James M. Kwapisz 16 W. Center Street, New Paltz, NY 12561 Jameskwapisz@yahoo.com
Word count: 2,180
The Hill that Divides the Orchard by James Kwapisz The two lied upon the hill that divides the orchard, each eating their apples discretely. Behind them there was a fence, beyond which the trees were dense with apples. Taking each bite proudly, the girl laughed under her breath at the paying customers walking in and out of the entrance down past the bushes where they had hid their bikes. The sparsely appled trees before them were unrestricted and sunk deep into the valley, becoming one mass of green, speckled brown and red here and there. The mass swelled in rows upon rows of hills that rose from the valley and blended with the mountains in the distance. The mountains became less distinct in color as they faded into the horizon. Although the trees before them were open to the public, the few apples still clinging to their boughs were not quite as good as the ones behind them. Of course they wouldn’t be as good, the boy thought. “Isn’t this great, Oswald?” his cousin asked. “Sure is.” He sighed, gazing blankly at the horizon. “It’s going to be a good semester. I can feel it.” The air was crisp, the smell of firewood lingered. They had smelled it all along the stretch of the trail starting from the cemetery and up to the orchard. It comforted the girl to know that, even though they themselves were slightly chilly, someone somewhere was warm at that very moment. The thought itself warmed her bones. “I think that’s my favorite smell,” she said. She took a deep breath and exhaled consciously. “It’s especially nice coupled with the taste of this apple. Here, try it.” Oswald refused, and took a bite from his own. He adjusted himself to use the fence as back support. His apple was too tart for his liking, but he pretended to enjoy it. She probably thinks hers tastes better because she stole it, he thought. “This is just great,” she said. “And this breeze feels so good, especially after this past summer.” “It sure did drag on,” Oswald muttered between a mouthful of apple. “What?” “The summer.” “Oh yeah—um.” The girl looked down at her shoes. “But wasn’t the beach fun?” she asked brightly in hopes to change the subject. Oswald threw his unfinished apple to the dirt. “It was okay—the first few times. After a while I thought we’d never leave.” “But, we did leave eventually.” “Yeah, and so did he. Eventually.” The girl put down her apple. She was no longer hungry. Oswald imagined the apples’ fates materialize before him: each dropped, browned, shriveled, then all vanished. * “Oswald? Are you ready to go?” his father asked. “Helen and Aunt Eleanor are waiting
for us.” Oswald walked sluggishly down the stairs and handed his father several towels. “Let’s go,” he mumbled. “Where are you two off to?” his grandfather asked, struggling to get up from his chair. “We’re headed to the beach, Pa. See you in a few hours.” “Now, wait a minute.” Using the wall for support, Pa made his way over to them and put his hand on the door. “Wha—what if I wanted to come?” “But, Pa,” his son answered, “you hate the beach. Last time we brought you, you wouldn’t stop complaining about how the sun hurt your eyes.” “Well, I changed my mind. I want to come along. Can’t a man change his mind?” “But you—” “Just let him come, Dad,” Oswald interjected. Pa shifted past them and started for the car. His steps were short and shaky, he had forgotten his cane. Oswald caught up, walked him to the car and let him in the back seat. Oswald sat in the passenger seat and reached over and honked the horn at his father, who was standing still at the door, shaking his head. “I just needed to get out of that house,” Pa said to Oswald. “It’s the least your father could do.” “What was that?” Oswald’s father asked through the cracked window. He climbed into the driver seat and looked in the rearview mirror. “I said, it’s the least you could do. You can help me out once in a while. What, after I let you back in my home back when you lost your—your job. And when was that? Last what, November?” Oswald’s father kept silent. September, he thought. He had been warned for putting certain transactions into the wrong ledgers, and after he had mistaken one client’s account for another’s—Smith’s for Schmidt’s—he had been fired. He and Oswald had to move in with Pa after they had been evicted from their home. Along the Wantagh Parkway, Oswald’s father would frequently peer in the rear view mirror. Pa had his face pressed against the window, eyes wide and excited, as if he had never seen anything on the other side of it before. “Pa, want me to roll your window down?” his son asked. But before Pa could answer, his window opened, letting in a rush of wind through the crack. Oswald felt Pa’s shrill scream deep in his stomach. He had never heard a man so old so terrified. The discordant warbling sound of it would stay with him. His father pulled over on the shoulder. Pa, frantic and hard of breath, claimed that ghosts were dancing around him, whistling in his ears, taunting him. Bring me home! he pleaded. Bring me home! On the way back to Pa’s house, he huddled close to the car door, wouldn’t open his eyes, and let out several intermittent cries between the continuous hum of shivering. * Helen sat up, and after a long silence, asked, “Do you always have to do that?” “Do what?” “I don’t know, bring me down. Like, you can’t just enjoy anything here. It’s always something else.” “Oh stop. Besides, how can I not think about him?” “You think I don’t think about him? He was my grandfather, too, you know.” “Yeah, was. He was our grandfather.” Oswald ripped up a tuft of grass and pushed it down on his dirtied apple. “But you didn’t know him like I knew him.” “Oh yeah? Well, I know that he loved apples and the smell of the air and all the little
