The Golden Apple Tales- Book the First- 1. Arethusa (2)

Previous part found here.

Words Indistinct
(October 17, 1945)

I hear her speaking to me, but I cannot answer. I cannot even raise my eyelids, cannot move beyond the regular habit of breathing. The fact that I’m even doing that surprises me, since I’m certain the air going in and out of my lungs is not coming through my mouth or nose- they are sealed, glued shut, by the thick fluids of my body. It is a frightening feeling not being able to open my mouth, but I cannot seem to change it. Am I alive and struggling up from sleep or dead and struggling up from my life to my reward? I cannot tell. Nor can I tell if the beautiful voice I hear is that of my mother or a guiding angel there to take me heavenward. It is so much easier to rest than to struggle, so I let myself drift back down from the voice, back into deep oblivion.

(October 18, 1945)

She’s calling to me again, much louder this time- singing. Breathing is easier now- smoother, though my mouth and nose are still not a part of it. My eyes feel large, bulging in their sockets, but my eyelids aren’t too heavy for me anymore. The rush of wakefulness comes and the room becomes clear. Mama is beside me, singing an old song she used to lull me with when I was a babe. Her voice is a dry murmur as if she’s been using it too much. Still, the welcome on her face makes the moment, the song happy enough-

Far and wide,
And hither and thither and yon,
Away from home we wander,
Far and wide,
And hither and thither and yon.

Hush, hush baby apple,
Hush, hush baby mine,
I’ll keep you and you keep me,
Safe and warm and strong.
I’ll keep you and you keep me,
In the shade of the Mystic Tree.
Stay we now in the shade,
Where there is need of us,
Stay we now in the shade,
As we’re meant for eternity.
Hush, hush baby apple,
Hush, hush baby mine,
I’ll keep you and you keep me,
Safe and warm and strong.
I’ll keep you and you keep me,
In the shade of the Mystic Tree.
When the dark comes, we’ll still see,
And, when the Tree calls, we’ll still come,
No loss is forever,
Not for you, not for me,
Not in the shade of the Mystic Tree.

Hush, hush baby apple,
Hush, hush baby mine,
I’ll keep you and you keep me,
Safe and warm and strong.
I’ll keep you and you keep me,
In the shade of the Mystic Tree.

(October 22, 1945)

For some reason the people around me here in the hospital, even the doctors and nurses, who should know better, seem to think that because I cannot talk, I cannot hear. They are forever speaking in loud whispers of things I am not meant to know. I know that Dr. Page drinks too much and that Nurse Blueberry is divorcing her husband for running around on her with some hussy who works at the Five and Dime. I also know that my left leg was cut off below the knee but they don’t think I’m strong enough for them to tell me yet. The odd part about that is that all I have to do to confirm my leg’s absence is look down the bed and not see it. I keep wondering how they can expect I haven’t noticed. I’m not sure which loss I should feel the most, my leg or my voice, which I may never regain because the surgeon had cut my voice box.

He. He is dead- the man with the knife. That’s another thing I haven’t been told, but know anyway. Everyday, a policeman comes to talk to Mama, and not very nicely, either. They talk outside my door; and the policeman, Detective Thomas, he gets loud every time. Soon enough the doctors and nurses tell him he’s disturbing the patients’ rest and he leaves. Mama is always angry when she comes back into my room, so I pretend to be asleep so she can be alone without leaving me (she never leaves me, at least not for long). I hear them outside my room again right now, Mama and the policeman.

“In the sleepy little town of West Stratford, New Jersey, there have been seventeen violent deaths over the last 150 years. Do you know where every single one of them has taken place?” the policeman asks.

“Detective Thomas,” Mama replies, her voice weary.

“Your family’s lands,” he tells her just as he has told her every time I have overheard them speaking. “Every single death, Mrs. Smythe, and that’s just as far back as I’ve found records for. Your family’s been here since when? About 1600? How many more were there in the 200 years before the records?”

“No one in my family has ever been found guilty in any of the attacks. We don’t seek violence, Al, it comes to us.”

“Do you know what I think, Apple, I think you do seek violence. I think your happy little Druidic cult is more about violence than your rhetoric about Holy Trees and balance lets on. I think that for every murder at The Shade that gets reported, there’s at least two more that you’ve been hiding. In fact I’m betting there’s a body under each and every one of your beloved apple trees.”

“And when you get a writ, you can dig each and every one of my beloved apple trees up to see for yourself- each and every one save the Mystic Tree. That’s protected. That’s part of the temple.”

“Temple! Your ramshackle old farmhouse is no more a temple than I’m the Pharaoh of Egypt. Don’t think you can hide behind your fake godless religion anymore. I won’t hesitate to cross the lines you’ve drawn in the dirt.”

“You plan on breaking the laws you’ve sworn to uphold to get to us?”

“When the laws are ones your family has twisted to protect your dirty secrets, I will. You killed that boy- there’s no denying that.”

“That boy was a man, a man who was attacking my daughter, on my land. She’s lying behind that door missing pieces because of that boy. I killed him and I’d damn well do it again if I had to. Don’t tell me I have no right to defend home and family.”

