In my seventeenth year when the sap rose in me like a tree awakening in spring, I didn’t handle it well. “I hate you,” I said to my mother. “I hate you and your orchard and your apples.” My words made her face draw in on itself so that the furrows around her eyes deepened and the muscles beneath her jaw firmed into ropes. Years of sunlight had coarsened her skin, but behind her ear, where wisps of hair curled out of the rubber band she bundled her hair into every morning, the skin remained smooth and pale. Glimpsing the vulnerability of hidden places on her body made me squirm, feeding the sparkling anger that intoxicated me that year.
It astonishes me to realize that she wasn’t yet forty, her hair still echoing the brightness of the goldenrod blooms that surrounded our orchard in autumn, because in that year she had come to seem old and fallible. Now that I’m edging into my mid-thirties, all too aware of how quickly time passes, I can see how young she still was in that heated, tumultuous season of my life. At fifty-one she seems younger to me than she did so many years ago when I had only the foreshortened perspective of a teenager, but that restless spring the years that separated us seemed insurmountable and the fertile environs of our orchard vibrated with my contempt. The shapeless seat of her overalls, her muscled forearms, and the ribbed men’s tank top she wore beneath the overalls irritated me beyond measure, drawing forth my statement of hatred.
“Someday you’ll have a daughter who hates you, too,” she replied. Her easy drawl that had throughout my childhood come to define the sound of love hardened into a brittle whisper with spaces between the words that threatened to shatter us. I’ve returned to this moment over and over in my mind. The words themselves are cut into my memory, but the tone and meaning of those words still seem open to possibilities. Curse or promise, all these years later I hear the echo of her words when I catch my own sixteen-year-old daughter looking at me from the corners of her eyes with a measuring, unsympathetic gaze. I still wonder if my mother meant to say those words or if my actions goaded her into a statement she regretted.
On that long-ago day my mother never looked to see the effect of her words, just swung into the seat of her tractor and let out the clutch with an abrupt jerk, causing the engine to stutter and stumble and me to straighten from where I stood in the doorway of our warehouse and lean forward on my toes, elated by this fracture in her apple-fed serenity. The tractor’s sturdy antiquity had always elicited only patience from her. She lifted her hand and I wanted her to wallop the metal casing as I myself would have, but she only patted the tractor with a gentleness that infuriated me. As if in response the engine settled into a rumbling hum. She chugged away from me down the rutted path to our orchard, the metal curve of the seat emphasizing the stingy narrowness of her hips. Bees swarmed around her legs and clung to the sticky sides of the tractor, the flaking red paint sweetened by years of dripping apple juice. The tractor seemed to quiver with the whispery crawl of hair-thin insect legs and fluttering, transparent wings. The obdurate line of her back disappeared into the rows of apple trees, the cinched-up straps of her denim overalls flapping in the breeze of her passage, her sun-freckled shoulders bare. In the distance the Cascades rose in a shadow across a horizon the color of storms, but I had never traveled to meet that horizon; the green bowl of farmland where our orchard nestled formed the boundaries of my life.
A year earlier I might have helped my mother hitch our flatbed trailer to the tractor, then wedged myself between empty apple crates to jounce along the rutted track behind her. Years before that I would have been on her lap, my hands beneath hers on the steering wheel, but that year I had stopped going into the orchard because of the bees. In the spring they emerged from among the trees to cling to my mother in thick clusters. “The bees help me keep the orchard healthy,” she’d always told me. Every April she rose at dawn and went into the orchard. The year before I had crept after her and seen her walk naked among the trees, trailing her fingers along their low-hanging boughs as the bees gathered to her, clothing her in the glinting, rustling mass of their bodies and encircling her head like a crown. For days afterward I had been unable to look at her, mumbling in response to her questions; she made me drink spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar to cure my malaise and gradually I was able to resume our normal relationship, but the memory of what I’d seen shaped the rude discontent with which I confronted her that spring.
Throughout my childhood my mother’s touch had always coaxed masses of blossoms from the gnarled trees, blossoms that quickly swelled into fruit so that we harvested apples from May through October, each tree producing several cycles of fruit during those months. By the middle of May the bees had always retreated to the meadows beyond our orchard, content to leave my mother in peace, but the day I told my mother I hated her it was already late in May and the bees still teemed restlessly around our warehouse. The apples were different that spring, too. Instead of the round, sweet fruit of previous years, we were harvesting shrunken fruit riddled with wormholes. In earlier years the bees had mostly left me alone, but that year every time I went outside they gathered around me as if drawn by the pulse of blood that beat hotly beneath my skin. The tickle of their wings on my bare arms roused in me an uncomfortable awareness of my maturing body. I slapped at them and endured their irritable stings when I refused to allow them to crawl about my body.
