Most would come into my home only in the summer, when my crooked hands held untold bounty of cherries and apricots and peaches, ripe and dripping with succor, and they would pull at the fruits as if they weren’t parts of my body, as if each pluck didn’t send fire down my nerves. They would stand there and take bites, big sloppy bites, laughing and talking, juice leaking down their hands and chins, and they would reach out and smear the red and orange and yellow liquid with bits of my flesh on the faces of others. There would be laughter and joy, and I would remind myself that every time they carried the stone with them there would be more of me somewhere else, and that, someday, the more of me might meet the flesh of the one I had lost so long ago, the one whom I still crave.
I can feel them again, laughing and kissing and rolling around in the grass, among my bark-covered arms, and every giggle and every sigh reminds me of what I used to be, ages ago, of why I live the way I do, destined to offer and wait and seek and move only by creating multitudes of myself, spreading far and wide, in the hope that somehow, somewhere, there would be peace, or an end, or a point to it all.
Nobody remembers my name, but everyone remembers Johnny Appleseed. When I knew him he was just Johnny, a barefoot kid with crooked teeth and freckles, while I was just a girl with ginger braids, who got in trouble for getting dirty while hunting frogs and climbing trees.
Growing up, the two of us hung out in orchard crowns, him stealing old man Wilkerson’s apples, me gorging on cherries and apricots and peaches. We often fled one of Wilkerson’s large, mean sons, who chased us with a shotgun, yelling and cursing.
“They know it’s you because your shirt is always stained,” said Johnny one day, as we hid in a wild blueberry bush off the road, a Wilkerson running past us.
“So? Yours is, too.” I suddenly felt filthy and small, and would’ve given anything to have the cherry-red fruit chunks magically disappear from my white-and-blue checkered shirt.
“Apples don’t stain.” He nodded toward my shirt. “Not like your stupid drippy stone fruits with all the color.”
“Your apples are stupid!” I jumped to my feet. “Just like you, Johnny Chapman!” I marched away with my chin up, hands balled into fists. My face was on fire.
That night, Johnny threw rocks at my window until I showed up.
“Stop it! You’ll break it,” I said, groggy and annoyed. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to say I’m sorry. I was mean. And cherries aren’t stupid.”
“Well, I still think apples are. Good night.” I shut the window with indignation, but, as my head hit the pillow, I was smiling.
After that night, we spent more time in each other’s trees, tasting each other’s fruits, getting the bits and pieces and all the juices mixed up… Until my belly started to swell and it was my father holding the shotgun, chasing Johnny away.
I never left the house, and I remember pain, so much pain, blood everywhere, the screams, and I remember hearing that the child was stillborn, and I remember the sweetness and the joy and the texture and the fear, and I remember wondering where Johnny was, and if he knew, and if he’d have liked the baby to be called Apple or Cherry or Peaches, and I didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl, and I remember, oh so clearly remember, the feeling of that very last breath leaving my body…
Then I awoke, and had many more arms and many more hands, and I could feel the dirt and the air, and I could see the sun through the many, so many eyes, and I rejoiced at the rain, but felt confused, until I realized they had buried me in the orchard, for as much shame as I had brought upon the family, they knew who I was and what I liked, and they wanted me to rest where I was happiest…
Only I missed them all and I missed Johnny, but most of all I missed my baby, and I felt devastated because I did not know where they had buried it.
But I will find them both, my Johnny, my baby. Every time I bear fruit, when the juicy flesh gives others joy and they carry the stone seed with them, when they drop it in the grass and a new part of me grows, I get to see more and feel more and learn more, and I have known countless deaths amid my roots, but none of them are my child, and I have known countless loves amid my trees, but none of them Johnny and me, and I have touched and intertwined with countless roots of apple trees, but they were all mute, none of them were Johnny, and I keep searching, keep spreading, because I cannot fathom that I would be living on, all these winters and summers, seasons of barren branches and those so heavy with fruits they almost break, but that he would not, that he was only ever just a man, who lived a man’s life and died a man’s death, and maybe never knew what had become of me, or worse yet, that he knew but didn’t care, and went on eating the boring stupid apples, and lived a boring stupid life, leaving only those tiny seeds behind him, and that he forgot all about the mixing of the juices and colors and textures, and that he forgot all about me.
Maura Yzmore is a Midwest-based writer and scientist. Her speculative fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, The Molotov Cocktail, Frozen Wavelets, and elsewhere. Find out more at https://maurayzmore.com or on Twitter @MauraYzmore.