The Apple Giver
by Ron Van Sweringen
part 1 of 2
It appeared one morning on the front porch of the small cabin. A large red apple, big enough to fill a man’s hand. Dotted with drops of moisture from the fall mist, it glowed in the first bright rays of Virginia sunlight.
Lena Wallace stared at it with wonderment. Who would have left her such a prize? The tall thin woman in a faded cotton dress sat down on the old porch steps beside the newly discovered treasure.
It was October in the Appalachian mountains, with a chill in the pine-scented air. Lena crossed her arms and rubbed her shoulders vigorously in an effort to warm herself. She stared at the ruby-red fruit. Fine apples like this grew in the best orchards, below in the valley, certainly not in the stingy soil of Ragtop Mountain, Martin County, West Virginia.
A large bluejay darted out of the forest, landing at the edge of the porch roof over Lena’s head. His sharp, scolding cries told her she was not the only one who had discovered the apple.
“No,” she said to the bird, “it’s mine. When I’ve finished eating it, I’ll put the apple core and seeds out for you.” As if the bluejay understood her words, he instantly darted back into the thick pine forest surrounding the cabin.
Johnny Maytime watched Lena without moving a leaf of the forest’s cover. Years of deer hunting had taught him how to become almost invisible. A worn camouflage jacket and dark muddy streaks painted on his tan face blended with the underbrush. He would have been a perfect savage a hundred and fifty years earlier, stalking his prey: the white men who drifted into the untamed valleys and mountains, building homesteads and refusing to leave. His father was descended from such Native American people, and it was reflected in Johnny’s blue-black hair, dark eyes and high cheekbones.
It was 1945 and few of his ancestors still hunted the forests in modern times. “Injuns,” were not well tolerated by hill folk, and more than one had met a bad end in Martin County. Johnny Maytime was well aware of his situation and therefore kept his distance, hidden from the world and Lena Wallace, at least for the time being.
* * *
Polk Wallace, Lena’s husband, had died in a rockslide above Black Water Creek, two months before. A black bear watching him from a hundred feet above the creek had started the rockslide, which quickly grew into an avalanche, dislodging several huge boulders that crushed everything in their path.
Lena was to spend the year in mourning for her late husband, as was the custom with mountain people. No menfolk were allowed to call at her cabin without womenfolk present. Food was sometimes left anonymously on the front porch to feed the widow and her young son during their year of mourning.
Silas Wilson, accompanied by his sister, began placing food and supplies on the porch each week. Lena met them on occasion, inviting them into the cabin for a rest and something cool to drink. It was common gossip among some in the valley that Silas Wilson had intentions of marrying Lena, even though there was a thirty-year difference in their ages.
“It’s a shame,” it was overheard at the general store. “He’s old enough to be her father.”
“He’s still young enough to give her more children,” was the reply, “along with the finest house in the valley.” The truth was, Silas Wilson was a wealthy man by valley standards. He was strong-willed and never took no for an answer from anyone. He’d spent his life working and enlarging the orchards his father had planted fifty years before. In season, a stream of delivery trucks left his packing house every day loaded with fruit for sale in the cities.
* * *
At fifty-five, Silas Wilson had seen the writing on the wall: time was running out for him to produce an offspring. Year after year he had buried himself in his work; now he had to face facts. The realization of his situation came to him several months before on a trip to McCrutchon’s general store in Martinsburg. He was trying on a pair of leather gloves, when a young man, his wife and son came into the store.
For some reason, Silas found it hard to look away from the young woman. She was fair, and her face was attractive with finely drawn features. There was something very clean and almost pure about her. Silas couldn’t put his finger on it, but she impressed him enough that he asked Mrs. McCrutchon who she was.
Six months later, Silas noted an article on the front page of the Daily Standard describing the accidental death of a young mountain man. He recognized the name Polk Wallace and instantly began making inquiries as to his funeral arrangements.
Silas and his sister attended the young man’s funeral a few days later. Throughout the somber affair, his eyes rarely left the young widow dressed in black or the child at her side. He subconsciously compared her to the other women present in the small church. The same conclusion occurred to him each time. She possessed an aura of class that the other women seemed to lack.
Silas came to a decision then and there: Lena Wallace was going to become Mrs. Silas Wilson and bear him a son. Nothing was to stand in the way of that happening.
Johnny Maytime attended the funeral also, almost hidden in back of the crowded church. He recognized Silas Wilson, and an uneasy feeling crept over him. This is a person capable of great danger, the spirits warned him. Protect yourself.