“Defend home and family? I seem to recall that the last three people slaughtered on your Druid’s altar were your father, your brother and the poor stupid fool who married yo-”

The sound of the slap cracked like a whip.

“Detective Thomas, you’ve been asked not to disturb the patients,” a new voice scolded. “If I have to, I’ll have you banned from this hospital.”

“Dr. Chow, this isn’t the hospital’s business, it’s police business and she ain’t one of your patient. She’s killed a man. I wouldn’t defend her, if I were you.”

She may not be a patient, but they are all around you, trying to rest, while you rant about 200-year-old, phantom murders and, as I recall, Mrs. Smythe hasn’t been charged with any crime, nor has any member of her family. So again, I ask you politely to leave before I call your superior. Again.”

“Alright Doc, you win. Mrs. Smythe, don’t think your Chinese watchdog will put me off this. He won’t be around when you leave his little empire here. We’ll be talking again, very soon.”

“Detective,” Dr. Chow’s voice warns again and I can hear the sound of footsteps retreating down the corridor. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Smythe, are you all right?”

“As I can be, Dr., but I’m the one who should apologize. I’ve brought my problems into your hospital. I shouldn’t have let Al bait me. He’s just- he’s part of my life, no matter what. I used to be better at putting him off, but sometimes I break.”

“I refuse to accept that apology. You saved your daughter’s life and ever since, he’s been hounding you. It’s disgraceful.”

“Still, I’m used to it, used to him. I should have stayed my hand.”

“That’s debatable, but enough about Thomas. Good riddance, I say. Tell me how Arethusa is doing.”

“Oh, Ari’s doing well. She’s writing coherent sentences, so Dr. Humboldt thinks she’s kept all her wits. I just don’t know how well she will manage all she’s lost. She’s so very young.”

“I wish I could tell you she will be able to go back to a normal life, but- I did all I could, but her vocal chords were completely severed. In time she may regain a measure of vocal ability, but my priority had to be reconstructing her airway so she could breathe.”

“That she lived at all is a miracle. I’m so grateful to everyone here, but I’m even more worried about the amputation than her voice. She’s still a child, but now she can’t run around, she can’t play.”

“She’s strong, Mrs. Smyth, I have a feeling she’ll be able to do far more than you might imagine.”

“I do hope you’re right, Dr.”

They keep talking in hushed tones, but I know they aren’t saying much of consequence. I’m fairly certain that Dr. Chow is sweet on my mother and I’m convinced that she is taken with him, she as much as told me so just yesterday. The odd way I’m breathing- through a hole cut in the front of my throat- the odd way I’m breathing makes me quite tired, so I let myself drift off. Mama will do all that she can for me and I know that. Besides, even if I’m never to be a normal girl again, I didn’t cower, I didn’t fail, I didn’t falter in the face of danger. I served the Tree and I can be proud of that.

(October 31, 1945)

It is Samhain, which in truth is a much less important day to us than the harvest days of late August, but still is a day of gathering among the family. We have a feast, burning a T’nepres- a wire and wicker basket shaped like a man astride a horse and filled with apples and squashes, cabbages and clay pots of varied beans- then, after pretending to offer the sacrifices to the spirits of those who died defending the Tree, we slice open the food, brake open the pots and eat hearty on their warm smokiness. I am still in hospital, so I must take my bit of the feast from a clay pot my mother made just for me- stuffing it with bits of everything and carrying it from the Shade to my invalid bed unbroken. She traded heavily on Dr. Chow’s kindness as no other of my meals were allowed to come from anywhere but the hospital kitchens. I heard her charming him outside my door, making more of the holiday than it is, offering him a place at my bedside feast table. The holiday fare is a comfort, a piece of ordinary life, and I am very grateful for it.

I fall asleep soon after my mother and Dr. Chow have gone, my full belly pulling me down into contented slumber and I dream of my father, perhaps because of what night it is. It is my fancy that it is my father that I dream of- however- I don’t remember him well, so perhaps it is another.

His voice is a deep whisper as he tells me, “Oh, Ari. I’m sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry. I don’t expect forgiveness- I don’t deserve forgiveness. I would undo the day, had I any power to.”

“I forgive. I know you didn’t want to go,” I assure him in the darkness. He should not have remorse for dying, for defending the Tree.

“You know? How could you know? How could you know I only went to protect him?” he asks, confused.

“We all protect the Tree, Papa. There is no question.”

“Oh. You think I’m- I’m not him. I, I’m not him,” he corrects me and begins to look less like the picture that hangs in Mama’s room. He is darker and younger and the shadows around his face are not shadows, they are locks. I recognize that he is Nat, my dark, island prince, the one I suffered to see attacking the Tree, the one I wished had had a purer heart. Then, he is gone and I wake to the empty room and see the door slowly swinging closed. I wonder if it could be that Nat really was here, that he risked coming to my bedside to confess his remorse.

In the morning, I’m certain that I dreamed Nat’s visit- a dream to fulfill my wish that he hadn’t betrayed the family’s trust- my trust. I wish that he cared for me, that he was my friend, but he is not. He is just the same as those who’ve always come for the Apples, the same as those who’ve always slain my family. I vow to stop wishing for some way, some twist of fate to make it so that Nat is not a Reficul.

Part 3

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