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She grows up with apple pie and apple crumble and apple snow and cousins who threaten to lock her in the coolroom. She grows up with a father who sneers at anyone who doesn’t eat the core. (She doesn’t eat the core.) In the holidays, they trail his truck through the trees, picking the seedling cans out of the grass and throwing them up to the cage on his flatbed. A flake of rust lodges in her eye. The cousins call her cry baby and push her. If the truck stops, they will all lose dessert.
The truck stops.
Later, they refuse to let her in the fort they’ve made, the one under the pine tree by the coolshed. It’s less a fort than a lean-to of broken pallets and plywood, held together with redback webs. She can hear them in there, scuffling under the wood. It makes her boil.
She stands by the blocked entrance and screams. Screams until the crows ark and the screen door slams. Feet crunch on gravel. Then pine needle. Her mother steps in beside her and sighs. ‘You don’t want to go in there anyway,’ she says. And then: ‘I’m stewing apples for afters. That cheer you up?’
Her mother is quiet while she explains. Just reaches into her apron and hands her an apple. After she leaves, she weighs it in her hand. Considers. Then pegs it, hard, at the fort.
The crows burst into the sky. The pallets fall, tumbling one after the other. They echo like the slap of her father’s rifle; the bang of her mother’s spoon on the side of the pot. Then she stands there and waits, listening to the thumps and yelps inside. It’s like her mother always taught her: four cloves. You count them in and, when the apple is cooked, you count them out.
It takes her cousins a long time to scramble free.