The apples were rancid in the water. They had formed on the tree in June, smaller and yellower than the year before, and now, in August, they were dropping steadily into the brackish water. There was no longer birdsong at daybreak nor the unearthly shrieks of raccoons at night—only lapping water and the sudden splashes of sick apples letting go, one at a time.
She swam out to the tree, sweeping the floating apples aside with her arms. When she climbed up, she had to step lightly, for its branches were beginning to rot; flakes of bark loosened beneath her bare hands and feet. Nibbling on a grainy apple, she looked out over her neighbors’ yards: fallen fences, submerged sheds, clothes spread to dry on rooftops—flattened ghosts waiting to arise. Allowing herself a bit of foolishness, she saved a few seeds from the apple, then tossed the core into the water. She watched it disappear and then emerge again, the way everything—bodies—had.
There’d been a time when she’d made pies. Stewed apples until they softened into lumpy sauce, then filled heavy glass jars that knocked about in boiling water. There’d been a time when she’d gone to sleep beside another. That warmth—of another body, another mind, with unknown nightmares and shrouded hopes—there was nothing like that warmth.
She dispersed a line of leafcutter ants with a swipe of the finger. A few months ago, she’d witnessed their nuptial flight—a shimmering billow of tiny wings. Such short-lived revelry. Within hours the males had died, and the females had lost their wings, to stagger along sodden hilltops in search of an earthbound home.
The ants didn’t belong this far north. But it was like this now. What didn’t belong had come. Yesterday, she had glimpsed a spiny fish the size of her thumb, with the long barbels of a catfish, darting around the ragged stump of the hawthorn tree. Would she live to see it? The dominion of beastly fish. Perhaps they were venomous. Or perhaps they rubbed their tails together in celestial underwater songs.
J. C. Lin is a freelance writer who lives apprehensively at sea level.