“Let them be,” my mother said when I complained about the bees entangling themselves in my hair, but when I stopped going into the orchard she hadn’t protested. I saw the way her eyes followed the bees that tried to alight on me instead of her and interpreted it as jealousy, ignoring the worried line between her eyes as she examined the blighted fruit.
I’m used to it now and the touch of bees no longer feels strange, but when I was seventeen my gaze was drawn to the distant mountains beyond the orchard and I wanted nothing to do with the life cycles of our orchard. Despite my desire for a larger world, avoiding the bees had shrunk my world to the confines of the dim, cool warehouse where we sorted apples, washed and waxed apples, pressed apples into sweet cider, and prepared apples for shipping. Always apples. Braeburns, Cox’s Orange Pippins, Russets, Honeycrisps—so many varieties grafted onto our trees with my mother’s X-ACTO knife and electrician’s tape. They scented my hair, the crevices of my body, and the air I breathed. “My apple daughter,” my mother called me, a name that reached back to the first summer of my life when, too busy to produce milk, she laid me in the tall grass beneath an apple tree and weaned me on a rag soaked in cider. I was six years old before I ate anything but apples, my eyes opening in astonishment at the turkey sandwich and carrot sticks handed to me on a tray my first day of kindergarten.
“Take one apple on the hour, every hour, for health and happiness,” she’d said to me when a poison ivy rash raged untreated across my legs and arms, when I climbed to the top of our tallest tree to crow my confidence like a rooster only to fall and break my arm, when our elderly spaniel, Pepper, died and I cried from loneliness. Even now during the sunlight hours my mother’s jaw is a perpetual motion machine, but it no longer irritates me the way it did that endless spring. My daughter and I live with my mother in the same little house where I grew up and most days it feels big enough for the three of us. I feed my daughter an occasional hot dog or peanut butter sandwich; my mother shakes her head, but says nothing. She still munches apples while she stands over the washing trough, sorting the perfect apples from the seconds and the cider apples, while she drives her tractor back and forth between the orchard and the warehouse, and while she balances our accounts, chewing and swearing in the fitful light of our ancient computer screen. I am only grateful for her constancy and cheerful good health. During the winter she munches shrunken, wrinkled Braeburns and Golden Russets as she takes apart her tractor, cleans and oils its inner workings, then puts it all back together again. All these years later the tractor’s engine still yields to my mother’s arsenal of wrenches. In recent years I have begun to wield the wrenches myself, but in harvest season it’s still my mother who cajoles our tractor with regular applications of oil, the highest-grade diesel fuel and the occasional encouraging splash of sweet cider.
My mother seems content with what life has given her and I suppose I am too, but I wasn’t that restless, maddening spring when I left childhood behind and roared into adulthood. After I watched her disappear into the orchard I went back into the warehouse, her words echoing in my mind, but my own words echoing even louder. Hate. It burned metallic on my tongue, pricked along my arms until the skin tingled, and made my footsteps heavy so that my work boots smacked the concrete floor. High above me the pitched roof caught the sound of my stomping feet, bounced it across the metal struts, and tossed it back to me unabated. The day before I had sorted a single crate of Grade A Transparents from the bushels of blemished fruit that my mother hauled to the warehouse. In years past the tart crunch of a Transparent had been revelatory after months of soft, sweet winter apples, but I had no appetite for apples any more. I kicked the crate and a cloud of bees rose from among the Transparents, buzzed around my head, and flew out the open door behind me. I looked at the apples suspiciously, but they appeared no different than when I had sorted them into the crate, their yellow-green skins shading appealingly to pale pink around the dimpled depression where the stem emerged. The air smelled of pulp and fermentation, the smell of the orchard at the height of summer when apples ripened faster than we could pick them and fell heavily to the ground to rot. I reached into the crate and took an apple. It looked normal, but felt heavy and soft, yielding to the pressure of my fingers. The feel of it in my hand frightened me and I hurled it into a dim corner of the warehouse.
