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Sylvia rocked back on her plain wooden stool, stretching her neck and back, twisting her solid arms from side to side. "Rest is the natural state of all things. Girl, getting old doesn't make you tired. It's being unable to find a place to put down roots that keeps you young."

Annalise picked up another apple. She held it up to the light of the morning sun and turned it as if it were a piece of marble and she were imagining the sculpture within. She picked up her knife and hovered over one piece of peel near the stem, then another. She was as familiar with the knife as it was with her. When she cut into the peel, her hands turned the apple so smoothly that the blade sounded like a zipper purring down a long dress. She caught the end of the peel and threw the long curl over her left shoulder. As always, it spelled out the name of her one true love.

Sylvia chuckled. "Know a thing or two about apples yourself, dear?"

Annalise nodded. She pointed with her knife.

"Aye." Sylvia sighed and picked up her knife. "'S broke it two."

Annalise selected another apple and sliced off the peel. The apple looked as perfect as if she'd turned it on a wheel. She held up the peel, looked Sylvia straight in the eye, and tossed the peel over her shoulder.

"It's always the same, isn't it?"

Annalise had a pointy chin and serious, dark eyes; an expressive face with a tiny mouth that never seemed to open. She had a hundred nods (and a thousand shrugs) to use, and this time she used the one that said, enigmatically, Yes. She picked up the pair of peels and threw them in the trash. There were more apples to peel, but no point throwing all the peels over her shoulder like a little girl set to writing sentences at the slate.

Sylvia had Annalise making pies and helping Fat Mac into lunch, more for the company than anything else. Somehow, they ended up with six more pie shells than they had fruit for.

"Now, I know you think my brain's gone soft, but there's a purpose to it. There surely is. Now, you're supposed to be here until closing time, aren't you? If you don't have to go, stay 'till midnight. Then you'll find out what these extra pies are for."

Annalise nodded, but her head had turned toward the door between the kitchen and the dining room. If she'd been a dog, her ears would have come up all points.

"We're just going to cover these with damp towels -- just in that cupboard there, thank you dear, and wring them out good--and save them up for midnight. You got to bake these pies at midnight."

Eileen leaned through the window. "Sylvia! We're opening up the back section. Looks like a bus coming in. We need to you to split it with Cherise. Keep an eye on her. She looks flustered already."

Sylvia took off her floured apron and threw it in the dirty whites hamper. "My poor old fat ankles," she muttered. "My poor old fat feet. You help Fat Mac try to keep up, girl. And stay out of that freezer."

It's night.

Sylvia's in the kitchen, wiping her face and blowing her nose into a towel. She throws the towel into the hamper and pulls herself up straight. She doesn't know where to start. Everything's a mess of flour and blood. Even the pie shells for the other pies have been soaked through. She turns around in a circle a few times, then wipes off her stool and sits on it, staring at the mess with dead eyes.

Annalise elbows her way through the door from the dining room, her cold steel knife--it's served her well--in one hand and her true love's severed left hand in the other. She holds it out at arm's length, carries it over to the big sink, and drops it in. After she rinses it off with cold water, she carries it over to Fat Mac's big bench and wraps it in butcher paper. She tapes it up and writes the date and the words "TWIN'S LEFT HAND" on it. She opens up the door to Fat Mac's freezer and disappears.

Presently, she returns, strips off her bloody shirt and throws it in the garbage. She finds a clean towel and washes everything she can reach, then walks over to the stack of clean aprons in the back room and ties one on. It must be one of Fat Mac's aprons; there's enough of it to wrap around her whole body twice. She might feel a little bit safer now. At least she feels covered.

The time clock says it's almost midnight.

Annalise pulls Sylvia to her feet.

"What is it, honey? What is it now? Can't you leave a poor old tired body alone?"

Annalise points at the pie shells and clears her throat. "Baked. The witching pies need to be baked now," she croaks.

Sylvia's eyes come to life. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's brought many a weary soul back to life. "Goodness, honey, can you talk? What's your name? Why haven't you talked before?"

"Old curse," Annalise coughs. "Named Annalise." Her voice fades out with a painful catch, and Annalise claws the air in front of her throat.

Sylvia says, "You go make yourself some hot tea while I start on these pies. Goodness knows they won't be any the worse for a little blood, and the towels seem to have kept out most of the rest of the damage. Don't try to talk. It'll come the easier for you not crying over it."

Annalise nods. I've waited this long, I can wait a little longer... She rummages around in Fat Mac's cupboards until she comes up with his secret stash of old-time pirate's rum. It's under the counter by the window into the dining room, right beside the hook where his big cleaver hangs--where a gentler man might hide a baseball bat. Annalise's eyes fill with tears, but not too many tears. She makes them both hot toddies with rum (not a drop of whisky of any kind in the place, more's the pity).

