I must give thanks to Rachel Poli for providing the prompt, Apples and Pumpkins. I’ve wanted to write a story based on one of her prompts for a while, but didn’t find one that fit my style until now. And seeing how I love the Fall season, I find this story fitting. Hope you enjoy.
Ridgeway Farms is possessed. At least that’s what Mr. Ridgeway tells us. As he drives the tractor, he speaks about how the farm was built on old cemetery grounds, and yet, the crops flourish. Especially the Apple and pumpkin crops. He says around the fall, The apples and pumpkins spring to life while everything else withers and dies. He speaks about the summer of ‘76, when a big fire scorched the grounds. But somehow, the apple trees and pumpkins continued to grow. I chalk it up to dumb luck. He and Mrs. Ridgeway believe otherwise.
Mr. Ridgeway pulls the tractor up to the barn. My sons, Keith and Alex, and I jump out of the car. They circle around me, chasing each other and fighting over God knows what. I snatch them both by their arms.
“Did you boys listen to anything that nice farmer was saying?”
The boys look at me with shaking eyes. They shrug. I don’t mean to be harsh, but trying to connect with them is like trying to squeeze the last drops of soap out of a bottle. You try and try until ultimately, you throw the bottle away.
“Go. Go play.”
My boys scuttle along. All I can do is watch and wonder why I bother trying to reach out to them. Things haven’t been the same since Carrie finalized our divorce. I see them every third weekend. It was her that suggested taking them to Mr. Ridgeway’s farm. She says all I do with sit on my butt and ignore the boys. “Going to the farm will be good for all of you,” she says. I doubted it, but went along with her idea.
The boys run to the pumpkin patch. Mr. Ridgeway stands with his hands tucked in his overalls, smiling all the while. He tells them to pick one pumpkin to take home with them. Mrs. Ridgeway watches them while he and I take a break inside. He pours me a glass of his cold homemade cider. Carrie told me his cider is better than anything Starbucks will ever make. He hands me a stick of cinnamon and I dip it in the glass.
“Let it soak for a moment,” he says. I watch the kids out the window chase each other. I recollect the days working on my grandfather’s farm. I was eight when my parents divorced. I remember Aaron and me staying with him every weekend throughout the summer. He wasted no time putting us to work. Aaron got the easy job watering the crops, while I had the arduous task of extracting weeds. My hands aches for hours and I think I stretched out my back on a few occasions. I didn’t understand why Grandfather made us work so hard. All we wanted to do was play. And whenever we complained, Grandfather always said the same thing.
“I’m teaching you youngens the value of hard work. Believe me, you’ll thank me when I’m gone.”
That was twenty years ago. I turn to Ridgeway. He cradles the mason jar like a child. The sunlight kisses the snowy beard on his wrinkled face. Something inside me wonders why.
“I wish my kids would come to visit more often and bring my grandkids. They’re missing out on a lot.”
I don’t know what to say, so I nod.
“Kids these days,” he grumbles. “All they do is sit and stare at a small screen. It’s like they don’t care about the world around them.”
As he speaks, I can’t help but to think about Grandfather’s words. All I wanted to do was play. I wanted to be a kid, but I didn’t have that luxury. I look down at my steeping cider, I think about my boys. I wish they’d take things more seriously. I wish they’d understood the world is not going to hand things to them for free. That I or Carrie are not going to be there for them all the time.
“…but I wish I wasn’t so hard on them,” Mr. Ridgeway says. “I wish I would have let them be kids. Maybe then, they would want to see us more.”
He looks up and I see a glimmer in his eye. I flash a smirk and take a sip of the cider. As I take in the sights of play, I feel a surge of sweetness and tartness down my throat. I feel the bite of the cinnamon. I can’t stop smiling.
“What did I tell you?”
The screen door flings open. Mrs. Ridgeway pops out.
“Carl, we need to go to the hospital right now.”
I rush out the house to the pumpkin patch. I see Keith hold his arm stiff. Alex stands over him, crying along with his brother. I kneel down.
“I’m not sure. I turned my back for a few seconds. Next thing I knew, the boys are crying.”
I look to the boys. Already I feel my blood heating up.
“What were you thinking? I told you you can’t run around like that.”
I feel a hand on my shoulders.
“It’ll be okay, James. Accidents happen. We’ll get them taken care of.”
The laser stare tapers. My tense body relaxes. I reach for my boys and hug them.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t want you guys to get hurt. Your mom would freak out if anything happened to you two.”
I hear the car pull up just as the sun begins to descend. I carry Keith to the car with Alex following close by. I strap him in, making sure his arm is not caught up. I sit beside him and Alex scoots beside me. We fasten our seat belts as Mr. Ridgeway closes the door behind us. Once everyone is in, we move. The car shakes as we travel down the bumpy dirt road. I see the innocence in my boys. I smile as I embrace them. It’s in this moment that I decide to release the leash. I can’t hold onto them forever, but I can love them forever.