Instead of sorting and cleaning the remainder of the Transparents as my mother had told me to do, I slammed through the connecting door into the little house that clings to the back of the warehouse like an afterthought—three rooms plus a second bedroom built on after the bumper crop of Honeycrisps we harvested in my eleventh year. My mother had given me the new bedroom and kept the smaller, darker bedroom for herself. That small bedroom was where my stomping feet took me, irritation propelling me into her private space. I couldn’t have explained then what I wanted beyond a desire to cause pain to someone who loved me, but I believe now that I was looking for evidence that my mother had lived a life beyond the orchard as a way to justify my own restlessness. My own daughter has begun to ask questions about my life before she was born and I hear in them an echo of my own teenage dissatisfaction.
Despite the smallness of our living space, or perhaps because of it, we have always had strict rules about respecting one another’s privacy. Before my bedroom was added to our house I slept in the living room; my mother has always demanded the right to a space that is hers alone. Until that day I hadn’t been in her bedroom since I was a young child with nightmares. The single uncurtained window in her bedroom illuminated a patch of shabby apple blossom wallpaper above the bed. The only furniture, a virtuous metal-framed twin bed with a bleached coverlet and a battered wooden dresser, crowded the room. The dresser drawers revealed no secrets beneath the underwear, socks and stack of men’s undershirts, size XS, so I turned to the shallow closet. Two shoeboxes were pushed into the back corner of the closet shelf: Red Wing work boots, men’s size 7 1/2, the only shoe I’d ever known my mother to wear. I wore a pair myself, new for my fifteenth birthday—a source of pride on that occasion, but a source of discontent during that turbulent spring.
I settled myself onto the braided rug beside her bed to examine the boxes. The first shoebox held a tiny knitted hat, a crumpled handkerchief wrapped around a handful of baby teeth, and a birth certificate with an inked footprint smaller than my palm and my name and birthdate printed across the bottom. “Jared Williams” had been written into the space for a father’s name. I’d never heard the name before. My mother had always told me that I was the result of an immaculate conception beneath the apple trees, a matter of pollen and honeybees, and I had half-believed her.
The second shoebox had felt empty when I lifted it off the shelf, but revealed a baseball hat with a seed company logo stitched across the front and a crumpled kitchen towel. I picked up the hat. Around the inside band someone had written “Jared” in a looping cursive. I smiled in satisfaction at the proof that my mother had lied about my origins. I had a father; a part of me belonged to someone other than my mother and my mother had cared about that person enough to keep a memento of their relationship. When I held the hat to my face, the inside of it smelled faintly of sweat. I set it aside and shook out the kitchen towel. A glass bottle half-full of deep red liquid rolled onto the rug beside me. Black letters spelled “Ghost Pepper Sauce” across the handmade label. The curve of the glass sides fit perfectly in my hand. A scrap of paper, creased and yellow with age, rested among the folds of the towel. I recognized my mother’s handwriting from shipping invoices—the impatient sideways slant and the letter strokes that never quite connected, circles of ‘o’s and ‘d’s and ‘p’s that began but never finished so that the letters seemed to be waiting for a firmer hand to transform them. “One drop. No more than two. Excess has consequences,” she had written. I turned the bottle over in my hand and watched the liquid splash against the glass sides. Ghost Pepper Sauce. A childhood of apples had left me innocent; I didn’t know then what it was or why my mother kept it hidden in the back of her closet, but the way she’d wrapped and stored it told me that it was precious and secret and perhaps in some way connected to my conception. A crusty orange rim encircled the cap; cautiously I touched my tongue to the crust. The taste exploded in my mouth, making me drop the bottle in surprise. Heat tingled in my fingertips. The sensation woke the sense of guilt in me that the carefully stored remnants of my infancy had failed to rouse. I wrapped the bottle back up and put everything back where I’d found it, but the prickling sensation in my fingers remained.
When I returned to the cool, dim warehouse a cluster of bees that had been eddying lazily in the sunlit doorway arrowed toward me. I brushed them from my arm and to my astonishment they fell to the floor. I squatted to prod one with a careful finger; it had been feebly waving its legs, but at my touch it stilled. The death of the bee disquieted me. From habit I reached for an apple, the cure-all offered to me throughout my childhood. I cracked my teeth through the thin yellow skin of a Transparent, wanting the clarity of its crisp sourness, but it disintegrated in my mouth with a mealy sweetness. When I looked down, I saw brown spots radiating from the places where my fingers touched. I threw the apple from me and watched it roll into the darkness beneath the cider press. My hands thrummed with heat. I had thought that it was the bees causing the fruit to become overripe, but I saw then that it was my own touch, a phenomenon that the Ghost Pepper Sauce appeared to accelerate.
