I was in the orchard when the shot was fired. I was holding one handle of the basket, and Mama, the other. Mme. Frennaire’s hands were fixed on the bottom, her cheeks puffed with effort.
Mama’s eyes met mine.
Mme. Frennaire shrieked, and her wrinkled hands fluttered to her mouth. Our basket of apples fell to the ground.
It was a dream. I watch Rachel in the quilts, flapping her arms, gurgling.
In my dream, Mama whispered the words on the Declaration, -- forfeited to His Majesty. Patrick was there, too. He was watching, quiet, until the soldier pulled out a gun and shot him. A trickle of red sidled down his throat. He gasped; his hands flaying upwards and his fingertips – all ten still packed with dirt – pressed against the rupture.
It was a bright stream that slid down his neck; a red that matched the crimson of the fallen apples. Thomas broke free from my arms, ploughing into the soldier, his small hands curled into fists, running till he reached the fence. Then, with sunburned knuckles, Thomas grabbed the Declaration and yanked till it ripped free. Patrick collapsed and I screamed.
Only a dream.
“Mama! Patrick!” Where are they?
The Shepherd curled next to my bed stands up, his tail wagging, watching me.
I press upwards, holding my Rachel. I stand upright and walk, dragging my toes against the floorboards. The Shepherd presses close, whimpering. I don’t know why he is in the house. He belongs in the barn, with the chickens and the cows.
Rachel is getting heavy when I step into the kitchen. Mama’s curtains are dancing in the breeze, like always, and the apple trees outside are full of fruit. But there is no Mama. Or Patrick.
A fly descends from the rafters. It circles around Rachel.
The Shepherd snaps at the air and I watch the fly buzz upwards, only to back-track and perch himself on the basket by the window.
I recognize the basket of apples Mama calls “The Keepers.” The apples she keeps for us, untouched by rot and worms.
The apple smell is ripe, blending into the warmth of the room. Sunlight stretches across Rachel’s lashes and she is asleep now, draped over my shoulder.
My stomach grumbles. I reach down, eager to take a bite.
In that minute, I remember: I survived the fever. Everything else must be a dream.
I pull out a perfect apple from the stack; red, smooth. I raise it to my lips and stare at the apple space I created.
In the darkest corner, a squiggle of white inches forward, thin and round, and followed by another white, and another.
I turn my apple over. I see a crevice of rot, and from the softest brown center, a skinny maggot pushes out, free.
I open my fingers and my apple drops back into the basket of Keepers. The fly darts up, humming its protest. It circles once, then zig-zags out the open window, towards the blue sky.
Kristin Leonard is a mother and an educator that divides her time between Maine and Arizona. She holds an M.A. in English, Literature, from Northern Arizona University and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Southern Maine. Her academic and creative work have appeared in The Explicator, The Journal of South Texas English Studies, Atlantic Online, Icons Literary Journal, Hopes and Dreams for Our Future, and is upcoming in Borrowed Solace.
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