* * *
Light snow frosted the forest surrounding Lena Wallace’s cabin. It had been two months since her husband’s accidental death. At first her days seemed endless, filled with meaningless chores accomplished in a gray haze. Caring for her young son, Matthew, was her only link to reality. Without it, she would have wandered into the wilderness and gone insane.
Slowly the world about her returned. She realized it one morning while giving Matthew a bath in the large washtub in the kitchen. When she returned from heating more warm water on the wood stove, she found the four-year old boy standing up in the tub waving his arms in the air, which caused soap bubbles to float about the kitchen. One of them burst on the tip of her nose. Laughter suddenly cascaded out of her; she returned to the living.
Later that morning when she opened the door to the front porch, a warming sun bathed a perfect red apple placed at the doorstep. Lena smiled: it was the fifth time, once a week, that an apple had been left there. On two occasions, it had been accompanied by a fine venison roast.
Lena picked up the apple, visually searching the forest for some clue as to who might have left it. For an instant, she thought she saw a slight movement among the leaves and then, without a sound, someone stepped into view. He appeared so suddenly that it took Lena’s breath. A moment later she recognized the figure dressed in hunting attire. It was a young man who had on occasion accompanied her husband on hunting and fishing trips. She knew him only by the name of Maytime and she raised her hand in greeting. He mirrored her greeting but said nothing before quickly disappearing.
The picture of him stayed with Lena when she returned to the cabin and Matthew. The gentleness of his manner attracted her along with his physical appearance. She tried hard to remember his first name but could not. Maytime, for the present, would have to do until she could thank him for his kindness and learn his first name.
Lena placed the apple in the center of the kitchen table and stood back, admiring its perfect skin and color. Matthew pointed to it excitedly. “We’ll have it at lunch time,” Lena assured him.
* * *
Silas Wilson had a smile on his face, and his sister Wilma knew the reason why: it was Friday morning. The day of the week the two of them took food up the mountain to the widow Wallace and her son. It was a half-hour trip up the steep and winding road. A trip that Wilma would rather have avoided, but her presence was necessary in order for Silas to visit the widow.
It was late morning when Silas’s truck, washed and polished, reached the cabin on Ragtop Mountain. The cabin door flew open at the sound of the engine, and a smiling boy ran out on the porch to greet them. Lena stood in the doorway with mixed emotions as Silas and his sister approached. She was grateful for the supplies they brought each week yet at the same time embarrassed at having to accept them.
Other mountain folk brought food, and Lena had no trouble accepting it, for they were neighbors who helped each other when in need. Silas Wilson and his sister were another matter altogether. They were valley folk, not neighbors, and everyone knew them as an important and powerful family. The question nagged Lena: why had they taken on this commitment to people they did not know?
Lena refused to face the only answer she was presented with. Silas Wilson was up to something, and it frightened her.
The conversation was cordial as Silas and his sister were invited into the cabin. Lena thanked them for their generosity and offered them a cup of coffee. At some point after the coffee was poured, Silas reached across the table and picked up the apple. “This is one of mine.” He smiled, “And a mighty fine one to. How did you come by it?”
“A young man named Maytime, a friend of my husband’s, has been leaving one a week on the front porch.”
“You mean Johnny Maytime, the boy what lives with his mother on the other side of the mountain. He’s half-Indian.” The tone of Silas’s voice was cold and degrading, so much so that it caused Lena to withdraw her hand from the table and its close proximity to his.
“He’s got no business bothering you, I’ll see to it,” Silas added. The tone in his voice was threatening. Lena was about to protest when she was cut short by his next remark. “An Indian’s got no business hanging around a decent white woman, one that I have a serious interest in.” Before anything else could be said, Silas departed with his sister in tow. The anger in his eyes gave Lena a chill.
When his truck was out of sight, she sank down, taking a deep breath. Now at least she had her answer, and it caused her hands to tremble. The suspicion she had refused to give life to, was out in the open. Silas Wilson had announced his serious interest in her.
One thing was suddenly very clear to Lena: the need to warn Johnny Maytime before it was too late.
* * *
Wilma Wilson gripped her hands nervously as her brother cursed out loud. “Johnny Maytime, son of a bitch!” The ‘Wilson Orchard’ truck he was driving skidded occasionally on the sharp turns down the mountainside.
“Please, Silas, slow down,” Wilma begged. “There’s no sense in killing both of us.”
Her plea went unheard in Silas Wilson’s anger. The twisting road unraveled before him like a snake, and he pressed his foot down harder on the gas pedal, cursing the name of Johnny Maytime.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Ron Van Sweringen