I ran to the sink and drew a basin of cold water, then plunged my hands into it, pretending not to hear the soft “ssss”of quenched fire when the water touched me. The lingering taste of Ghost Pepper on my tongue still sent tendrils of warmth into my blood and despite my best intentions a part of me savored that sensation. I left my hands in the water until they were numb, adding fresh water to the basin whenever it began to warm, withdrawing them only when I heard the sound of my mother’s tractor in the lane.
By the time she drove the tractor into the warehouse, I had busied myself sorting and loading the best-looking Transparents onto the conveyor belt to be washed and waxed. She deposited a half-full crate of Transparents and another of Gravenstein pie apples. It was a fraction of the crop that we normally harvested at this time and many of the apples appeared flyspecked and misshapen.
“Perhaps next week the apples will be better,” she said as she chewed, her skin clear and translucent as the flesh of the half-eaten apple cupped in her hand. It infuriated me that an hour among her apple trees had erased the anger that had burned between us so recently.
It takes passion and pain to make a baby. The thought came to me as the aftertaste of Ghost Pepper continued to heat my mouth. I pushed the thought away and reached for one of the Gravensteins, chewed, then spat in disgust. The apple was spongy with rot and I let it drop onto the floor. My mother watched without comment, but her lips pressed tight as I kicked the rotten apple away from me. She stopped its roll with the toe of her boot.
“A rotten apple is just an apple that’s ripened a little past its purpose,” she said, nudging the Gravenstein back to me.
I brought the heel of my own boot down on the apple and ground it into the floor. “I hate apples,” I said. My mother folded her arms.
For two days I resisted the lure of the Ghost Pepper, but then the bees returned. While my mother was in the orchard one bee and then another crawled across my arms, but the sensation of heat in me had dissipated and they suffered no harm. As if at a signal, a swarm of bees flew down from the rafters to flutter softly against my skin. I beat them off and plucked the nub of a stinger from my shoulder before marching into my mother’s bedroom to steal her bottle of hot sauce.
Weaned on cider, nurtured with apples, accustomed only to the balancing influence of cinnamon and buttered pastry, I was in no way prepared for the full effect of capsaicin. The touch of my tongue to the encrusted sauce around the cap had been only a pallid precursor to what lay within. I allowed a single drop to fall onto the sliced white flesh of an Akane and watched the red liquid spider across it so that it almost touched the thin peel, then ate it with streaming eyes and erupting sinuses. That afternoon every apple I touched softened and browned under my fingers, but I no longer cared. The attention of the bees frightened me more than the ruin of our apples.
“Guess I’ll have to call Herb to make an extra trip,” was all my mother said when she saw the full bin of rotted discards. Herb had the neighboring farm and bought our unsalvageable windfalls at a steep discount to feed to his pigs. His two daughters had the round sly faces of children fed exclusively on bacon and ham. We attended the same school and early on I’d grown used to being tripped by their patent leather Mary Janes and blamed for my clumsiness. My apple-fed upbringing had left me incapable of countering in kind.
“Juice,” my mother said the next morning. “That’s the solution. We’ll do an early run of cider.” I knew she’d frowned over her account books until late in the night, our precarious finances threatened by the accelerating rot of our apples. Guilt nibbled at the edges of my conscience, but while she was in the bathroom I sliced my breakfast apple open and placed two drops of hot sauce onto it. The heat of my breath crisped the hair on my arm into black crumbs.
We moved the apples directly from the washing vats to the cider press, the cloying, overripe smell of apples filling the warehouse and spilling out through the open doors. Crushing the apples added something fetid and dangerous to the air, but my mother pretended not to notice as she turned the crank on the cider press. “Needs cinnamon,” she said after she sampled from the tap at the base of the press, but the cider had a musky tang that cinnamon would never disguise. She measured off a cup of cinnamon and dumped it directly into the vat, but it wouldn’t do. Even I could see that.
The next morning after her tractor had disappeared among the rows of apple trees I measured a single drop of hot sauce directly onto my tongue, then wrapped some underwear and a spare T-shirt around the precious, stinging bottle. I tied the bundle up in a scarf and walked across Herb’s field toward the highway that spun out toward the horizon. My head buzzed with fire and pain.
When I reached the highway I planted my feet on the gravel shoulder and held my thumb out toward the first passing car. Orange flame sprouted from my nail bed. I stared in fascination. The rush of air as the car passed me fanned the flames to a blue-white heat that licked up my outstretched arm. Three more cars passed me without stopping, the wind from their passage buffeting me and feeding the fire that bloomed in my palm. The fifth car slowed as it passed, then squealed into reverse and came back. Deep red paint gleamed and a Ford Mustang insignia flashed sunlight at me.
