A Childhood Story: The Alby Tree
''Let's go! Come on you babies. Race you to the apple tree.'' l ran with glee: not for the apples but knowing l would win.
''You have a head start. Not fair Sally.'' Lou moaned, dropping her schoolbag by the back door. We always used the back door. The front door was only for visitors (not that we had many) and even then they couldn't go through it; one of us girls usually Lou would have to stick her head out the living room window and tell them to come round the back. It was bloody embarrassing even if you were only seven. Me and Mare (the youngest at only four) would leg it out of the living room and down the hall before Ma could even register we had a visitor.
Our dirt drive allowed any visitors to arrive in silence, only being announced once they'd knocked on the great big knocker, brass it was: The vain of mother's life with polishing it. The poor old post man was terrified of our letter box, brass an' all. He'd use his handkerchief to open it and slide the post in. He'd call and shout first mind, we would be home sometimes and we'd kill ourselves laughing; tears and snot rolling down our crimson faces. Mare had told him we had a big dog round the back so better to use the letter box. Mare was clever for four. I was almost ten and being the oldest I got in awful trouble for the things Lou and Mare said, but they were so funny it was worth it.
We spent a lot of time together; after school and weekends it was always just us. Ma and Dad were always busy. I liked being with my sisters. Lou was considerate and always evaluated the danger aspect and Mare was just a funny clever little girl that we both adored. We were a great team. We could do anything: including eating a whole branch of apples.
We ran, the three of us across the meadow that was in-fact our over grown garden and out under the fence. It was a tall fence with great big gaps at the bottom: big enough to let a cow in or three children out. There was a dirt road on the other side, much like our drive way and another half mile or so brought us to the apple tree. It stood alone to one side of the dirt road; the road itself was flanked by bramble. The road was a country track surrounded by fields. Occasionally the whole family would walk along the track after lunch on a Sunday afternoon. It was a lovely walk: numerous shades of green stretched for miles until finally meeting with the sky. Sometimes we'd pick blackberries but mostly we just enjoyed being together. Blackberry picking was less popular since Mare find a little white worm in one she was eating. At least it was a whole one and not a half one like Lou found in hers. I didn't eat any more after that.
Ma and Dad would hold hands and we'd giggle along behind them. Mare would always end up on Dad's shoulders with the pretence of being tired but we all knew she wasn't including Dad. Mare just liked to look over the bramble to see what was on the other side even though surely it was always the same. I think she missed seeing Dad too. She'd often be in bed when he came home from work.
We would stop and peer through the odd farmers gate. In spring we'd see lambs and in winter woolly sheep. Sometimes there would be young cattle and I remember seeing hay bales and even playing on them with Lou. I think Mare was too little.
The apple tree was a huge giant of a tree with a trunk so thick all three of us could hold hands and still not reach around it. The bark stood out in rings and rivets: the rings going round and round and the rivets up and down. The roots were like great big gnarled fingers reaching out of the soil. The leafy branches reached high up into the sky laden with delicious apples: red ones and green ones.
The bark was long and split into two branches at my shoulder height. I would hoist the others up and the climb after them. Mare the crazy devil would be pulling with all her might to help me up while Lou would carry on up looking for the fullest branch. We'd sit and eat apples till our tummies ached: chatting about this and that. Most recently we'd talked about the old man who had moved into the big old house a little further up the dirt track. We could easily see the house from the boughs of the apple tree. He hadn't been living there that long and we were intrigued by him.
What had begun has a simple observation had grown into a daily consultation. The house was huge; at least a two storey and very old. The tiles on the roof were a deep green and rather a lot were missing. Remnants lay broken at the back of the house. A brave and close inspection had shown the shutters that covered the windows were also very old and rattled when shook. The plaster on the walls was falling off in great big chunks. We could only see the back of the house from the tree but we could see the old man's car and knew when he was there. It was a blue car, a Ford. It was ancient and covered in rust. We had cheekily inspected it one Sunday morning when the old man had gone off walking down the dirt road in what must have been is Sunday best. He always wore a peaked cap except on Sundays. He had grey wispy hair that flew about his head with even the finest of a breeze. He would clamp his hand down on his head and try to smooth it. From our hide in the apple tree we would clamp our hands over our mouths desperate to stifle our giggles.
