There was a place in her heart where the apple tree grew.
The sun moved slowly up here.
In the shade of the apple tree, Delilah watched its lazy progress in shimmers through the leaves. A shimmer she couldn’t shake from her sight. Within that dappled light, the apples shone as celestial things in orbit, up there in the branches.
“Of the greener variety, the rounder the apple is,” her husband had said in their garden, so long ago, “the more flavourful.”
Delilah would spend a long time in the shade with her head tilted back and her eyes up in the leaves searching for the perfect one.
Sweet aromas arose from the ground, where low-hanging fruit had dropped and lay strewn about between the leaves and the grass.
“When apples are past ripeness, they turn brown,” he’d said. “Feel around for any soft spots. Look for dicolouration.”
Medication took the electricity from their touch. It snuffed out the fire in his eyes. Twenty-seven pills over every breakfast. There were days he wouldn’t take them; he hid them from her beneath the cushions in the couch. Some of those days it paid off and she would get fragments of her husband back, if only for a little while.
Those days rekindled the magic, while the illness lay asleep.
“Hold the apple between your thumb and fingers and squeeze until you feel it give,” he’d said. “You’ll hear a pop. The harder you have to squeeze, the crisper the apple.”
In his later years, his face had hardened.
Delilah sat by his side at the window, watching the apple blossoms fall. When his eyes no longer seemed to see at all, they emitted nothing but light. A stare which seemed to scream. She ran her fingers through his hair, softly, as if to comfort his stricken brain.
He frowned as if possessed. Looking at him broke her heart.
She pressed her cheek to his and kissed him on the forehead. She pressed her cheek to his.
In his later years, his face had hardened.
A trapped nerve.
That’s what her husband had thought it was, in the beginning. That’s what he blamed for the shake in his hand. The sudden twitch in his fingers. The stiffness in his shoulders. He attributed the tremble below his eye to stress. His clumsy gait to fatigue.
“When did you first notice the tremor?” the doctor had asked, one warm afternoon. They sat across from him at his desk. Her husband was drenched in sweat, fidgeting with the trimming of the brown leather chair. Her husband always seemed to sweat, even on the cold days. Even when the air turned his skin blue as the sky.
“A few months ago. Maybe a year. It comes and goes.”
“Any trouble getting up out of a chair?”
“No, not really.”
The doctor had him touch a finger to his nose.
“Any change in your handwriting?”
“Well, your speech sounds fine to me. Any trouble doing buttons or laces?” he asked, looking up from his notepad. He scanned his patient’s attire.
“No,” her husband replied, flattening the shirt across his chest.
“Any stiffness in your legs?”
“You need to be honest with me…”
“I am,” he’d replied calmly. “Why?”
The elderly doctor – a specialist in movement disorders – had him walk up and down the corridor outside of his office. All the way to the end, stop, and turn back. Again and again. Delilah stood in the doorway watching him stride through the stripes of golden sunlight thrown through the window shutters. In her memory, now, he moved as if in slow-motion. He moved slower and slower through the years, as if turning to stone.
“You have early onset Parkinson’s disease,” the doctor had told them. “Drink a lot of water. Get some exercise. Continue to live as you’ve always done.”
“Delilah, don’t turn this into a tragedy.”
On the day they’d given their monster a name, they sat in the park at their favourite bench. She turned to look at him with tears in her eyes, but said nothing.
The park had stood before them as it always had, with the falling leaves and the cobblestone pathways and the sparkle of the lake in the distance. Where the night birds spoke in the language of bells, and the sun boasted in the rippling reflections…
But this day it blurred.
In that haze, Delilah had already begun to mourn their old life together. The life they’d spent learning and loving and building. This was a new life. A life which came afterward. A life with limitations.
Years later, they would sit upon the same bench.
The joggers would pass them by.
The birds would soar overhead.
The strollers would stroll, hand in hand, with their eyes full of stars and their hearts abloom. Her husband would say he felt invisible then, as a statue. The people they watched moved with ease. With a pace he could no longer keep.
The trees would creak in the wind, and she was reminded too often how unbending things were prone to breaking. How inflexibility was a disciple of death. Watching these people, who moved so unchained, she wondered if any among them were fighting their own private monsters, and what they were, and who was winning. She wondered if they were alone, she and him, and if this thing would devour them one day, without anybody noticing.
“There is a place,” he said slowly, “deep inside. Where I still flow like a river. Where my muscles and joints all move in harmony. There is a place deep inside, where my body is still my own.”
And when the cold wind blew she leaned over to the pull the zipper up on his jacket.
“Apple Tree” appears in Issue 6.1 of THE EXAMINED LIFE JOURNAL, by the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
Special thanks must go to Bev Ribaudo, whose insight into Parkinson’s Disease proved invaluable in the crafting of this story. She has lived with PD for over two decades, and is still going strong.