The driver reached an arm out the open window and beckoned to me, but I was already walking around to the passenger door. He had a thin dark mustache, a smooth round chin, and his hair was thick and wet with gel, but I didn’t care.
“My name’s Carlos,” he said. When he smiled his teeth were white and his fingers tapped the steering wheel in time to the radio’s drumbeat, a rhythm that stuttered and turned back on itself in a way that made me feel like I’d dripped Ghost Pepper Sauce directly onto my skin. My nerve endings quivered into painful awareness and the enclosed space filled with the barbecued smell of my body. He blinked in surprise.
“Take me anywhere that’s not here, Carlos,” I said.
He took off with a spurt of gravel and I watched in the side mirror as the orchard receded into a thin line behind us. The Cascades marched blue across the horizon in front of us, the highway a gray path leading us up and over the mountains. I tore open the scarf, scattering my bundle of white cotton panties across the seat. My bottle of hot sauce sloshed with the motion of the car. I unscrewed the top, tilted back my head, and dripped it onto my tongue. One drop, then another: I remembered the note in my mother’s terse handwriting, but I didn’t stop after the second drop, tilting the bottle until I had a mouthful of liquid fire. When I swallowed I felt it burn deep into my pelvis. As I shuddered in the aftermath he stretched his hand out and took the bottle from me.
“Ghost Pepper Sauce? You drink this stuff?”
Where the sleeve of his shirt brushed against me a sullen patch of embers ignited from the heat of my body. The thread holding the buttons at his wrist burnt through and the buttons fell and bounced off the gearshift knob. I glimpsed his smooth forearm, revealed by the loose flap of shirtsleeve.
“¡Dios mío! What do you think you’re doing?” He used his knee to hold the steering wheel steady as he slapped out the flames that had begun to lick along his wrist.
“It’s mostly the Ghost Pepper.” I held up my hand to show him the flame flickering between my fingers. “Maybe a little bit me. I bet it would work for you, too.”
He stared at the bottle in his hand. “Can I try some?” His voice cracked on the last word and he blushed the color of a ripe Braeburn. I saw then that he wasn’t much older than me, the scant mustache and clean chin the result of adolescence, not fashion.
“Start with one drop,” I suggested, and watched him put the bottle to his lips. As he swallowed, his foot stomped the accelerator and we leapt forward with a throaty engine roar.
We smoldered all the way up the Cascades and back down the other side, and then we climbed up through the Sierra Nevadas in a blur of flame and ash. The land flattened out around us and the trees disappeared, replaced by a bare desert landscape unmistakably hostile to the propagation of apples. I sucked hot dry air into my lungs and placed another drop of hot sauce onto my tongue.
Hours later I woke up in a motel room with Carlos sprawled naked at my side. The mustache had been singed from his face, leaving a ring of fresh pink blistered skin around his lips. The curtains lay in a scorched heap and the bare window revealed a strip of storefronts flashing neon in the dawn light. Beyond the line of buildings nothing blocked the blooming sunrise reddening the sky except a few tumbleweeds and a scattering of deeply rooted, gnarled desert scrub. Inside the motel room burn scars crisscrossed the wooden dresser and headboard. An ashy char filmed the walls.
When I held my hands up in front of my face I saw that the flames had gone and the beds of my nails were a faint, blushing pink, like the curve of a just-ripened Gala. I stretched and a faint odor of apple blossoms made itself known beneath the tang of Ghost Pepper and smoke that filled the room—the soft hair of my underarms smelled of nectar. I blew into my cupped hands and my breath was scented with the fragrance of apples.
My jeans and work boots had survived the conflagration, but my T-shirt was singed and ragged, so I pulled Carlos’s shirt off the blades of the ceiling fan. Hours before he had whirled it above his head in an excess of hot sauce-fueled passion. Already the moment felt nostalgic, drained of its heat into something pleasant, but distant. I memorized his sleeping body as I rolled the sleeves and tied the tails at my midriff to disguise the missing buttons.
I searched until I found the bottle of Ghost Pepper Sauce where it had rolled beneath the bed. Several inches of liquid remained in the bottle and I tucked it in my pocket against future need. Before I left I stooped over Carlos’s sleeping form and kissed his cheek. My unbraided hair fell around us in an apple-scented tumble and he sighed and reached for me through the haze of his sleep. His palm was the soft pink of a baby’s hand. I pressed it to my lips before I slipped out the door.
