Thursday, March 3, 2016

Remembering Apple Blossoms

I wrote this for the Homeshcoolers of Maine Short Story Contest 2015. It was part of my senior year writing project. I won first place for my age range (14-17) and had it published in the e-magazine in October. HOME Digest Fall 2015

It was a bit of a challenge, actually, because the word limit I was working with was 1,500 max. At the time I was not used to writing small pieces and it was an interesting stretch of my writing skills. A review reader told me that she was having a hard time placing the time period - the story was modern but the words I was using to describe it were 19th century. I was reading Jane Austen and other similar authors at the time, but I also use those words in my conversation. It was helpful feedback to add to my files, so now I triple-check my dialogue because some characters just don't talk in that manner even if I do.




Remembering Apple Blossoms
Annie Louise Twitchell

I’d met Abigail at a women’s tea party. She was a quiet, sweet young woman, a year or so younger than my twenty-two years but with an air of a woman rather older. She was there with her stepsister Lillian, and the two of them seemed inseparable.

I’d gone to visit her a week later and she was lying in the orchard, while the apple blossoms drifted down onto her auburn hair and green dress. A young man was sitting beside her, reading aloud from a worn, blue book. He rested it on his knee as I approached, and looked faintly indignant at the intrusion. Abigail sat up and he reached out a hand to steady her. Her face broke into a cheery smile and she waved me over.

“Hello, Mia. What brings you out here?”

“Your stepfather said you were out here. I came to visit, but you already have company. I’ll come back later?”

She glanced at the young man with an odd twinkle in her eye. “If you can call him company. No, sweetie, stay. We don’t mind, do we, Nathan?”

Nathan smiled faintly. “If you want her, I am perfectly happy to share you with her.” There was sadness in his eyes as he rose and spread out the blanket, to make room for me.

Abigail waved me down next to her and Nathan began to read again. It was from a book of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales, which I was familiar with, but I had never met such a good reader as Nathan. After several stories he stopped and laid the book aside. Without a word he gathered Abigail up and carried her towards the house.

I hastily followed, wondering the whole time what the problem was. He kicked open the kitchen door and laid her on a couch that sprawled against one wall in that spacious room. He disappeared through one of four doorways, and I sat on the floor to look at Abigail. Her smile as her eyes met mine was much weaker than the first, and she coughed slightly.

Nathan rushed back into the room, followed closely by Laurel, another stepsister, and Lillian. Nathan beckoned me away and these two girls began fussing over Abigail. Nathan’s hand rested on my shoulder, and each time Abigail coughed it tightened, until I was afraid I would have a bruise.

Finally Lillian stepped back, her shoulders trembling, and wiped sweat from her forehead. Nathan looked at her desperately, and she nodded slightly. He relaxed and patted my shoulder, then went to Abigail’s side and kissed her gently. She smiled up at him and brushed a tear from his cheek, then lay back and closed her eyes.

Laurel took my hand and pulled me into the living room, poured me a glass of water from a pitcher, and sat beside me on the sofa.

“I am sorry about that. It must be rather distressing to you, since you don’t know what’s happening. Would you like me to tell you?”

I nodded, sipping my water.

“Abigail is going to die soon. We found out a month ago, and the doctors said without treatment she’d live for maybe six weeks. If she took treatment than she may live for six months, but she wouldn’t be cured. She decided not to take treatment, as that would make her feel ill and miserable for most of the six months and it wouldn’t save her anyway. She’s not in pain, except for these spells she has every so often, and she decided she would rather be happy and at home for the few weeks she has.”

I nodded again, feeling some of the pain that decision must have made for her family. “Who’s Nathan?”

Laurel shook her head sadly. “He’s Abigail’s husband. The baby’s upstairs.”

I choked. “She’s married? She has a baby? And she still refused treatment? How heartless of her!”

