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How Far Do Apples Fall?

by Grace O'Neill

         “What was I thinking?!”

         Since she got home, Margaret had done nothing but wallow in her lapse of judgment and the momentary collapse of her moral backbone. Usually, she was too anxious of a person to break the rules, too afraid of failure, and far too bad at it. She flung open her closet door and rummaged through it till she found what she was looking for. She carried her old storage container out into the living room and grimaced at the dirt she had tracked across the floor in her hurry.

         Inside the house, next to the front door, sat a young apple tree which just so happened to be the cause of her frazzled mental state. Margaret had been working with an upper middle class family the past couple of months as a landscape architect, helping design the garden and yard of the house they were building on their new land. She was working at the house and had just finished planting a baby apple tree with her coworkers when she got a call from her sister.

         “Hey, how are you doing?” Jill asked her, not in her usual tone but a pitying one. Margaret simply responded that she was fine and busy with work.

         “Have you… noticed the date?

         Margaret hadn’t. She should have, but she hadn’t. She quickly made up an excuse about some client as soon as she could and dropped the call. Tears began to sting in her eyes. She blinked rapidly to try and get rid of them. Thankfully she had sent everyone else home as soon as they had finished with the tree. Her eyes strayed to the apple tree. Just coming up to her chest, it was about as tall as she was when she planted her apple trees with her grandpa.

         Margaret hardly remembered snatching her shovel, digging into the still-loose dirt, pulling the small tree out of its hole, and dragging it onto the bed of her truck. She did remember how the soil fell loose every time she moved it, sending dirt everywhere. She would need to clean out her truck bed later, but right now, Margaret’s priority was the sapling in her storage container in her living room which was technically stolen property of the Masons’.

         A tumultuous knock sounded from the kitchen. Adjacent to the living room, the kitchen only had a sliding door that led out to the backyard. Whoever was knocking must be there rather than the front door, which stood mere steps away from her, which meant it must be… Mr. Morrison.

         Her sour, duplex-sharing neighbor was a “by the book” kind of person which at first made her think they would get along, but his perfectionist attitude and her less than tidy lifestyle made room for shared distaste. It had only been a month since she had convinced him to stop trying to get her evicted, and they had found some sense of rhythm and respect. He had claimed it was Margaret’s parents, who were living with her at the time, that were root of his problems, but every time Margaret spoke to him, she still felt as if she had wronged him somehow.

         Margaret crossed into the kitchen to open the glass door where Mr. Morrison stood, as suspected, with his ratty flannel shirt, muddy boots, and ever-present frown. His brows furrowed. In his hands, he held a tabby cat under its shoulders.

Oh, Fleetwood, she thought. What did you get into this time?

         “You lost this. Again,” Mr. Morrison said in his deep, Southern timbre. With the door now open, he held up the feline till their eyes were level. “He was tryin’ to nap in my flower bed.”

         Poor, little Fleetwood dangled from his captor’s rough hands, his shoulders scrunched up to his head, and his torso stretched to its full length. His eyes look more confused than scared as they bounced around his surroundings like a pinball before landing on Margaret.          She took her cat from Mr. Morrison and gently set him down on the kitchen tile.

         “Thank you, Mr. Morrison. I promise-”

         “What’s with the apple tree?” he interrupted, angling his head to get a better look inside her house.

         Sure enough, her contraband apple tree was fully visible through the kitchen entryway along with the dirt scattered across the floor and her shovel leaning haphazard against the TV stand. Oh no.

         “I, uh, was thinking about planting it.”

         Margaret had never been known to be a good liar, and Mr. Morrison had not proven himself to be overly merciful towards her. Instead he chose to act more like an overlord. Perhaps, just this once, he would let it slide. But by the unimpressed stare he gave her, it was looking unlikely.

         Now, Mr. Morrison quirked his brow before saying, “Oh yeah? Have you talked to Greg about that? It’d be mighty rude to plant a tree on someone else’s land without asking. It wouldn’t be proper renter etiquette.” He was pulling at her loose ends, and he knew it. “Also, why buy a whole tree when you’re only thinking about planting it? And wouldn’t a nursery send it home with something a bit nicer than a storage container?”

         And so Margaret’s poorly threaded lie fell apart. She picked at her nails, begging for a window of escape or a tunnel- she’d even take a hole in the floor. If she confessed to Mr. Morrison, there was a good chance he’d report her. If she didn’t tell him, though, he definitely would report her, simply out of suspicion. Better to take her chances.

         “Fine, I stole it. It was a mistake. It was wrong, and now I don’t know what to do with it.” Margaret huffed to herself, crossing her arms. “Does that answer all your questions, Mr. Morrison?”

         He stared blankly before squinting at her.

         “Who on God’s given earth steals an apple tree?”

         Margaret rolled her eyes. “Me, I suppose. Now, please tell me if you are going to call the police or Mr. Greg because if you’re not, I will have figure out what to do with this tree.”

         He didn’t reply immediately but stood silently, with judgmental hands placed on his hips.

         “Why don’t you just dump it in the old field out west, past town? No one would notice it out there.”

         “No!” Margaret said before she could get control of her tone. She grimaced at the way her voice squeaked, like she was still a teen girl. She began to fiddle with the sleeves of her sweater. “Well, it’s just… If I dump it in some random field then this all would be pointless. I promise I stole it for a reason and if I get rid of it like that, then it wouldn’t just feel like a mistake. It would actually be one. I don’t want it to be a mistake.”

