It won’t let me go, this idea of gathering apples. It is hardly spring, yet I long for October, for the view of the orchard alive with overburdened apple trees: the drooping boughs and the red, polished apples, their delicate smell and the rosy clouds hovering on the mountains and giving that peculiar transparent colour to the fruits of immortality, knowledge, death, life, beauty… for apples have represented all that, and more, throughout history. So I look out, eyes wide open, dreaming of basketfuls of red-green apples and the October twilight. Then I realise I am flying away, I am already there, while waiting for an unknown event, the sweetness of childhood resurrected into my adult life. They are knocking on the door. It’s the postman.
He gives me a card and a small packet. They’re from Sweeney. He says: “remember to write you recipes.” I unwrap the packet: a pocket-size leather-bound black diary, to note down my new recipes, when inspiration strikes. Soon I will have to bake my jam tart in a TV studio. Sweeney got me a great chance. He says I will be popular. I see a long line of women standing in front of me. I don’t know them. They are the ones who will go on with the tradition, as I did before them: I learnt from my grandmother, and I will pass it on to my girl. For she is a girl, the doctor told me so. And she will be born in October. I will pick a shining apple at dusk and bite into its smooth skin, as the evening air chills the valley.
I sit at the kitchen table, under the warm artificial light and close my eyes. I try to imagine her tiny face. Will she look like grandma? Will she have her bountiful smile and her radiant eyes? I touch my belly, so big and still. No movements now. I see the two of us preparing jam and baking together. And one day, not too far away, we will be gathering apples together. I will teach her to look at and touch their skin, to assess their roughness or smoothness, to recognise several types by their looks and smells and to tell the differences. She will hold an invisible thread, something to link her back to us, grandma and me, and to carry her forward into her own life, to keep her own secrets and hold on when the going gets tough.
The oven alarm rings. The smell of apples spreads around the kitchen. John will be home any minute now and we’ll have a cup of black tea with my apple pie. He is the one who prunes the orchard when the time is right. He loves me, and doesn’t ask many questions, for he knows everybody has secret longings and thoughts.
Hardly spring. When I look out of the window, the evening has already covered the sky. I can’t see the naked branches now. All I see is flaming apples of life.