The ghost of Solebury Orchards was a lost, bothersome soul. Sometimes when I would climb the cool rungs of a ladder and sift through ovate leaves, she’d abruptly appear from behind a cluster of Fuji apples, translucent hands grasping at the slim branches for support. “Get out of my tree!” I’d yell, clutching my chest with one hand and the top rung of the ladder with the other, and with a disgruntled huff she’d dissipate into a cloud of fruit wax and fall breath. But she was never gone for long, knocking over a shelf of fresh apple butter when I next saw her, always searching for something that seemed of importance.
On Sunday morning, I found the ghost curled up on the oven rack, baking with a dozen apple donuts. Under the incandescent light, her illusion of skin glowed as golden brown as the batter. I crouched beside the oven, pressing a palm against the warm glass pane and peering inside. “Hey,” I said, exasperated. “How’d you get in there?” She knocked her forehead against the oven door, glaring at me through achromatic eyes. “I can’t open it,” I told her. “The donuts aren’t finished.” If ghosts could speak, I could only imagine what words she would have put to use.
Despite my annoyance, I found myself sitting with my back against the oven door, waiting for donuts to rise. “You’re a pain,” I informed her as I scrolled through recent notifications on my phone. “Did you know that? I bet you do.” My finger paused over a recent Snap from Devin. Where r u? Though the lightning was blurry, I was able to discern a long wooden lane and a cluster of bowling pins in the background.
Home, I texted back, furrowing my brow. Wbu?
His bitmoji popped up in the bottom corner as he typed a reply. Ryan’s party. Then, sorry, my bad.
I drew my phone to my chest as the ghost pressed her face to the glass, her right elbow squashing one of the donuts, squinting as her eyes chased the small letters on the screen. “Don’t read over my shoulder,” I snapped. She jabbed a clouded finger at my phone in question. “It’s nothing,” I felt the need to explain. “They’re not my friends.” Her frown deepened as I turned away. Bumping the back of my head against the oven door, I closed my eyes and let the world elapse into mechanical hum and unsent messages.
On Wednesday evening, the ghost scoured a grove as the hues of apples bled into dwindling rays of the sun. I watched, a spectator, from the fourth step of a ladder as her foot caught on the wagon tracks indented in soft soil. When I snorted at her misfortune, she rushed at the plastic bag half-full at the foot of my ladder, leaving a disarray of muddied fruit in her wake. I hurled an apple blotched with mold at her, and it plunged through her chest like a breach in fog, skin breaking against bark and leaving a long fissure running down to its core.
We spent the remainder of the evening returning scattered apples to the bag. Rubbing a soiled apple against my sleeve, I turned it over in my hand and asked brusquely, “You got any friends?” When silence ensued like a message left on read, I clarified, “Ghost friends.” I lifted my head to see her watching me closely, holding a fissured apple in the contour of her hand. My own hand rose to scratch the back of my neck. “Sorry. My bad.”
Submerged in an albescent glow, pale moonlight lapped her outline like a hazy dream to wakefulness. She was nearly transparent. A paler arm stretched out to offer me the apple. “It’s kinda bruised,” I said, subtly declining the gift. “Just throw it away.” It remained under my nose, sweetness smudged with an underlying scent of bruise. Heaving a sigh I took the fruit, dragging my thumb over damaged skin. At most, it could be used for a donut or pie filling. Thoughtlessly, I placed my own imperfect apple in her hand, careful to avoid her fingers. I should have scoffed at the way her fingers cradled the apple, skin on the verge of flowering with color, faded eyes flitting from blank screen to noise to silence.
Friday fell like an apple to flushed hand. I sat in my dad’s old Ford, pressing my forehead against the faux leather of the steering wheel, foot on the gas though I had yet to start the car. My phone buzzed on the dashboard. I lifted my head as the vibration stopped, heart jolting at her presence. “Holy crap,” I choked, clutching the collar of my shirt. “Stop doing that.”
The ghost clasped my phone in her hand, the brightness of the screen filtering through her head to illuminate the headliner above. “Get out of my- Actually, give me back my phone.” She pulled away as I reached out. “I’m being serious. I’m late to Devin’s.” The ghost held my phone to her chest, and it sank into her body like an illusion of light.
“Oh my god. You’re such a goddamn pain.” I rubbed at my face, drawing a harsh breath. “I don’t even care. Just get out of my car.” My chest burned at the silence that ensued. Digging in my fingernails, I yelled, “Get out!” There was a soft clunk as the ghost dropped my phone. Letting my shoulders sag, then shake, I pressed my face onto the steering wheel.
Like a ghost in an oven I was weary of waiting for someone to open the door. No, I wanted to dissipate into fruit wax and fall breath, into moonlight and mechanical hum, and God- When would it be my turn to blossom into color, bear Fuji apples in late October, have someone cradle me in their hands like I was the world and the world was perfectly imperfect?
I lifted my head as another notification sounded. The ghost was still there, watching me through quiet eyes. Tentatively, she reached out as if going to place a hand on my back. We both started as her hand passed through my chest, translucent fingers brushing bones and cartilage, bypassing my pericardium. Her expression was one of puzzlement, my heartbeat foreign and fascinating. I blew out a shaky breath. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, loosening my grip on the wheel. “Let’s- Let’s go home.”
And we did. We drifted and dreamed through slim branches and ovate leaves, flushed apples and cool rungs of ladders, sleeping Fords and dark screens. The groves of Solebury Orchards collectively sighed like lost souls found home. Shadows bled back into soft wagon tracks. At the foot of a Fuji tree, two bruised apples leaned on one another in perfect silence.
By Mia Manton