Lou was a contagious giggler and would snort and wheeze. Me and Mare would be in hysterics looking at her. It was all we could do to hold off our extreme laughter while the old man walked right under the apple tree; whistling to himself. We would peer down and watch his almost bald head walk by. Once he was gone we'd cackle like The Banshee. More than once one of us nearly feel out of the tree. The old man would be gone for hours on a Sunday morning. We'd go home before he came back but not before we shimmied down the tree and over to his home to investigate. We were desperate to get inside. Mare would stand look out and me and Lou would poke about the front of the house trying to find a way in. The windows were all closed and boarded up and the main and only door was in a terrible state. There was another half door in-front of it. We thought that was funny.
''What does he do in there? I can't see a thing, it's so dark.'' Lou had said the first time we were brave enough to sneak around and explore.
''Maybe he's a murderer and there's lots of dead bodies in there.'' I shrieked waving my arms in the air.
Lou looked nonchalant; shaking her head she retorted, ''Nah! we'd smell them. Like the time Dad put poison down to kill the rats and the whole attic stank for weeks until he finally found the last one. Jeez Ma was furious.''
''I doubt the rats were trilled either.'' I said and we both erupted into a fit of giggles. Lou snorting and wheezing so loudly that Mare came running. One look a Lou's red cheeks and shaking body would set anyone off. We roared with laughter. We laughed a lot those days.
We reached the apple tree and scurried up it pulling Mare higher and higher. Lou spied a great abundance of apples, red shiny ones.
''Let's eat these ones,'' Lou plucked three apples with practiced care and offered them to Mare and me. We rubbed the apples on our jumpers till the shun like Ma's polished brass knocker. We ate greedily: a munching crunching symphony. The apples were delicious; fresh and juicy. Lou reached for three more and three more. Only the flutter of a tummy ache was ever enough to stop us. Then we'd sit and chat and gaze over the fields and listen to the low buzz of bees. It was a great place; it was our place and we were happy there.
''Do you think the tree will ever stop growing apples?'' asked Mare picking a piece of skin from her tiny white teeth. Her little legs swinging from the bough, her brows furrowed in thought.
''No! of course not. We will always come here and eat apples.'' I reached out and hugged her thin shoulders. Her beautiful small face lit up and she smiled, a radiant smile that would melt the hardest of hearts.
''Even when we're big and have lots to do like Ma and Dad?"
''Even then. And we can make a pie out of them for our children,'' I beamed. With Mare pacified we sat in companionable silence enjoying the world below.
''Look.'' Lou exclaimed trying to hush her word as it fell from her mouth. We turned and followed Lou's out stretched arm. ''There.'' She pointed. The old man was coming around the corner; he was headed straight for us. We lifted our legs up and hugged them to our chests. Silence.
We looked down through the leafy branches, the old man's peaked hat was right underneath us. He reached up and picked an apple and popped into a small bucket he was carrying. He continued to pick the apples, once the bucket was full he stuffed his pockets. Then he turned on his heel and walked back to his rickety falling down building. We all looked at each other aghast.
''He took our apples. That's not allowed,'' cried Mare indignantly. I looked about the branches. The big old apple tree was full of fruit. We'd never eat all the apples in fact there was loads of decayed apples on the ground to the joy of the birds and the insects. Even the squirrels had gotten lazy and were happy to munch in abundance on the leafy floor.
''I think there's enough for everyone,'' I said. ''Come on it's time to go. Ma will be home soon.'' I began to climb down the tree. Mare came next and Lou behind her. l glanced back at the house as we walked home. I was sure I saw a shadow at the corner where Mare often stood as our look out. I also thought I saw the old man sneak a peek up the tree at us. I wouldn't tell the girls. They might worry.
That night when Dad came to say goodnight I asked him who the old man was. He smiled at me and told me not to worry, the old man was just a loner, a funny old guy and wouldn't do any harm.
''I don't know. He stole our apples today. We saw him.'' I stated not wanting to let the conversation go.
''Well that's not true, it's his tree so technically you and your sisters are the ones doing the steeling. Don't worry Sally he won't mind and he won't hurt you but don't go bothering him.'' He kissed the top of my head. ''Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite.''
The light went out and I lay there in the dark. Who is this old man? And how does Dad know it's his tree? I wondered but I didn't wonder for long. Soon I was running through emerald fields chasing the biggest red butterfly I had ever seen with the tiniest of nets. Mare and Lou at either side giggling like mad chipmunks as I tried to catch the butterfly. Even in my dreams we laughed and laughed till our tummies ached and Lou wheezed and snorted: me and Mare tumbling into the long grass and Lou diving on top of us. Three little girls, three little sisters so happy to be together.
The Alby Tree: Your Thoughts!
I have wanted to write this story for years; finally it's taken off on it's own and this is the first draft of my begining chapter. I hope you enjoy but if you don't please tell me. Thank you :)
© 2018 Gabriel Wilson