things at hand. I know that he wouldn’t constantly bring himself down dwelling on the past all the time. Tell me, what the hell’s the point of that?” “To know what will come,” Oswald said flatly. “I could see he changed. I’m not dumb. Like, when he started giving me those sour apple lollipops each time he’d see me I knew something was up. And after that, he’d pinch my cheeks and ask what happened to my pig tails.” “That’s nothing. Remember in June, when me and my dad showed up at the beach a couple hours later than we said we’d get there? You and Aunt Eleanor were all worked up about it, said you’d been waiting around for days it seemed. Well, I didn’t want to tell you the story in truth with your mom around because—well—you know how she gets.” As soon as he said it he knew how she would respond, and soon enough, her brows furrowed and her mouth contorted to the side. “Hmm. How exactly does she—” “Oh, you know. She gets kind of crazy when she doesn’t want to hear the truth is all.” “Why, look at you, up there on your high horse, always so damn sure of the tru—” “Are you going to let me finish the story?” Helen bowed mockingly. * Pa was reluctant to go back inside his house. He claimed there were ghosts in there, too. Oswald and his father walked him into the house and had him lay down. Bewildered, staring into the portraits on the walls, Pa claimed that this was not his home. They tried to convince him that he was indeed in his house, and had lived there for forty some-odd years. They tried to convince him that ghosts aren’t real, but that only frightened him more because he swore he saw six of them. “I feel bad leaving him there like that,” Oswald said to his father. “He’ll be fine. Don’t worry. He’s probably sleeping by now.” “Is that what the pills are for?” Looking at the ocean that appeared beside the winding parkway, Oswald’s father turned off the air conditioning and rolled down his window. The air was humid and stunk heavily of seawater. Oswald thought of being immersed in the ocean, relieved of his sticky skin. The wind resonated in his bones like static. “How long before I got to give you those pills?” he joked. “That’s not funny.” Since they had moved into Pa’s, Oswald’s father could only manage to find a waiting job at a Greek diner by the mall. The other guys are too quick, he would say, they’re inhuman. “Listen,” he commanded. “Do not tell Aunt Eleanor or Helen about what happened before. I just want to try to have a nice day.” “I wouldn’t,” Oswald promised. His father drove around the Jones Beach pencil and on down Ocean Parkway. “I don’t think I’ve ever told Eleanor the straight truth,” he said. “She gets hysterical if you do. It’s best to just avoid it.” Oswald recalled the night his father had been fired. He had been up late reading when his father threw the door open, his keys across the floor. Standing in the doorway, he stared into the stairs for a while before he noticed Oswald sitting there watching him. He staggered over and plopped down on the couch next to his son. Smelling of bourbon, he told Oswald the news. He claimed he had just come from Aunt Eleanor’s. “She didn’t believe me, when I told her,” he said, slurring his speech. He laughed and hiccupped. “She wouldn’t believe a tornado was
coming until she—she’s miles high in the clouds. Oh, I feel bad for that Helen, sure, I do.” He lied on his back and went on as if he were talking to the ceiling. “She probably still thinks her father was killed overseas—and well, he was—Eleanor just never knew the man. Ha! And her real mother, she died giving birth to her. Eleanor’ll never tell her. Ain’t got the heart to. No, she’ll never know…” Oswald spit out the window into the wind, inadvertently sending it back at him. The squawking of seagulls overhead sounded like laughter. Oswald’s father made a U-turn at the turnaround and pulled into the Tobay Beach parking lot. He parked the car in the shade by the entrance. “Remember,” he said. “Do not mention anything about what happened.” * “Really? He really said he saw ghosts?” Helen asked. Oswald nodded, and coughed into his closed hand. A shade slowly set over them as clouds gathered before the sun and spread across the sky. In response to the clouds’ darkening, the patrons were now leaving the orchard. Their cars rolled down the dirt road, which brought them to the highway and they became smaller and smaller and eventually vanished in the mountains which, too, were vanishing. “Maybe we should go,” Helen said. Small droplets began to fall from the sky. Helen wiped the few that landed on her forehead with her sleeve. She sprung to her feet and waited for Oswald to do the same. He only lifted his head to watch the mountains, what was left of them. “And now my father’s struggling to keep his job at the diner. It’s pretty fast-paced down there, and he’s the only one who’s got to take the time to write the orders down.” “What? C’mon. Let’s get our bikes. It’s about to pour.” “He’ll be just like Pa, eventually.” More rain fell now. Helen watched the last car leave the orchard and a farmhand close the gate behind it. She tapped her foot and looked at the clouds. “Well?” He lifted himself slightly, but only to fix himself to his former position. With his head laid carelessly on the muddied grass, he stared into the clouds. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “You’ll be fine.” “What are you talking about? Let’s get back to campus.” “Why?” he asked absently. “I’m bound to come back here eventually.” “Because, uh, it’s—it’s raining now. Why not come back when it’s nicer? C’mon, you’re going to get sick.” “I know. But you’ll be fine.” It’s better that she doesn’t know, he thought. She stood looking him over for some time, watching his face cringe and relax, then shrugged her shoulders and started for her bike. She glanced back at him, asked “Are you sure?” and he nodded. He saw her grab her bike, ride along the trail into the long arc of trees, and then he did not see her. His desire to follow subsided. He lied upon the hill that divides the orchard, a fog settled over him, a fog so thick he could not see his hand before him, and soon enough, he forgot why he was even there. —End—
This is a story that explores the clouded communication between two cousins. It is set in Apple Hill Farm on route 32. This is not stated...