by Katie Starkey (United Kingdom)
Audio: "Green Apples," read by Helen Grant
My mother is in the garden, her back angry and rouge under the autumn sun that burns hotter and hotter every year. Her arms are just like the branches of the tree as she stretches and, with her grasping hands, twists the apples from where they hang, pulling on the limbs of their home with their growing weight. If she doesn't pick them, they will go hollow, eaten from the inside out by festering bugs and furred caterpillars waiting for their chrysalises.
"The apples must be eaten, Katie," she tells a younger me, "or they'll bruise themselves falling and roll away. What good would that do?"
I do not understand why they are not allowed to roll away.
I am swinging my legs from my perch, my eyes closed as I listen to her finish picking the green globes and filling bucket after bucket. When she hauls them to the kitchen, I don't help, because I still don't understand this: the habitual annual plucking of the fruit from the old, wonky tree in our garden. I do not even like green apples; I only like them red and sweet and shiny from the shops.
After the clouds converge on the sky and it grows cold, my mother reappears in the kitchen. There are already pots and pans everywhere. Each surface of the boxy room is littered with apples, and jars, and dishes that only come out in August and collect dust between the months of September and July.
"You come to help?" she asks.
She is being sarcastic; she knows I won't. I never do, because I don't get why she's doing it in the first place.
But however pointless I find the whole thing, I do relish that smell the day leaves behind in the house: the sugary air of apple pies and apple tarts and apple crisps. Everything is apple after she's done.
The next year, I find myself beneath the tree before she has begun. The relentless sun of a hot July has worn me weary and though I ought to go inside, it feels a sore shame to waste the summer from my room, so the hanging shade that the tree’s gnarly limbs offer feels like redemption. For a while, I nap, but something wakes me and I can't find sleep again. My thoughts turn cartwheels to keep me entertained until they land a good one. I am remembering my grandfather as he was years ago.
"Your Nana and me," he starts, his rich voice curling around the words, "we planted that blasted tree the summer we moved into this house, donkeys years ago, but it never grew, the stubborn old thing. Oh, but it was a nice bit of make-believe: thinking we'd have plenty from that tree, buckets and buckets of apples."
He is younger than I can picture him being.
"Green, they'd be green, just how my own grandpa liked to have 'em," he sighs.
He told me that day, too, how one year he tried to get rid of it—the tree. How he pulled for hours against it, but the roots had grown so deep that it wouldn't budge. How he gave up when he nearly broke his back, and made his peace with his fruitless tree.
I don't know when it started giving us apples, but it must've, because my mother picks them and we eat them in all of our food for weeks.
I think about the roots beneath me. It's those roots who kept it here, and who give the apples the water from the soil. This tree is here because of an invisible tangle of roots under the ground.
A month later, the apples are all in our kitchen, the tree bare, and mum is bustling to get them all used. There are more this year than most, and while she spent the whole day telling us—my sister and my father and me—how lucky we were this year to have so many, she is overrun with them now.
"Come to help?" she teases.
She is being sarcastic; she knows I won't. I never do.
"I don't know," I say, wrinkling the nose that I inherited from her. "Anything I can do that I won't muck up?"
Smothering her surprise before it sours my mood, she pushes a peeler and an apple into my hands. I get started right away.
"Grandad, he- he-" I say halfway through the second apple (my hands already ache), "Grandad told me once that his grandad liked green apples." Her face is neutral when I look up at her. "Isn't that funny? You like green apples, too."
"What's funny about it?" she asks.
"Well, I dunno. I guess I was just thinking about it. How we're all just little jigsaws of other people, you know?"
"Actually, you're onto something there, because my Nanny..."
My hand goes for another apple, but the bucket is empty and the pile of skins next to me is taller than the dog, who is lazing by the kitchen door and listening to the birds. We have been talking for hours. I have learnt more about my family—the ones I never met and the ones I've lived with all my life—in one afternoon than I have in the last sixteen years. I think I understand now.
This will become a tradition. Next year, I will help again. In five years, my father will join us. When my parents are old, my sister will bring her children and I will hand them apples and peelers and say:
"Your great, great, great grandfather liked his apples green. And his grandson planted a wonky tree in a garden, and waited for the apples to grow..."
Katie Starkey, age 17, was born and raised in England. She is passionate about literature of all kinds, plants, and music. When writing 'Green Apples', she channelled her past, her present, and her future to convey what it means to be part of a family.
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2/3/23, 12:21 AM
Reading this story was realistic and relatble
2/2/23, 11:27 AM
"I collected little glimpses of the north to hoard away for the future, like treasure" is such a beautiful line!
2/2/23, 11:23 AM
What a fascinating piece!
2/2/23, 5:21 AM
One of my favorite pieces ever published on Write the World!
2/2/23, 4:41 AM
Well done Everett on this powerful piece. I hope you continue to write!
2/2/23, 4:40 AM
Well done Genevieve - what a beautiful and evocative piece of writing!
1/17/23, 2:15 AM
This is so beautiful
1/16/23, 3:52 PM
I love all of it. It’s so real and so many feelings are there.
1/5/23, 6:02 PM
This is amazing. Do not ever stop. That is really inspirational, the whole writing piece made me want to help.
1/3/23, 7:19 PM
This article was absolutely amazing! I am so thankful to live in a country where periods and sex are fairly normalized, but I will never forget to educate myself about the lack of education others have. It pains me to know that in countries like India, girls are still put down about what they where and how they act. It was very brave of you to share your voice, and I commend you endlessly for that.
12/8/22, 7:25 PM
I really love this! I, myself, am not black, but I know of a lot of good black people. Sadly, I will admit, at one time, I used to think of a black community filled with gangs and poverty. But I know now how perfectly capable it is to live together if only we got rid of the stereotype that is so, so wrong. I do hope you accomplish this. This will great for our country.
Sorry but can't share the name
12/7/22, 10:40 AM
Basically I don't know how to react.
All the conservatives should be reading this.........