this story is for the blog (fiction femme fatale) i mentioned here: sailing along
it's my first attempt at a short. i'm sure there are certain guidelines one is supposed to follow, but since this was just for fun, i simply looked at the photo (photo props: helen warner photography) and let my imagination do the rest.
i must say, i much prefer 80,000 words to work with. but here's my 790.
be kind and enjoy.
"Wait" she'd said, her lips cracked, striped of blood. "Wait right here and DON'T MOVE."
It was risky. I knew it. Ma knew it. Even Lythe knew it.
Yet here we stand, frozen, iron gate towering before us, its spikes pointing toward the sky. The weather's turning worse, plump snowflakes sticking along our eyelashes. Squinting out into the white field of trees - waiting - Lythe's tiny chapped fingers clutch my skirt, tugging from his four year old view of the world. Each tug swishes at the wool and whispers, risk - risk - risk.
He whimpers. "Ma?"
Leaning down, I brush the red curls out of his eyes. "Shhh. She'll be back."
Peering up at me, his dark eyes pits of doubt, they ask, will she?
To that, I sigh. I don’t know.
Risk - risk - risk, my skirt whispers.
Wait - wait -wait, my stomach growls. I can't remember the last time we ate. Hours? Days? Weeks? Time blurs together into one bottomless hole.
It had all sounded so simple in the dark of morning. Ma shook my shoulder, speaking little hints into my ear. Half asleep, her breathy tune was nothing more than broken words along the wind. "Unseasonable snow...apples...freeze and rot...waste not...rations...pick the lock...desperate...now...NOW..."
The sun was cresting the clouded horizon when we arrived at the orchard gate. I picked the lock (a skill proving more useful than anything in nine years of schooling). Then, a creaking as Ma slipped through. And, "Wait".
Now, as smoky light pokes through dancing leaves and my stomach yawns waaait, and my skirt wails riiiisk –
She's peeking around a snow covered branch.
Coming closer, her skin gray from cold, cheeks pink, skirt and hair disheveled after climbing trees and shaking branches, she's cradling a mound against her chest. Fruit wrapped up in her apron like a newborn babe, Ma's smiling, her lips now a dark blood red, reflecting the color of the apples. The too good to be real apples!
Lythe squeals, releasing my skirt and stumbling over his feet to the fence, getting a closer look at what must be a dream.
Ma's smile fades. "Ruby. The gate. Be quick."
Opening it wider to allow for her added girth, she slides back through. I lock it shut.
– We were never here –
Taking the woods, avoiding all walkways, all eyes, pulling Lythe along by the hand and finally lifting him on my back, we make it home. Shutting the front door behind us, blocking out the world, we exhale in relief – three breaths as one.
We did it.
Wasting no time, I build a fire. Ma cuts and cores, while Lythe stands at her hip, eating and sucking any and all apple out of what's left over, crunching the seeds only to spit them into Ma's hand.
Finally our small harvest goes into a pot, then over the fire.
Yet again, we're waiting. This time Lythe and I don't mind as much. The smell of cooking apples fills our home, swirling into the corners and heating each cold and dark crevice. It's warmth and love and safety and it takes me back to happier times. Times before food rations and gunfire and letters that snatch Papas from their daughters.
"Ruby?" Lythe interrupts my memories by climbing into my lap, book in hand. I tickle his ribs. He giggles. Kissing him on the cheek, I open the book. "Once upon – "
Ma's eyes go wide. She looks at me, at the fire. Ruby, the apples! is her unspoken plea, her face screaming it.
Jumping up, both Lythe and his book tumble to the floor. Pulling my sweater over my hand I lift the pot from the –
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
"Just a moment!" Ma's voice shakes.
Skidding into the bedroom, pot in hand, apple mush – lovely, delicious apple mush – sloshes over the sides. I shove it in the closet, the hot pot hissing at the cold floor. Then, I hear it...
The front door whines open.
The low voice of a man murmurs.
"No. No we've been home all morning." Ma lies.
"Ruby!" she shouts.
"Ma'ma!" Lythe howls.
I run to the door. Ma's being dragged away, shoeless, the sweet smell of apple seeds still on her hands.
No. I shake my head. No.
"Ma!!!" Lythe cries. Once more he's at my skirt, reaching his tiny bony arms out for her…for his Ma.
The last I see of our mother is her eyes squeezed shut, unable to look back, unable to see us standing there so small and helpless. Bare feet dragging two tracks in the snow, she's pulled away, plucked from her home, stolen.