When I was younger, a group of us would walk home from school. It was only a few blocks, down some streets. But on the way there was one house, with an old man and an apple tree. We’d always stop and he’d let us pick an apple. The sweetest, juiciest apple ever bitten. He was a nice old man. But then high school came, and I took a different route home. A year later I mussed the apple. So changed my way to walk by his house. Looking back now, I find at this age I would never have accepted an apple from him, Guilt is always expected before innocence. But I was young then, innocent myself. Three times a week I would pass his house, and he would always mile, nod at the tree. Sometimes comment on the weather. Two years later, when I cut down to twice a week, he began pointing out the best ones. He’d reach up and picked the brightest one, he’d call it, just like my eyes. We’d make a few minutes of conversation now. Another two years and he could no longer reach the brightest apples. It’s the back, he’d say, like it wasn’t really a part of him. He'd point, that’s the one. And it always would be the sweetest and juiciest. I’d sit with him now, wand we’d talk. About anything really, this and that. I could sit there for an hour before I realised the time. I asked him once if children still passed on their way home. Kids are too cautious these days he sighed.
And now, after all that, I stand here, after coming for a week and finding no one. There’s a movers truck out front, man with red eyes shifting everyone around. Maybe he feels my gaze because he turns, and looks at me.
“You want an apple?” He nods towards the tree. It’s like a mimic almost, but too much effort to be right. Awkward really.
I look at the tree, the dull apples sitting there. “No thanks.” It wouldn’t be bright if he didn’t pick it. “Was it his back?” I asked, the question seeming dumb upon my lips.
He seemed confused. “There never was anything wrong with his back.”
He had moved to stand before me, within reach. “It was his heart, just gave out finally.” He sniffed, I could tell he was sad. “Too much staring at pretty girls he always said. Never really made sense though, ain’t been able to stare at anything much for the past years.”
“Oh.” I said no more, and he slowly moved away. I went towards the apple tree, the fruit still seeming dull. I closed my eyes, reached up, picked an apple. It was the sweetest, juiciest apple. He was in that apple, smiling upon me finding his secret. It’s something you feel, he had once said. Eyes closed I could find the brightest apple. Except he hadn’t needs to close his eyes.