In The Hands Of A Friend – Laila Carter

“Fuchsia! I made lunch for you!” called Mother from the house on the nearby hill.

Apple glanced up at me through wide eyes. I sighed and stretched my arms.
“Are you hungry yet?” I asked. Apple looked at his hands, then back at me, shrugging. He sat in the grass besides me, hands folded, and swished his feet in the small stream. I sat on the rock, watching the water bend the tall grass that stuck out from the mud below.

“I think we’re going to have turkey today. I know you don’t like it, so after lunch we’ll head back out to get strawberries, all right?”

He nodded excitedly and I rolled off the rock and stood next to him.
“We should head back to the house.”
My friend slowly got up, towering over me, and cupped his huge hand over mine.

We then headed back to the house, listening to the water flow away behind us.
I had met Apple when I was seven – I was playing in our huge backyard one day, dragging a stick in the dirt and singing. Mother was sitting on the back porch talking to my older brother as I skipped over thick roots of trees and listened to the fall leaves crinkle under my bare feet. I glanced over to see Mother looking away, and I took the chance to cross the river to the other side, entering the “forbidden” thick woods (Mother feared I would get eaten alive by tigers, which, by the way, did not live in the forest). As I sang to myself, I noticed a faint movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked, and nothing was there at first, but then I saw him. He hid behind a tree, staring at me with those wide, silver eyes. He was at least seven feet tall with a chubby body. His hands and head were abnormally huge compared to the rest of his body, and black fur covered his skin. The only features I could see on his face were his round eyes that stared at me in curiosity and fear.

I should have been afraid of this creature : I should have screamed, run back to the house and told Mother. But my seven-year-old self only responded by frowning. I had never seen that kind of animal in the picture books before. What was it? I, not in the least bit aware of potential harm, strolled right up to the creature behind the tree. It cowered at my sight, but did not run away – only looked down at me with those really wide eyes. I tilted my head.

“ ‘Scuse me,” I said. “But can you stop staring at me?”
He didn’t respond, nor did he stop staring.
“Hello? Can you hear me?”
He slowly nodded his head, then gave a small wave of his hand. “Huh.” I stuck out my lips. “Can you talk?”

The creature looked to the side, then back at me. I guessed the answer was no.

“Okay….well….” I glanced around, making sure my mother was not in sight. “Do you play by the river?”

The creature tapped his lips and glanced behind him. He then looked back at me, looking confused.

“You’re gonna hafta come out from behind the tree if you want to play.”

He looked at his feet for a moment. Then he crept out from his hiding place and folded his hands in front of him. My seven-year-old self nodded in approval.

 “All right. We’re playing Shipwreck. I’m the captain of the famous ship, Yellow Ducks, while you are my servant mate. We have been shipwrecked on the river and must find our way back. Come on.”

And just like that, I had found my new best friend. The encounter seems random and simple, but I always think about it. Ever since then, my friend has never left and is always by my side. He had grown nine feet tall, and a bit slimmer than before, but other than that nothing had changed. I have no idea what he is, where he is from, if he is a he at all, or his name. I have always called him Apple because he horded thousands of them in my room. I do not know where he gets them (though I suspect he steals them from our neighbors orchard), and Mother always wonders where my obsession with apples comes from.

In the house, I took my dish of turkey pie and ate at the wooden table with Mother, who read the newspaper. Apple sat in the corner on a lone chair, humming to himself and bobbing up and down. I held back a smile as we ate in silence, until Mother got up.

“Do you want some milk, Fusia?”
“Sure.”
She approached the refrigerator and opened its door, and Apple’s head perked up.

As Mother rummaged through the food, Apple crept over and stared at the bottom shelf, eyeing the selection of fruit. Avoiding Mother, he began to stretch his long arm into the fridge to get an apple.

“Hey!” I yelled. “Don’t you dare! You have enough!”

Apple jerked away from the fridge and looked at me with wide, naughty eyes. He then looked back the fridge.

 “Uh-uh. Don’t do it.”

“Honey,” said Mother, frowning. “Uh…Who are you possibly talking to?”
I leaned back in my seat, realizing I sounded like a crazy person. “Sorry, mom.

Don’t mind me.”
Mother eyed me a bit, but then shrugged, for she knew her daughter could be slightly strange sometimes. As Apple slowly slunk away, Mother jerked her head towards him and jumped back, nearly dropping the milk.

“Mom?” I held my breath. “What’s wrong?”

She clicked her teeth with her tongue. “No-Nothing,” she said, glancing around the area. Apple was already out of sight, sitting in the corner. “I’m just…having an old moment, that’s all.”

I glanced back at Apple, who sat in the corner, humming and bobbing to his own beat. I thought I was the only one who could see him, but, maybe I was wrong. The thought made me a little disappointed.

