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The Apple Orchard
window looks out over the rear yard. There is a
line of Lombardy poplars that border a narrow creek
that marks the back property line. Beyond that is a
long neglected apple orchard with high grass that
must be sickled down from time to time. The trees
are old, sadly in need of pruning and the branches
are festooned with bag worms.
Our son Ben is out there, all eight years of him.
He has a wicker wash basket sitting in his little
red wagon and he's going from tree to tree picking
the best apples he can find within reach. It's too
late in the season, and the pickings are slim.
Dear Ben. Our son -- born when Catherine and I were
on loving terms. She's in the work room now marking
her school papers. She doesn't have to do that now,
she's got all weekend to do it. She could be out
here with me in the kitchen -- watching Ben. But if
I were to go in and ask her, "How are you getting
on?" She would not answer me, she'd get up and come
in here to look out the kitchen window at Ben.
She'd leave me standing here. We're never in the
same room at the same time. We're never together
with Ben any more.
I wonder if Catherine told him to go out and pick
the apples. If she did, it could mean she's
planning to make a pie. I wouldn't know, how could
I? I'd have to ask Ben -- reach Catherine through
Ben. When he looks at me with his brown eyes,
Catherine's eyes .... I see a sadness and a worry,
as if to say, "What will become of us? Why can't I
have you both together like I used to?"
What can I say
He's coming back now, picking his way through the
tall grass. He's lost weight this summer. Seems a
little slimmer, but then he's growing, too ....
getting to the age when he'll no longer be a little
"How'd you do, Ben?"
"Oh, not so good, they're pretty wormy. There's
paper wasps out there too. Hey Dad, can you and
Mommy and me go down to the overlook?"
We live in Guilford, about a mile from the shore.
There's a high bluff at the edge of the sound from
which you can see all the way across to the North
Fork of Long Island. A few years ago we'd picnic
there, fly a kite and watch the ships sail west to
the city ports in Queens.
"Sure, Ben. Right after lunch, okay? It'll be cold
there this time of year though. Maybe Mommy won't
want to go .... why don't you ask her?"
There's a look of doubt and apprehension. He's
afraid Catherine will say no. He wants the three of
us to go together .... he's trying to keep us
together with his young hands. He doesn't want to
go with me, he doesn't want to go with Catherine,
either -- he wants the three of us to go ....
together, the way we used to.
He pulls over the stool he uses to reach the taps
in the kitchen sink and pulls up his sleeves. He
reaches over and turns on the tap to wash his
hands, then he turns and looks at me. His lower lip
is quivering, then he hides his head in his
"Oh Ben, Ben, don't worry .... it'll be okay, Ben,
I promise you .... I swear .... I .... " I go to
him and hold him awkwardly. He holds his hands
under the warm water and turns his head away from
me. I can feel his tiny body shaking with sobs. How
can we do this to him? How can Catherine and I be
so selfish? .... to do such a thing to Ben?
"Are you okay, Ben?" Catherine is standing in the
Ben is a brave little boy. His sobbing stops and he
turns his head from both of us and rests it against
"Ask her Daddy."
"Ben wants us to go to the overlook. you know, out
on the bluff, where you can see across the sound?"
"I heard the two of you in here .... did you find
any apples Ben?" She turns her brown eyes on me,
the eyes I used to love .... they're shielded now,
behind her steel rimmed glasses. I look for the
warmth and affection that used to be there, but the
light has gone out of them.
Ben has not fully recovered so I answer for him.
"Pretty slim pickings out there, I think the wasps
chased him home."
"He can answer for himself, can't you Ben. You
don't need Daddy to talk for you -- do you?"
"Can we go Mom .... please?"
"Mommy's pretty busy, Ben .... but we'll see, right
after lunch, maybe, okay? What do you want for
lunch, Ben, soup?"
The three of us have barley soup for lunch. I can't
remember how long it's been since we've eaten at
the kitchen table together. Ben sits in the same
place he sat as a four year old. He eats on a place
mat that covers a multitude of scars, scratches and
stains as though some wild animal ate there years
ago. That was about the time the night work began.
The nights in the city stretching into weekends
.... I lost track of things here. I became a
stranger in my own family, and I'm sorry to say I
missed a lot of Ben's growing up in those four
I wasn't here, I must admit I wasn't here. Not when
the boiler broke down, not when the chrysanthemums
needed weeding, and not the week of the ice storm.
Where was I? I look across the table at Ben. He is
looking at both of us in turn .... searchingly. He
is bewildered, he can't understand why his love
alone isn't strong enough to hold the three of us
I venture a word .... "It's nice having lunch
As if to answer me, Catherine gets up and gathers
our plates and stacks them in the dishwasher.
"Well, come on, get your coat on Ben, you'd better
bring your boots too, it will probably be muddy out
there. I haven't got all day." In spite of her lack
of enthusiasm, it's a beginning.
There are no epiphanies in our lives, no sudden
revelations. If we are to make it, we will make it
one step at a time. It took us four years to get
ourselves in the mess we're in, and if we are to
get out of it, it we will get out of it one painful
step at a time.
How beautiful it is out here on this lovely
afternoon with the deep blue high altitude sky that
spans the Sound from the Connecticut shore to Long
Island we have taken our first timid step. We talk,
Catherine and I, for the first time in more than a
month. Our voices are not edgy. Not tinged with
She has removed her glasses and sits on the cold
turf with her knees pulled up to her chin. Ben is
running along the bluff with the new kite I flew
for him. It needs a longer tail I think, at times
it skirts perilously close to the ground .... but
that's the way it should be, it adds to the thrill
of it all.
"We can't do this, Kate. We can't do this to Ben.
We can't do it to ourselves either."
"I don't want to do it, John."
I am suddenly filled with an unexplainable anger, a
rage I can barely keep inside me. I turn from
Catherine to look at Ben. Who the hell do we think
we are!? How can we put him through this?
"I want you to know this, Kate .... know this!" I
stand looking at Ben but talking to Catherine. My
voice is thick with emotion, "I love you .... my
memory is full of my broken promises. Broken
windows I didn't mend, broken furnaces and a
thousand things I meant to do and never did. But
know this, please, for God's sake know this ....
before it's too late. I love you!"
I don't hear her get up, but I suddenly feel her
arms about me from behind, her body pressed against
me. My eyes swim in tears and the image of Ben is
blurred, but I can see he's running towards us and
as he does the kite flies higher and higher.
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