My boyfriend Duane lives in a mobile home on his parents’ property. I haven’t had a boyfriend in many years, and so I’m thrilled to be invited over for a visit. He warns me of the rank odor permeating the trailer even as it assaults my sensitive nostrils. Something I’ve smelled before, surfacing a vague memory: the stench of a dead rat in the walls, or perhaps maggots.
Outside, to escape the smell, I sit on the bottom porch step and take in the country scene before me. The sweet smell of ripe apples mingles with the faint scent of my shampoo, and the smoke unfurling from the cigarette I puff in furtive tokes. Duane’s parents, who are strictly religious, live just down the way. I don’t want to do anything to give them cause for not liking me. Don’t want to do anything to upset the delicate balance of this newfound relationship with a man with sea-green eyes and a voice that’s gentle on my mind.
Duane clambers down the steps as I move aside to let him pass. At the foot of the porch he turns, stoops down to balance on his haunches, and looks deep into my eyes. “But how could you,” he says, as if we are in the middle of an ongoing conversation, “love a man as poor as I?” His arm sweeps wide to include the decrepit trailer with its foul odor, hunched apologetically on his parents’ property, and the miscellaneous discarded items (old tires, rusted out tractor parts, plastic milk jugs) scattered across the hard-packed dirt yard.
I glance at the small trailer 20 yards away which he told me belongs to his crazy, older sister who used to molest him when he was a child. The scent of green apples fills me with sudden longing.
“Do they pick them?” I ask, nodding at the gnarled trees, not meaning to ignore his probing question. “Does your mother bake pies?”
He stands and looks intently at the trees. “She used to.” He flashes me a boyish grin. “Want to take some home and bake a pie?”
“I’d love to!” I jump up as he walks to the nearest tree and grabs a branch.
“Be careful, I’m going to shake it hard.” He does, but only a few apples plop free. “OK, I’m climbing up.” He picks up a cracked ceramic bowl lying in the shade of the tree, and hands it to me. “I’ll toss them down.”
As twilight descends, we collect apples in this manner, bantering back and forth as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to be doing something so normal. Suddenly my throat aches with a sense of deep contentment. I want to laugh out loud, to cry out, “So this is what a normal relationship is like—picking apples at twilight with the man I love!”
My littles are squealing with delight. To be involved with a man, yet not all-absorbed in the romance of it, oh how delicious. To be playful and at ease like this as the sky turns the deep purple of a bruise, and cozy lights radiate from his parents’ home! I am too overcome with the wonder of it to put into words the bafflement of such a pure act as picking apples with my boyfriend.
It is a year later. In the produce department of Safeway I glance at the heap of waxy Granny Smiths, and yearn to be back again in that summer twilight, catching the apples Duane tosses to me so good-naturedly, with me not missing a single one.
(As it turned out, this was to be my last relationship with a man.)