Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree by Sage Tyrtle

You don’t remember, but I was thirteen when I met Mort. I’d forgotten my scarf in the church pew and when I went back to get it I found him, sitting alone. He was playing Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree on the organ and it made me laugh. He looked up.

You don’t remember, but I was fourteen the day the war ended. Mort knocked on the door in a natty suit and asked my father if he could take me down to the docks for the parade. I thought we’d watch but we only watched for a minute or so before Mort hopped down from the high wall, and held up his hands to me. “Jump,” he said, “I’ll catch you.” And he did. And we made tambourines of our hands and were part of the parade, we were part of the brass band playing The Star Spangled Banner. We were part of the inchoate joy.

You don’t remember, but I was fifteen in my long silk wedding dress. My veil was so long it stretched into the aisle. Mort’s mother said I looked like Joan Fontaine and I wanted to be pleased but it made me think about how she and I had never had a conversation in two years. Nothing beyond hello or here are the steamed green beans. I wondered if she even knew why I loved her son.

You don’t remember, but I was sixteen when you were born. Pinched face and wrinkled hands. Your father, who used to be Mort, who used to read his poetry aloud to me, shy but proud, your father wasn’t there. He was up up and away, not Mort anymore but Sergeant Stevens, staring wide-eyed at the clouds while I stared wide-eyed at you.

You don’t remember, but I was seventeen when your sister came into the world. We were on the Air Force base in Germany then and every day I woke up and every day I had the same conversation with the same Air Force wives in the same Victory Rolls hairstyle and we all had a baby and we all had a one year old and we all washed the same dishes vacuumed the same beige carpet made the same chicken and mashed potatoes checked the same mailboxes for news from our more important, more adventurous husbands.

You don’t remember, but I was eighteen when you showed me a cardboard box in the living room. I’d used it to bring home beets and Brussels sprouts the day before, but you had scribbled in red crayon all over the side. You pointed and said, “Car, Mommy. You get in.” And I got in and closed my eyes and tried to drive back to Wyoming. But your car didn’t work.

You don’t remember, but I was nineteen when I stood in the doorway of the mess hall. Holding your sister in one arm, holding your three-year-old hand. Sergeant Stevens was playing Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! That Cigarette on the out-of-tune piano and Boots — twenty-seven, lipsticked and draped over his shoulders — was whispering in his ear. I started to cry and Boots looked over and pouted with her too-red mouth. She put fists and pretended to rub her eyes like you did, when you were sad, and mouthed, “Crybaby.” Sergeant Stevens never looked up at all.

You don’t remember me at all, but I was twenty when I laid you sleeping on one of the military wives’ couches, hugged and then handed your quiet sister to the same wife and promised I’d be back as soon as I’d gone to the market for carrots, what a fool to forget the carrots when I was at the market earlier in the day. I kissed your forehead. I went outside and got in my red car.

Sage Tyrtle’s stories have been featured on NPR, CBC, and PBS. She is a Moth GrandSLAM winner. When she was five she wanted to be a princess until her dad explained that princesses live in a dystopian patriarchy, so she switched to being a writer instead. Twitter: @sagetyrtle

Bride running through a field towards a church

Photography by Dylan Nolte

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