An Apple A Day was first published in Cirque Journal, Volume 10, Number One, in the Spring of 2019.
It was the crack of dawn. While his wife snoozed in their bed, Hank Edwards quietly put on an old t-shirt, faded jeans, and wool socks. He picked up his book from the nightstand, took one last look at Marie, her mouth hanging slightly open, and slipped downstairs to brew a pot of coffee. The smell of roasted beans permeated the kitchen. Hank stared out the window and watched the sun rise above the distant hills. Four months of sun rises. All slightly different, but individually indistinguishable in memory. Hank eyed the growing beams of light. He noted the position of the wisps of cloud. The shift of every shadow. He stared at the rising orb until dark spots flashed across his vision. The coffee went into a thermos. Hank put on an old pair of leather boots and slipped on his old Carhartt coat, noting the added weight in one of the pockets, and with the thermos and book in hand, went out the backdoor into the cool crisp air of fall.
The ground was tinged with a thin layer of melting frost. Hank inhaled deeply, smelling the air, scented with the rot and decay of what was once green and vibrant. It was a strong smell. A good smell. The world was quiet. Every step across the fallen golden leaves went off like a string of firecrackers. The closing of the door. The rustling of Hank’s clothing. The sharp note of a songbird. All was unnaturally resonant. Hank knew he had to enjoy the peace now while it lasted. Soon the hills would echo with the sharp blasts of rifle fire. The first day of deer season had come.
The cellar door was held closed by an old screwdriver in the hasp. The screwdriver’s wooden handle was gray with age. The darkness of the cellar was pushed away with the pull of a string. A single light bulb illuminated wooden boxes sitting on rough wooden shelves set against dirt walls. Apples, pears, potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets. It had been a good growing year in Marie’s garden, and the boxes had all been refilled. Hank picked up an old metal pail and filled it with apples from one of the boxes. They were medium sized and green, tart to the taste, and likely to lead to regrets if too many were eaten. Bucket in hand, Hank turned off the light, and returned to the world above, securing the cellar door with the screwdriver.
Carrying the thermos, book, and bucket, Hank tromped down a well-trodden path from the house through packed wooden sentinels of elm and oak. Dappled sunlight broke its way through the tangle of gnarled branches and the dying leaves which still held stubbornly on. The declining angle of the trail made Hank’s worn out knees scream in protest. Once Hank had been a carpenter, until the sale of his father’s farm had made working unnecessary. What had been farmland was now a strip mall and houses. The sale had come in time to save Hank’s back, but not soon enough to save his knees.
The first sounds of distant shots. The rapid series of a semi-automatic which made Hank snort derisively at the lack of skill exhibited. When his knees had still worked, deer season had been a big part of his year. The getting up before daylight. The sitting in the stand high above the ground. The waiting. The tension. The release. He had always used a bolt action. The slower reload time forcing a greater amount of patience and skill. His rifle, in its cabinet next to the washing machine, was covered with dust.
A quarter mile from the house the path ended next to a fence of green metal posts and bright new barbwire. Signs declaring government property and no trespassing were hung every hundred yards in both directions. A decaying lawn chair sat beneath an ancient oak. A deer call hung by a string from a nail hammered into the tree. Hank took the deer call and gave it a couple loud blasts. He sat down in the lawn chair, pulled out his pocket knife, and started cutting the apples into quarters, throwing them just on the other side of the fence. It did not take long. They came out of the trees showing no signs of fear. The does with their fawns trailing after. The bucks, with their antlers proudly held high, alone.
When he had started four months ago they had been cautious. They would approach slowly, stopping to wait and listen. Drawn by the apples, but spooked by the figure in the chair. They were braver than they should be. They did not understand the meaning of the words wildlife preserve, but they knew that the land along the creek was safe. Hank never made any sudden moves or noises. The first month he had just sat quietly in his chair, reading and drinking coffee, letting the repetition meld him into the surrounding scenery. The second month he had started getting up and walking around. Spooking them at first, but slowly getting them used to his presence. The third and fourth months had been the hardest, but the effort had been well worth it. Nearly every deer that regularly came when he called was willing to take a slice of apple from his hand.
Hank sipped his coffee, read his book, and waited. He had been watching these deer since the buck’s antlers were still in velvet and the fawn’s tan hides were still covered in spots. He knew their habits and their personalities. The six point was always the last to come. The six point was a magnificent specimen, a hunter’s dream. He came walking towards the fence with the poise of a king, his widely set antlers a crown upon his head. Hank got up from his chair and with a slice of apple in his hand walked up to the fence. The six point moved forward with the air of a master accepting a gift from a servant. Hank held his breath and willed his heart to slow its beating. The six point reached for the apple. Hank put his free hand into his coat pocket and withdrew it with a fluid and easy motion.
The pistol shot echoed across the creek bottom. Birds took flight, deer scattered and ran, and the six point fell dead to the ground. Hank, adrenaline coursing through his veins, put the pistol back in his pocket, quickly climbed over the fence, hoisted the deer over, and then climbed back to his side of the line.