Sylvia opens up the back door to let the moonlight in. Shimmering outside are the silver leaves of the dead apple tree out back, the one whose twigs are dry as a bone yet seem to grow longer each year. Sylvia makes a basket out of her stiff and bloody apron and fills it full of the silver moon-apples hanging from the branches.

She and Annalise peel them. Annalise throws the first peel over her left shoulder. The same name has been spelled out--but the peel remains whole this time, not broke in twain like all the rest. The peel faded into dust when Sylvia shifted on her stool and her shadow passed over it. Sylvia waits for the storm of pass, and when Annalise is quiet again, Sylvia tells her this story:

"I told you about apple pies and cherry pies. I suppose after what you and I have shared the doing of this night, you can hear the tale of the other kind of pie I make, the moon-apple pie."

Annalise smiles, which pains the cut on her face, and dips her head closer to her apple, letting her wet hair fall around her face.

"A long time ago, a young lady slipped away from her da's house to meet her lover. The two were to meet under a certain apple tree in a nearby orchard, and from there to run away to be married in London, where none would know their names, for the girl's da had no love for the young man his daughter had chosen.

"And well enough he forbad them to wed, for the faithless young man never came to the apple orchard that night. But after midnight, the girl still shivering in the dew, waiting for her lover, came another. He was tall and fair, with fine white hair, white like the glint of moonlight on deep water. Some would say silver, but silver comes out of the dirt and has to be purified to be worth much. That's what makes silver precious, I reckon. You take something dirty and work with it until it's pure. No, this man's hair was white, the kind of color that comes effortless and has no true soul to it at all.

"The next thing the girl knew, the other had pushed her up against the twisted trunk of the apple tree, pinned her arms behind her with one iron-strong arm, and took her right then and there. She wailed with fear and hurt, and he cast a magic spell on her which made it that her voice would carry no further than the outermost branches of the apple tree. He could have silenced her entirely, but he liked to hear her screaming, you see.

"After a time, the other left her, and she fell into a faint. At dawn, the girl woke to find that every leaf and blossom had fallen from that apple tree, mercifully covering her during the night. The trunk had dried up and died, too, and it was a mournful thing to see it standing full in the middle of the rest of the orchard.

"But that wasn't all. The girl returned to her da's house--she didn't know where else to go--and knocked on the door. Her da opened the door and looked at her like she was a stranger. 'Are you in need of anything, miss?' he asked. And when the girl opened her mouth to talk, naught came out but a croak.

"Well, to make a long tale short, since we have to get these pies in the oven, everywhere the girl went, nobody knew her name, and she was unable to speak. When she returned to the dead apple tree, she could speak out as loud as she wished--but none could hear her voice beyond the furthest branch, not even the birds.

"Now, you'd think, first thing, that she would have taken her father by the hand and pulled him out to the neighbor's orchard so she could tell him the truth, but when the tree died, it became a haunt, and nobody could be persuaded to come near it. When the moonlight shone on its branches, you could see leaves and blossoms shining in the light. That wasn't so bad, but it seems that ghosts could see them, too, and smell them. Every haunt from miles around would come to smell the blossoms and twine branches in their hair. As the blossoms turned to apples, the ghosts found that they could taste the apples themselves, and flocked from even further.

"The reason I know all this is that one night, my great-great grandma, whose da owned the orchard, stole out to the tree and plucked the first ripe moon-apple, right from under the hand of one of the worst haunts in the county. She ate the apple while the girl told her her tale, then slipped out with the core in her pocket. She tried to tell the girl's da what had happened to her, but he wouldn't hear a word of it, because of the curse. My grandma wrapped up the seeds in a packet of paper and kept them with her until she came with my grand-da to America, years later. She planted the seeds here, the better to remember her home.

"After the tree got old enough to bear fruit, she started making pies, witching pies, for any spirit as cared to have a slice. It's the only fruit the dead can taste. To the dead, the apples taste like life itself, and they only get better for the baking. It's come down to me that they taste like ashes to the living--well, every other living person except me and my kin, as reward for being to thoughtful of them as has gone before."

The pies are in the oven, sealed up and dotted with butter, and Sylvia and Annalise are drinking tea and standing in the doorway where they can see the dead apple tree.

Sylvia sighed. Annalise had washed her hair in the sink, and all the curl had gone out of it. "What are we going to do about that mess, I want to know. I should be out there with a mop right now, before it gets hard. Or a shovel."

Annalise coughed. "More."

"More what, Annalise? Now that's a pretty name. Reminds me of the time--"

"More to the story," Annalise said. "The lover and the other were foster brothers, blood brothers, even. The other had watched over the girl and her lover jealously, for his foster brother would nae spend time in frolics and games as he would before. Now, in looks, except for the other's white hair and fair skin, they were as alike as twins..."



--De Knippling

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Page last modified on April 08, 2006, at 09:00 PM by deknippling

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