- 2020 Volume 15
March 29, 2020
He always sliced the apples that he brought out for our midday snacks. He claimed that they tasted better that way, that eating an apple whole reminded him of Snow White, and I wasn’t supposed to be a damsel in distress. I was always “supposed to be the hero of my own story, because men are usually the ones who screw up, they're the real damsels, just not in fairy tales.” So we ate the apples as slices, bit into the fruit and let juice spill on our shirts without wiping it away; life's messy, there’s no need to conceal it. I guess the apple slices became synonymous with summer in my mind, because we only ate them on the back porch, the one overlooking the lake in Hayward, Wisconsin, the one with the wooden pole marred by grizzly bear claws, when the sun beat down on us, stained my skin pink, left its permanent mark as freckles and never as a tan.
He told the greatest stories in between bites of Granny Smiths, his eyes sparkling with each tale he wove. His favorite way to tell a story was to sing it, to let his words out in a tonedeaf attempt at song, his voice echoing over the black ink water of Stonelake. I always wondered if the Northern Muskies froze when his words made the water ripple above their heads, if the frogs in my brother’s hand stopped their squirming for a moment to appreciate the spontaneity of a story drawn from his mind and lungs.
The pink roped nets with plastic handles held the fish that we had caught by dropping fish food into the lake, and pulling our hands, brandishing the nets, up when the smaller fish came to eat it, capturing them as they flopped in horror. We tossed them back into the water from the edge of the pier, suspended in the air for a moment before they were free again. He had taught us how to catch them with our hands, but, more importantly, he taught us to also let them go. They didn’t cook right, and tasted like leather when he poured olive oil over them in a frying pan to prove his point. There was no need to let them dry up on the docks, to needlessly kill another living creature.
I grew to love exploring the woods with him, singing the Going on a Bear Hunt song. He always changed the steps to the cave where the bear supposedly lived, making each journey different. I tried to mimic it later on, when my younger cousins gathered around the campfire, but I could never remember my favorite parts, the parts he made up.
We stopped visiting the lodge overlooking the lake when he was in the hospital. We stopped visiting altogether as a family. He had the same sparkle in his eye, it was just dulled beneath the fluorescent lights and linoleum floor. He turned his head away from us, electing to watch the game on the television tucked in the corner instead. He wanted to go outside, especially when our Easter celebration was held on the patio adjacent to the sliding glass doors in his room. The patio was a glorified sidewalk protruding out of the hospital like a thorn in it’s side, dully unlike the one we had eaten apple slices on in the summer, the one where storytelling became our pastime.
After he passed, after the funeral, I went back to the lodge. It was emptier without his voice, but it was the only place I could remember where he had been alive, not in the sense of a beating heart, but in songs rustling over his vocal chords and sparkling mischief in his eyes. I found an apple in the kitchen, left in a bowl with nothing else, forgotten in the center of the table. I picked it up, ran my hands over its dusty skin. I ran it under the tap, and found a knife to slice it up, the same way he had. Cutting board from the cupboard on the far left, hands curled while my nails dig into it, the tip of the knife going in the pocket where the brown stem protrudes from like a belly button. I bring the knife down to the cutting board, repeating it all the way around until the apple falls apart in pieces, the poisonous seeds revealed in the center. I bring the slices out on the cutting board, not bothering to grab a plate from the bottom drawer, and sit in our spot on the deck. The two rocking chairs angled towards each other with a side table wedged in between. I bite into the apples, and watch the sun as it dips nearer to the black water, letting the juice spill over my shirt. The breeze picks up, combing between the branches of the trees, and makes the rocking chair next to me, the empty one, shudder and rock gently back and forth. I can’t help but think he’s sitting there with me, watching the sunset on our lake, watching the juice of the apple dribble off of my chin.