Another 15-minute writing practice, tidied up here and there. The instruction was ‘Write about Picking Fruit’. Food features significantly in my first novel (editing underway), and I welcome any excuse to get the digestive juices flowing.
Today there’s a housing estate where the orchard used to grow at the end of her garden; tidy little boxes and strips of grey tarmac replacing gnarly apple trees and knee-high grass. She would always call it the new estate, thought it was no longer new, being at least 40 years established. Most locals couldn’t stretch their minds back far enough to recall the orchard, nor the farm to which it was welded. But she would never forget.
As a child she would be coaxed into the daylight hours by a dawn chorus of a thousand birds nesting and resting in the orchard. Playing in the garden, she would gaze over the fence to where the boughs of a hundred trees bent tantalisingly low, their plump fruit beyond the grasp of small hands. She’d watch them growing all through the spring and summer, from the moment she could first distinguish the little bumps, like marbles, that appeared as the blossom fell. Those bumps would swell, fed by the sun and the rain, until they were so big that if she could only reach them, one fruit alone would fill and even overflow her outstretched hands.
She wished herself into the middle of the orchard, skipping through the grass, stroking the peeling trunks, standing on tiptoes to smell the acidic sweetness of the nearly ripened fruit. She wished herself to a spot where she couldn’t see a building in any direction, only trees, their crinkled branches teased by the breeze, leaves flittering the sunlight. And everywhere, the swollen red-green blush of apples, brimming with life and goodness.
One day her father played with her in the garden. He noticed her yearning glances towards the orchard. ‘How’d you fancy popping over the fence to snaffle us a few?’ he said. Shocked, she examined his features to see if he was joking, but there was mischief in his eyes. ‘Go on,’ he said. ‘I’ll lift you over the fence. But you’ll have to be quick about it – you don’t want to get caught!’
Her little heart fluttered like a trapped bird as her father grasped her waist and flew her up in the air and over the fence. She ran into the orchard, thrilled to feel the tall grasses as they tickled her bare legs. It was just as she’d wished it – the apples hung so low she could reach dozens of them, so many it was hard to choose. She plucked two from a single tree and with one in each hand, ran back to the fence and handed them across to her father. ‘Go on,’ he encouraged, ‘just a couple more – we mustn’t be greedy.’ So she ran back to another tree and harvested two more fruits. She carried them high and proud and skipped back to the fence, where he lifted her back into the garden. Together they rinsed their haul under water from the garden hose. And when she took her first bite from the first apple she’d ever picked for herself straight from the tree, its juice, ripe and earthy, sweet and sharp, flooded her mouth and overran in a sticky drizzle down her chin.