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The Apple Orchard


Harry Buschman

The kitchen 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 to him?

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 boy.

"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 outstretched arms.

"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 kitchen doorway.

Ben is a brave little boy. His sobbing stops and he turns his head from both of us and rests it against the sink.

"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 years.

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 together.

I venture a word .... "It's nice having lunch together."

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 bitterness.

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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