To me, Apple is that secret that everyone always has, and I am not willing to share it to the world. As a friend, he has constantly been there for me, but never in that annoying way. I have other close friends, but none in the same as him. He has always just been….there.

In high school, when the class jerk made fun of me for actually liking the arts, Apple, who sat in the back of all my classes, walked to the front and sat in the aisle between the desks. He then stuck his leg out and tripped the jerk, who, in mid-speech, fell over on the ground and became the new laughing stock of the day.

 During a road trip, my friends had decided to stay by the car, but I wanted to wander through the fields. At one point, I began crossing a small stream, but Apple yanked me back. Before I could ask why pulled me, a thick tree snapped and fell over the stream, landing in the place I would have been standing. I had stood agape as Apple wiped his forehead.

In college, when it was opening night for the play and I had to dance onto the stage as the lead actor, Apple sat on the floor in the very front, having the loudest applause in the audience.

When I was dating, he never got jealous. He only gave me advice through hand motions and clips from soap operas, which I told him are not necessarily accurate.

At my wedding, he was my best man (even though I was the bride?). When I had a child, he was the ultimate babysitter.
When my husband died, he let me cry on his shoulder.
I have never thought it possible to keep such a friend for all my life.

Now I lie on what I know is my deathbed. It hurts to move, so I simply stay in bed all day. Apple sits on a wooden chair at the head of the bed, never moving from the spot. Sometimes the nurse at the home moves the chair out, but he always picks it up and moves it back to me. I do not know what he does all day, for I just lie under the sheets and sleep most of the time. What will he do when I am gone?

I turn my head to see at my old friend sitting there. Apple looks different now than he did when I was a kid. He has taken on a more human figure. His fur is gone, and his abnormally large hands and hand had shrunken to proportion. Over time he has decided to wear clothes, and he now wears dark blue jeans and the hooded sweatshirt. His face is smooth and black as the night sky, but still, the only features I can see are his eyes, which now shine with a beautiful color of moonlight-silver and black. He hums to himself in the chair as I slowly open and close my eyes, sensing myself fade away.

The nurse walks in, holding a basket of apples and set them down on the nightstand. As she checks on me, Apple walks over, grabs two fruit, and starts eating, sitting back down in his chair. The nurse gives a little smile, glancing between me and my friend, and mutters,

“At least he has company.”

The nurses here have been able to see Apple ever since I got here. For the first few weeks, I was on life support, but Apple hated the machine I was connected to – he threw apples at it whenever it beeped and turned it off occasionally (I would not die from that, but I would fade quicker). Eventually, he convinced the nurse watching over me to shut it off permanently. I did not mind really, for I knew what was inevitable, but I do not know what he will do once I left.

Today, I know I am going to finally leave this world, but I do not know how to tell Apple that. Maybe he already knows. Hesitantly, I turn my head towards him.

“Apple….”
He looks up with those wide eyes of his. I sigh.
“Apple, go find yourself a home,” I say. “A new friend. I won’t last much longer, so go find another place to stay.”

He looks at the ground, sticking his hands in the sweatshirt’s pockets. I sigh again and turn a bit more, ignoring the protests of my body.

“Please,” I say. “I will be gone very soon, and you won’t have a home anymore. You must continue your life without me.”

Apple glanced up at me for a moment, then back to the ground.
“No, that’s okay.”
I raise my eyebrows. It is the first time I ever heard Apple speak. I now see him press his thin lips together as I try to understand how he spoke. “What?”

“I want to stay with you,” he says, scratching his head. “I don’t want to leave.” “B-But…Apple-”
“It’s all right, Fusia,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“No, you…you have to go somewhere else. You can’t stay with me – I won’t be here!”

“Yes, I can,” he says. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll still be your friend.”
I only stare at him as he taps his foot against the ground and starts to hum to himself. I take a deep breath.

“I’m going to the other side. You cannot follow me there.”
“I will though.”
I sigh. “Do you even know what it’s like on the other side?”
“Oh, uh…” Apple scratches his head, looking away. “I guess you’ll find out soon.” I look away, disappointed that he did not understand. Then, Apple leans over the bed and cups his cold hand over mine.

“Hey, listen,” he says. “There are many things in life that are never certain, but, believe me when I say that I will definitely and always stay with you, even if your body is gone.”

His silver eyes are calm and happy when he said these words. I stare at him for a long time before he gets up and grabs another apple, humming to himself. As he sits down again, I feel a sort of ease in my chest, like my soul was finally ready to move on.

“So…I will be with you on the other side?”

Apple looks at me with those wide, silver eyes, and, for the first time, I see him smile.

“Absolutely.”
I close my eyes as I let myself drift away, feeling light in my chest. So this is what is feels like to trust my soul to a friend.

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