but instead grabbed one of the rotted carcasses, a big round hurling object. The apples fell all around me. Each time I made an attempt to catch the falling anticipated sweetness, except when more than one fell, my hands would gather about my head, protecting the most precious of my possessions.

One apple even got stuck in the v-branch way up high. My mother began to laugh even harder than she had been. (I hadn’t consciously noticed, but as her tone increased, I knew she had been laughing the whole time.) In fact, we both laughed. I threw a few more up.

My mother helped me gather the harvest saying, “These are enough.”

She was afraid I might get hurt. Hurt, how silly. I play field hockey, I thought proudly. I have hard objects hurling toward me all the time. I even felt the scare of a bloody nose once from one of those field hockey sticks. A little apple couldn’t hurt me.

Ow, well not that much. I grabbed one final apple, enjoying the fruits of my labor, literally. We headed back through the grove, the overgrown, pressed-down, tangled grass, and I looked over my shoulder at the swamp. The water was green on the surface from that stuff that always seems to form on non-flowing bodies of water, a form of algae I think.

The trees were grey, with broken bark forming incomplete puzzles. It was flooded with light from the sun, yet the scene appeared full and grey. I smiled at the landscape as the lackluster apples donated a tinge of red to the picture. The swamp’s beauty remained with me even though it was not bright.

I turned, walking quickly with a hop just large enough so that I could catch up to my already-departing mother. She pointed out trees containing possible on-the-run candidates for our bags. I gathered more red delicious for my father. I thought how happy he would be at our having thought of him. He was the one who really loved them. We began to walk up slight slants in the land to each new line of trees, working our way toward the store where we’d pay for our labor.

I thought that the joy of apple picking was the idea that you could do it yourself, but I’m not quite sure it’s cheaper than just buying an already-picked bag. You would think it would be, but I think it’s more expensive. Well, make a dollar where you can.

I had been noticing the grass as this thought entered my head, the strands of hair faded green, weathered by the rain and frost. Once again I had fallen behind my mother, her pace was constant as opposed to curious stopping feet, but mine were faster when they did move. As I approached her, I could hear a panting, wheezing sound.

I’ve always known that she had a lung disease, but at that moment the reality thrust itself closer, hitting my consciousness like a bullet shot from a rifle. She had to stop, catching her breath, her chest heaving, gasping for air. The remainder of our walk passed step by step. Each pace passed, beating irregularly against the ground, in tune with her breathing, but without real rhythm. I thought of the altitude, step, the cold air, step, the day I found out she had the illness. Pause.

She was talking to my father. Something about “with my lungs the way they are.” I became afraid, step, not knowing what it was all about. Some disease … no cure, step. I did a paper on it once, just for an excuse to look into the foreign words. It was so rare, Sarcoidosis, step. So little research had been done, step.

She didn’t want to take the drugs because of the side effects, “Mind over matter is all I need.” She knew what would happen if she took the treatments again. Again, because she had to be treated in order to come to the United States, step. In pictures she seemed obese. The steroids had made her body swell, step. She didn’t want to go through that again. Pause.

The doctors can’t diagnose my mother for any lung-related illness, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc. step. Her x-rays are illegible from the damage done by the disease. She could even have lung cancer and they wouldn’t be able to tell, step. The doctors wouldn’t take a CAT scan of her lungs in order to see if there was something else wrong besides the Sarcoidosis. Too much money, step. What is money compared to the life of a mother, wife, sister, friend?

We’ll never know unless she dies, step. She is dying. The doctors are amazed that she’s made it this far without steroids. She’s fifty. How much longer will she stay here with me? Step. I thought that my only option was to make her final months, years, I don’t know, as pleasant as possible. No, that wouldn’t do, step. The thing that makes our mother-daughter relationship so bonding is our differences. Those little disagreements when each walks away a little wiser, a little bit more understanding of the other. We see eye to eye, singly in each conversation, but together as a whole. Love binds us, step. I know she has little time left with me. She is dying, dying faster than she should, a little bit quicker each day, step. Our apple groves make her immortal, though. I will always remember.

“That will be $17.50, please.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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