Hughy slid out of bed and shuffled over to the window that looked out into the back pasture and was surprised to see that there was just a hint of frost on the ground. Fall had arrived overnight in Aroostook County. The wind was out of the north and it bent the apple trees in his orchard as it passed through the heavily laden branches, down over the empty potato fields and across the road.
He yawned and pulled his work clothes on over his threadbare union suit and headed down the stairs. His wife was busy in the kitchen and Hughy slid past her and out the door without a word. Hearing the backdoor slam, she turned with a question and was just in time to see the back of his head as he went through the shed into the barn.
"Well." She said angrily to herself, "Yah get up early, cook a nice breakfast and what do you get? If he's too stupid to eat his breakfast, that's his problem!" She slid a well-cooked egg and two toast onto her plate and
headed for the living room and her favorite television gospel hour. If he didn't give a damn, she didn't give a damn either!
As the preaching ended and the singing began, she turned the television up and began to sing along with the program. Then the spirit of the gospel, combined with the rhythm of the music, moved her and she began to dance around the living room, lost in a spiritual world of her own. She didn't stop to think about how she sounded or how she looked. She'd done this every morning, everyday, for the past forty years.
As she danced around the coffee table, she felt, rather than heard, another presence in the room and when she opened her eyes she saw her husband standing in the doorway watchin her. "I thought you'd gone and killed yourself." He said. "I could hear the caterwaulin all the way out to the barn and I was tryin to milk. Your singin was makin the cows jumpy."
Stung by the candor of his unflattering remarks, she brushed past him into the kitchen. "Your food is on the stove and the coffee's ready if you're goin to eat." She dumped her dishes into the sink, squirted some detergent on them and turned on the hot water.
The phone rang and he shoved past her to grab it. It was her mother-in-law. She heard him say that he'd be goin into town later in the day and that he'd stop by and pick up her grocery list. He hung up and walked over to the stove, scooped up his dried eggs and toast and turned and sat down at the table. Angered at what she'd heard him say to his mother, she turned to him. "I thought that we'd agreed to take a ride up the Realty Road and have a look at all the trees and all them pretty leaves." He continued eatin and didn't meet her eyes. "Well." He said finally. "You've lived in the county all your life and I don't see why you want to go and look at all them friggin leaves anyway! I'da thought that you'd seen enough of them as they go flittin past the house every day!"
With that, he shoved back his chair and headed once more for the barn. Just before the door slammed behind him, he turned, stuck his head back through the doorway and said. "You know, winter will be here before we know it and them apples ain't goin to keep much longer. If the birds or crows peck them full of holes, they won't be good for nothin! There was a frost on the ground this mornin and we'd best be gettin to them today." Not waiting for her reply, he slammed the door and disappeared around the corner of the house.
She grabbed his dishes off the table, threw them on top of hers in the dishpan and walked over to the window that overlooked the front porch and pushed the curtains aside. As she looked out across the road at the mountains in the distance she wondered for the millionth time why things had come to be this way. "There must be something better out there." She thought. "But, I don't know where it is and I don't even know if I'd recognize it if I friggin saw it! Give a man forty years, two kids and this is all it comes down to. A lot of back-breakin work, work that never ends. Life's a bitch and then yah die! There's more truth to that than poetry!" She said to herself and let the curtain fall back over the window. "Might as well git my glad rags on and go pick them apples or I won't be hearin the last of it for the next two months."
She heard the truck shift into gear just as she came around the corner of the barn. "Thanks a friggin lot!" She screamed into the frigid air as she watched him drive away across the field. She stood for a moment and cussed as she saw the truck disappear through the tall grass, headed for the apple orchard. She wiped her hand across her hot face and started down the road behind him. "Oh well," she thought. "I guess I could use the exercise. A couple of miles ain't that much and the day really is lovely."
By the time she'd reached the edge of the pasture, she could see him. He'd backed the pickup up under his favorite tree, the Golden Delicious. His grandfather had planted that tree nearly a hundred years ago and even though it was beginnin to show its age, it was still bearin wonderful fragrant apples. The pale yellow fruit was perfectly round and its flesh was a crisp white with small threads of red running through it at the core. The apples had an aroma that made you think of vanilla and cinnamon mixed together and they made the best pies and applesauce. They'd never seen another tree like this one and he tended it with loving care. "Friggin tree gets more love than I do," She thought jealously. "If he ever gave me that much attention, I might just blossom too!"