         “Well, you got any bright ideas, little missy?”

         Margaret hadn’t a single one, but as she stood there mulling over the same possibilities she had in the living room, her eyes landed on Mr. Morrison’s dirty boots. They looked like a farmer’s boots.

         “Actually, I think I might.”

         After a two hour drive further into the country, Margaret killed the truck’s engine, extinguishing the headlights. They were a spacious fifty yards from their target farmhouse down the road. The windows were all black, though a small light lit up the driveway right next to a security camera. Thankfully, they had no need to go anywhere near the house. Their aim was the edge of the sizeable backyard, and Margaret knew all the best routes through the collection of pine trees to get there.

        Still inside the car, Margaret asked for the fifth time, “Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, you really don’t have to be here, Mr. Morrison.”

        Mr. Morrison undid his seatbelt and went to open his door while saying, “Stop that. If I don’t help, you’re gonna get caught, and then I’ll have to start this process over with a whole new neighbor, and that’s a mighty lot of work.”

        Margaret smiled at his attitude and swung her door open. It creaked slightly as she did so, and she quickly stepped out and shut it again. The two moved around to the bed, dropped the back, and hauled out the small tree. They made their way across the street and into the tall pines with Margaret leading the way. They each grappled a handle to the storage container, shuffling it through the trunks and across the dead pine needles padding the ground. Soon they came to the grove’s end and the beginning of the yard. There, a little more than twenty feet to their left, stood a tall, mature apple tree.

        “This will do,” Margaret whispered.

        “Won’t this be too close to the other one?” Mr. Morrison grunted from the other side of the bucket.

        “The one we have is only a dwarf apple tree. It doesn’t need as much space for roots,” Margaret whispered back.

        “If you say so.”

         They set the blue bucket down, took out the shovels they had placed inside it, and began their dig. Every couple of minutes or so, Mr. Morrison would stop to turn and check the sleeping house. By the looks of it, there was a light on the back porch similar to one on driveway. Mr. Morrison suspected that it could be motion activated and warned against moving any closer to the house, before wiping his brow and continuing the work.

        Time passed quickly as anxiety and fatigue kept sweat on their brows. As they finally lifted the treeling to put it in its new home, white light flooded the yard, bathing it in a florescent shine. The two trespassers quickly shaded their eyes with one of their hands- the other still holding the tree. The silhouette of the house disappeared with their sight having long adjusted to the shadows of night. The blinding effect passed, and inside the house, a series of windows began to light up one by one till they reached the kitchen and possibly their doom.

         Why now? They hadn’t strayed any further from the tree line, Margaret wondered. Why didn’t it catch them before? Margaret prepared for the porch doors to fly open, presenting some Midwestern redneck with a shot gun in hand. But the double doors stayed closed and whoever had noticed the light kept to the kitchen where the shape of a man stood motionless at the window.

From the house, they heard a tired, male voice call out to someone, “It’s just those darn deer back by the cornfield,” before the yellow windows started to going back to black.

        Margaret released the breath that she had held on to for dear life and let her shoulders ease back down to where they belonged, but her heart still pounded rapidly in its place. From her left, Mr. Morrison swatted her arm and directed her eyes to the wall of corn. Three grown deer were grazing on the grass. One, bearing the beginnings of antlers, moved towards the grown apple tree, and as he did so, he caught sight of his fellow trespassers and froze. His eyes locked onto them. Mr. Morrison just stared back briefly before moving again to drop the tree into the freshly dug hole. Margaret snapped back to reality as he did so.

        The horizon past the cornfield began to glow with a yellow shine as the two finished leveling out the dirt, illuminating the fog sitting heavily on the ground. The two miscreants stood by their finished project, leaning on their shovels, breathing deeply, and enjoying the fruit of their labor as they stared at the small tree now planted firmly in the soil. It was a staggering contrast to see the small thing next to its fully grown neighbor, but Margaret knew it would grow just as big. She couldn’t have expected Mr. Morrison to be her partner in crime on such a night, but it turned out he was the perfect one for the job.

        “Thank you, Mr. Morrison. I’m sorry I you got involved in this. It’s probably not how you wanted to spend your evening,” Margaret whispered.

        He snorted.

        “You didn’t force me into anything. I haven’t had this much excitement in years. Not since Vi got sick.”

        Oh, that’s right.

        Margaret was ashamed of how easily she forgot that he was a widower, that his wife had struggled along for years barely tethered to this world, and that he had cared for her and lost her. She started to give her regrets, but he spoke once again.

        “You mind me asking why you stole it?”

        “Would you care if I did?” Margaret laughed but sobered quickly after. “I remember this sunrise, those fields, this yard. I remember when that huge apple tree was young. I was young back then too and so, so excited. Papa had come home on my birthday with two small apple trees- just little saplings. He told me that we were going to plant them in the yard together just like he promised. He would watch them grow just like he’d watch me. Only one of them made it through their first winter, but Papa told me that it happened sometimes and that it was okay.”

        “Sounds like you two are close.”

        Margaret waited to answer, and instead she took the moment to look back over the small corn stalks at sun still sitting low on the horizon.

        “We were.”


        Margaret smiled sadly.

        “He didn’t make it through last winter.”

        Margaret turned her eyes to the baby apple tree- the evidence of her crime, her little mistake- then she turned to its neighbor and the canopy of leaves. Oh, how it had grown.

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