Laurel flared up in a passionate fury. “She’s not heartless! She’s trying her best to make the memories of her last few weeks happy ones for Nathan and Natalie. How would it be if Nathan remembered her last six months as a miserable cycle of hospitals runs and drugs? At least this way he’ll remember her smile, because she’s not drugged up so much that she can’t see him. And the baby will have many pictures of her mama holding her, awake and smiling, instead of lying in bed all the time looking ghastly. You don’t understand. Please, go.”

I rose and left. I turned back to look at the house as I latched the garden gate, and saw Nathan standing on the porch cradling a small form in his arms. Laurel was watching me depart from the window. I shook my head and started home.

*****

Nathan phoned the next day, saying that Abigail wanted to see me. I quickly got out my bike and rode to their house.

Abigail was in her bedroom upstairs, looking pale and drawn. Laurel was viciously knitting in a corner, and rocking a cradle with her foot. A large vase of apple blossoms sat on the open window ledge, and the sweet scent wafted through the room.

“Hello, Mia. I’m sorry about yesterday. I wanted you to read to me, if you don’t mind.” She waved at a green paperback sitting on the bedside table.

I cast a look at Laurel as I reached for the book. Abigail followed my gaze. “Laurel forgets sometimes that just because she’s hurting, that doesn’t mean that everyone else is. I’m sorry, although I’m glad you know. That makes it easier.”

I opened it and began reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I read two chapters, then Nathan came in. He sat on the bed beside Abigail and cradled her in his arms. Laurel picked up the baby and brought her to them, then left the room. I rose to leave also, but Nathan shook his head.

“Please don’t go, Mia. Keep reading.”

It never occurred to me to disobey his request, given the way it was. I resumed reading. Four chapters later, Natalie began wailing. I looked up and saw Nathan’s shoulder heaving as he held tightly to Abigail. I hurried to the bed. Abigail’s eyes were closed, and a light smile rested on her face. I could tell there was no breath in her body, even without Nathan’s grief evidencing it.

I lifted Natalie and held her tiny body close to my heart. Lillian entered the room and froze, then fell in a heap on the floor. Laurel followed and sank into a chair.


*****


I laid the spray of apple blossoms on the grave and went back to Nathan. He took Natalie from me and bounced her on one knee, gently, absently. I knew he was thinking of the night a week past.
We sat in deep silence for a long time, until the sun crept down behind the mountains and the gray misty twilight lay in a blanket over the cemetery. Nathan sighed.

“It was like this the first time I met Abbi. She was dancing in the twilight, and she seemed to be wrapped in it. Then I knew, I just knew, that I would marry her. Twilight was always her favorite time of day. It seemed to belong to her and her alone.”

“When was that?”

“I was sixteen, she was twelve. The funny thing about Abigail is she lived her whole life in twilight. She always seemed older than she really was, and she always had a touch of other about her, like she was just here for a visit and if the twilight was right she would drift off to some other world. She always seemed closer to the angels than anyone else, too. She’d talk to them all the time, same as she’d talk to God, or to you and me. She’d tell them how her garden was growing, or about the baby kicking her that day. Later, when she knew, she’d ask all of them to protect me and Nat, after... After she was gone. Sometimes in the twilight I can feel them around the places she used to be. And you probably think I’m completely loony.”

“Not completely, no. If it was anyone I might think so, but not when it was Abigail. Somehow you can believe anything when it was related to Abigail. And you’re right, twilight was Abigail’s time. I think I will keep that picture just for her.”

“What picture?”

“The night she died I went out to the garden. I stood in the garden and I could see a huge, ancient apple tree, away up on a hill, covered in blossoms, all alone in the twilight. Somehow that made me think of Abigail.”

Nathan nodded. “Sometimes you wish that you knew how something was going to work out, how the pieces would fall into place, but I wonder if it would hurt more if we did know.”


~~The End~~



Copyright 2015 by Annie Louise Twitchell
Revised 2016 by Annie Louise Twitchell
First Published by HOME