Autumn creeps in by degrees, tentatively, like our streaky-haired, manicured cousin. We hardly notice ‘til she’s right up on us, her smile too wide, teeth too white. She talks funny, like the people on television who sell sleeping pills. We don’t look twice, don’t give her the satisfaction; don’t really know much about the city girl whose momma, Aunt Jess, moved away from the home place and changed her name and never looked back or came when Nana was sick.
There’s a warm wind blowing through Nana’s orchard and even in the shade of the apple trees we sweat through our Curtis Family Reunion t-shirts. Branches bend low, heavy with fruit, and the picking’s easy. Her apples are plump and crisp, burnished gold and crimson. Another bumper crop, like every September.
Small-bodied wasps buzz angrily at our invasion; they sting the fruit and leave behind ugly mars. They swarm the bucket where we toss the bruised and split ones. She would’ve fed her hogs with that slop but her livestock’s already been sold and the pens emptied.
Our city cousin flees the wasps and the heat like we knew she would. She sits with the men in the side yard, where the For Sale sign is planted, fanning herself.
The rot bucket overflows; it’s dark and clotted with insects and puts off a kind of sweet, fermented smell. Nana was none too sweet at the end when so much of her insides was rotten. That’s when we could’ve used the help, and the company.
We fill our gathering bags and carry them inside where the paring and slicing begins. We bake cobblers and pies in Nana’s kitchen ‘til dark, knowing it’s likely our last time together here, and we tell tales about her while the men sit outside in the moonlight, bullshitting with Miss Pretty Nails, speculating about how much the place will bring, and when the cobblers cool, we all eat. She says she doesn’t want any but she eyes our sweets like a hungry child.
We keep on eating ‘til we’re past full and happily sick, and then pack the bonus to share amongst ourselves. We clear out Nana’s pantry, denuding the shelves. We stow our pies in shallow boxes and the fresh picked apples in paper grocery sacks, rolling the tops of the bags, shooing away the wasps that try to hitchhike; we write our names on the fold.
On the last roll down, half-full of orphan fruit — what should’ve been tossed out with the rot — we mark her name, Ava, in red block letters, and leave it on the picnic table. But her fancy car’s taillights disappear down the lane and her t-shirt lays in the dusty drive.
She’ll get her share all right, when all is said and done, because she’s kin. But not today.
Karen Walsh resides in St. Louis, Missouri, where she writes poetry, short fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been published in literary magazines and online journals, including River Styx, Magnolia, Watermark, Earth’s Daughters, FOCUS/Midwest, Nail Polish Stories, and FreeFlashFiction. She teaches Child Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Maryville University in St. Louis and has worked as a school psychologist for over 20 years. Visit her blog at sugareeblog.wordpress.com.