The faint smell of apples guided me to a bus station, and comforted me through the long, diesel-scented journey home. When I let myself into the warehouse my mother was at the washing station, munching an apple in one hand, her other hand trailing in the water, caressing each apple as it floated past. The smell of rot had gone from the warehouse and the bees had retreated. She nodded to me. “Could use some help with the packing,” was all she said, but two days later she handed me the keys to the tractor.
“Today you drive,” she said. “I’ll stay here and sort.” For the first time I rode out alone into the orchard, conscious of her behind me, watching me disappear among the trees weighted heavy with fruit. As I passed among the trees a cloud of bees surrounded me, but this time the tickle of their legs felt like something I recognized. The fluttering brush of their wings at the nape of my neck woke something more enduring in me than fire. A languorous sense of well-being filled me and I climbed down from the tractor to recline on the cool grass. Bees dusted my body with the bright pollen that clung to them. I pulled up my shirt so that they could reach the bare skin of my abdomen, then twisted to embrace the trunk of the tree whose boughs shaded me. Apple blossoms drifted from its branches to caress my lips and throat as I felt something take root deep inside me. I lay there for a time, settling into the awareness that my life would mirror my mother’s, a life of apples and small contentments. It was a realization flavored with the bittersweet knowledge of other possibilities, but on the whole a satisfactory realization.
After that day my mother and I took turns driving the tractor into the orchard. I loved the mornings spent under the bright sky with the bees and the quiet afternoons spent in the dim warehouse tending to our apples. When my belly began to swell I was unsurprised. My gravid body ripened like the apples that smelled so appealingly of honey and chlorophyll to my changing senses. When I looked up and saw my mother watching the way my hands touched the curve of my abdomen, she raised her eyebrows in a question. When I nodded, she smiled.
I sang lullabies as I worked and the apples swelled at my touch, growing to unprecedented sizes—fat globes that weighted my palms, apples big enough to feed an entire family. My mother called her distributor and cut a deal to ship ten crates to Japan for a price that would keep us through the winter. I continued to harvest apples the size of my breasts and my clothes grew tight and small until one day my mother left a pair of her overalls in my room. The worn denim was soft and the roomy bib accommodated the jut of my abdomen. I drove the tractor one-handed that day, my other hand cradling the firm, apple-like contours of my belly as I imagined the drip of sweet cider into my baby’s mouth.
That winter I gave birth to a daughter with palms the color of apple blossoms. I named her Carlotta and wrote Carlos Martinez in the space for “father” on her birth certificate, but I already knew that when she asked I would tell her that hers had been an immaculate conception assisted by pollen and honeybees. When summer came and my mother and I were harvesting Honeycrisps and Cox’s Orange Pippins, I laid my daughter on a blanket in the tall grass of the orchard with a rag to chew that I’d soaked in cider. “My apple daughter,” I whispered to her.
These days I eat as many apples as my mother does, the two of us crunching away while we go about the tasks necessary to keep our orchard healthy. In some things I am less strict than my mother. Carlotta’s grown tall and sturdy on a diet of apples leavened with the occasional bologna sandwich or pizza. She’s my height now, with thick dark hair she winds in a braid that falls to her waist. The other day I saw her grimace when I tossed her a Gravenstein. “Once an hour for health and happiness,” I said.
“I know, Mom,” she said. “You always say that.” The stomp of her boots as she stalked away woke echoes of fire and memory. I looked up and saw my own mother watching me with a trace of satisfaction on her face and I knew she, too, was remembering the day she foretold I’d have a daughter who would hate me. With every clomping, hostile step my daughter is rushing toward the time when she will have to choose whether she wants a future that includes her own apple daughter’s mingled love and hatred.
This spring the bees have clustered more thickly than previous years, buzzing around me when I drive the tractor out to the orchard, but I swat them away. “It’s not me you want,” I tell them, and I hope it’s not Carlotta either—not yet, not this spring. The bottle of Ghost Pepper Sauce is wrapped in Carlos’s button-less shirt in a shoebox beneath my bed. It’s hidden, but not too hidden. Sometimes I take the box out and unwrap the shirt that still smells of smoke and sweat. The feel of the bottle in my hand helps me remember the person I was that wild, heated springtime. Remembering helps me be patient with Carlotta. One day I’ll look under my bed and the Ghost Pepper Sauce will be gone and Carlotta with it and then all I’ll have is the hope that my apple daughter will find her way back to me.
Evangeline Wright holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The South Carolina Review, Reckoning, Ghost Parachute and elsewhere.