By the time she reached the truck, he was halfway up the tree. She shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up at him. "Don't yah think that you're a little high? You're not as young as you used to be yah know." He grunted as he pulled himself a little higher. Then, sliding his foot into a fork in the tree, he began pullin the ripe, yellow apples off the branches. He turned slightly and looked down in her direction. "Git that bag off the pickup," He ordered. "And I'll throw them down to you."
She drug the large burlap bag off the truck and walked over to the tree. She waited expectantly and he began tossin handfuls of apples down to her. He didn't wait to see if she'd caught the ones he'd thrown, he just continued throwin them down to her. "Jaysus! Give me a minute will you. I've only got two hands!" She dropped a couple and they rolled under the tree directly underneath him. She bent down and retrieved the apples and just as she was about to move back, she looked up to where he was. Then she heard the sound of wood breaking and a large limb broke off the tree and came plummeting to the ground right next to her.
The next thing she saw was her husband swinging wildly in the air. There was nothing left for him to stand on. The fork of the ancient tree where he'd placed his foot had broken off. He scrabbled for the tree and a foothold and another branch broke off and he looked down. Hughy quickly saw that he had to distinct choices. It was either the tailgate of the pickup that he was going to hit or his wife. He chose his wife. "She'd be a hell of a lot softer!" He thought to himself as he began the abrupt descent.
He saw the surprised look on his wife's face as she realized where he was headed. He gained momentum as his two hundred plus pounds fell the fifteen feet and he hit his wife head on.
There was no time for her to do anything! She screamed as she felt the full impact of her husband's body. He slammed into her and her legs buckled under the force of the fall. It drove her shoulder into the ground and she felt her neck snap as she fell backwards. They lay there in a jumbled heap until he was able to catch his breath.
Finally, when he'd stopped trembling and his breathing had somewhat returned to normal, Hughy slid off her and pulled himself up against the pickup. He leaned against the tailgate until he was sure that he hadn't broken anything and then he looked over to where she still lay.
He watched as her eyes rolled back into their normal position and she began to come around. She groaned as she tried to turn over and he finally walked over and helped her into a sitting position on the ground. "Are yah alright?" He asked. She reached up and brushed her hair out of her eyes and then she winced in pain as she brought her right arm back down. "Don't know but I guess I'll live. I sure as hell don't want to go through that again!" She said in a slurred voice.
She pulled herself up into a sitting position and tried to stand. He reached out to help her and she knocked his hand away. "Don't be doin me anymore favors!" She snarled. "I never thought that I'd see the day that I'd nearly be killed by my own husband!"
Her right eye had swollen shut and was already turning black. A trickle of blood from her nose had run down over her top lip. She brought her good arm up and drug her old coat sleeve across her nose, leaving a bright red smear across her left cheek.
Stung by her anger and her harsh words, he turned on his heel and started for the cab of the truck. "It isn't like I meant for it to happen for Christ's sake! I did fall fifteen feet out of that friggin apple tree, yah know! Besides, couldn't yah see that I was fallin? Yah coulda moved yah know!"
She watched him stalk away. "Hey, where you goin?" She asked. "I'm goin to the barn to git my ladder. We still have to pick them apples you know."
She scrabbled into a standing position and leaned against the rusty fender to catch her breath. Then she walked unsteadily around to the other side of the truck, opened the door and slowly drew herself up into the seat. She looked over at him and then she said, "Yah know somethin, when I was layin there half dead; the only thing runnin through my mind was a newspaper headline." "Wife Killed When Husband Falls From Tree."
"Well, it coulda been worse," He snapped. "I coulda hit the tailgate and been really hurt or even killed!" "Yes," She replied. "I coulda been killed too! The only question is, did you miss the tailgate by accident or did you aim for me on purpose?"
His ruddy, weather beaten face colored slightly and he avoided her direct gaze and didn't answer. He shifted the truck into gear and drove slowly across the bumpy pasture towards the house. Groaning as she felt each jolt hit her body, she said, "Oh, I git it, the answer is in the question!" Hearin her angry remark, his face reddened even more and he floored the old rattletrap and headed for the barn.
Autobiography of a Simple Soul
Memories, Another Place - Another Time
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