The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

An Apple Bounces Back

(Author’s note: Not sure how I feel about this piece. I wrote it several years ago, and I have held on to it except to show a very select few here and there. My wife has fallen in charge of one of the local food banks, and it was well-received there, but I don’t know how well it reads to someone who isn’t involved with one. Please – do comment and let me know how it seemed to you)

Sam was my keeper. He would spritz me, wash me, put me at the top of the pile, and watch out for me. I noticed just yesterday, as a woman came near with her cart and toddler, that he was suddenly busy, right there beside me, pretending to look over the peaches. I knew why he was there. He wanted the woman to keep an eye on her child, to prevent the mischievous lad from causing me grief. I was grateful, because that boy had his eye on me from way over by the potatoes. He had it in for me, but his mother, noticing Sam, was careful to keep the cart beyond arms reach of me. It felt wonderful to be so well taken care of.

But it was all for naught. Just a few hours later a lady with far, far too much perfume wafted into the aisle and saw an apple she wanted at the bottom of the pile. With complete disregard for the rest of us she dove for it, knocking us hither and yon. I found myself bouncing, bouncing down the side of the pile of fellow apples, and then suddenly, not bouncing anymore, but floating free. In that one fleeting, horrific moment my life past before my eyes, and I knew that this was the end. I bounced again, but this time with a sickening squishing sound, as my side was bruised by the carefully waxed tile floor. I felt the life go out of me, I knew inside that this was the end. She frantically picked me and the others up, hoping no one would notice her carelessness. She hastily shoved me back into the pile, smothering me in her perfumed hands, holding me against the precarious balance, hoping gravity would suspend itself long enough for her to make it over to the meat department. A couple of my brothers dropped again, spilling around her awkward, outstretched fingers, and she scooted them into a pile, one with her shoe, then the other with her left hand while she held me up with the right hand. I choked, I gasped under the smothering fragrance of her fat, bejeweled fingers. Then, as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Quiet peered around the corner, and tiptoed back to us, afraid lest it be broken by her again.

The shock faded, and my bruise began to complain. Water seeped into the squishy mess, and I knew then that I was doomed, doomed to never nourish a young child, or an aging man. Doomed never to be packed in an Elmo lunchbox, sliced with love by a mother who dreams of her grown child, intelligent, strong, all because of a lunchtime apple, and hundreds more like me. This was it. This was the end. No one would buy me now.

Sam is a good man. He cares for his produce, and wants the best for each of us. He is proud of our reputation, and works hard to inspire people to live healthfully. I wanted to be part of that. But this morning, as he culled the old, the sick, the dying fruits, I knew what he must do, and I knew it meant the end of my hope. He picked me up, turned me over, inspecting me with keen eyes, and he saw what I already knew, that I was damaged. I wanted to scream out, to tell him I was still healthy, that I could still be a good apple, but I knew even as he placed me in the box that I had to go. Fruits and vegetables piled up on top of me, blocking out the light. There was a bunch of old bananas, some limp spinach, dying artichokes. We all sat in silence, mourning our fate, sad that we had failed in our purpose in life – to feed people. And so we stayed, languishing, until we should be dumped into the garbage.

But something very different happened, as we sat there this morning, awaiting our fate in the back room. A voice, far cheerier than it had the right to be, burst through the swinging doors, and greeted Sam. They spoke, Sam and this joyful stranger, and suddenly our box moved. It opened, and a vibrant, sweet-smelling hand wrapped her vibrant fingers around me. I was moved to another box, with other apples. These, too, were bruised apples, but it seemed doubtful, somehow, that this was going to be a trip to the garbage. The voice was joined by another, deeper voice, and my new box was hoisted into a cart by strong arms. The cart moved, not out the back door towards the garbage, but into the store and towards the front. I reeled with an unknown excitement. I had no idea where I was going, but the farewell Sam delivered to these cheery people sent a ripple of hope down to my core. Perhaps all was not lost! But who? Where? Why was I, the unwanted apple, being transported to a car in the FRONT of the building? What had I done to deserve this salvation?

I was lifted into the waiting van, where the smell of other boxes of food filled the atmosphere. And there was something else in the air too, a sense of something, of common purpose, of a mission that I could only stab at wildly with my imagination. A ride through town, turning this way and that. Oh, to be a potato, with eyes to see as we weaved through the streets, to see our destination. But soon enough the ride was over, and the strong arms once again hoisted our box – and my spirits – into the air. I was delivered with a flourish onto a table, and the box lid lifted. A kind hand reached into the box, and plucked us out, one by one. My turn finally came, and I was delivered to a waiting basket. What was I to do? What was my purpose here? As I gradually became accustomed to my new surroundings, I could sense that this was to be some sort of outdoor market. But why? What had I done to deserve the honor of an outdoor market? Only the finest, most healthy produce was brought to such places.

Cars began to pull into the parking lot where we were, and I became aware that the lot belonged to a church. The first customer came. She was an old lady, nearly crippled. She had over one arm a sack, and not a very nice-looking sack at that. I trembled, not knowing whether I wanted to offer myself to her or not. But she passed by. A few moments later another woman came, younger but obviously destitute. Two little children slunk behind her, afraid to show their faces even (and perhaps especially) to the Cheery People. A greeting crossed over me from behind the table, it was the voice that had greeted Sam in the store. She welcomed them, and then I felt myself gripped, lifted…and offered to one of those frightened children. No, I thought, they couldn’t pay. This woman was poor; she wouldn’t be able to buy any fruit! The child ducked behind her mother’s dirty dress, but moments later her curious eyes peered out, darting between her mother’s eyes, the Cheery Woman’s eyes – and to me. The mother’s hand extended, maybe trembling a bit, I could never be sure, but extended nonetheless, and I was dropped into her palm. She thanked the Cheery Woman, a thank you that was somehow much, much more than a courtesy, something truly heartfelt. I was passed on to the timid girl, who reached up with both hands, grasping me at first gently, and then more firmly as she opened her mouth. Joy flood into me even as her tiny teeth pierced my skin. Because I had not been bought, I had been given. Given to a girl who desperately needed me. A girl whose body could use every ounce of health I could give, and more. I was lucky. No, more than that, I was honored to have been bruised. How else could I have come to such a noble ending, to be given away at a Food Bank to the very person who needed me most? A noble ending, indeed! Or should I say… beginning?

Glenn Keller

 

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