The wanderer stopped at the side of the road, stooped down, and considered an apple that had settled itself into the muddy sluiceway.
It did not appear to have come there naturally. There were apple trees in the distance, to be sure: Ghostly fingers reaching up into the late November sky, backed by a gray soup of swirling clouds. But those were far away, and this apple did not carry the scars and wounds of a fruit that had been taken from its natural milieu by a curious animal.
This apple was red all around, unblemished by bruises or cuts.
It could have fallen off a passing truck, but if so, where were any of its compatriots? Why wasn’t there a line of apples strewn intermittently along the road? Why had this apple, and this one alone, jumped out of the truck’s bed and found its way into the mud?
The apple was damp and cold. It felt densely cold, as if it had fully absorbed the moroseness of its context. The bright red skin belied its fatalistic meat. In the fading light of evening, the wanderer could see that redness, which had resisted the chill in the air with callous defiance, beginning to swoon.
Even as it had stood up to the ravages of the brisk autumn gusts, the skin had forgotten its reliance on sunlight for its strength. Its boldness was in its redness, and without that, it was nothing. It might glow for a while after the dusk had completely taken hold, but eventually, it would yield. It would coalesce. It would converge.
The man held the apple close to his nose. It smelled sweet. It smelled like autumn ought to smell: Not the oppressive chill of November, but the warmth of campfires and the crackle of burning leaves piled high in the middle of the yard, streams of smoke curling up, upward, farther up to the cloudless sky, to the full moon bearing down with all her might, to the stars that, out here, away from the cities, still dotted the sky.
He held the apple close to his nose, and for a moment he forgot himself, he opened his mouth and pressed the skin to his teeth and ran his tongue up against the cold chill… and then he remembered. Like an electric shock, pulsing through his soul, he remembered.
In anger, he pulled back, ready to throw the apple. In his mind’s eye, the wanderer saw the apple hurtling across the sky, barely visible in the impending night, landing somewhere, out there, in the darkness and the solitude, left to rot. To rot slowly. To be forgotten, half buried in the cold, muddy earth. To be buried by snow, slowing its decay. Perhaps it would even be there in springtime, long enough for its hope to be crushed as it will tilled for the summer crops.
The wandered held back. That could not be this apple’s fate. Not after it had struggled to survive even in its own death. An unblemished fruit deserved a better ending than that.
The man took a handkerchief out of his pocket, and carefully wrapped the fruit in it. He tucked it tightly into his pocket, adjusting it so that it would be protected as the man continued on his way.
This would be its beginning, the man decided, not its ending. This was as it had been decreed.