We’d had our eyes on those apples for weeks, waiting for them to ripen enough so that, if we could work out how to pick them, we could eat them without developing griping tummy aches. They started out as the tiniest of globes, shiny green like opaque marbles. Each day we checked to see if they had grown and each day we were disappointed to see fruit that looked just like they did the day before.
We daren’t ask our parents when they would be ready because that would mean we would have to tell them where the apples were and who they belonged to. And they didn’t belong to us. The tree was in Miss Andersen’s garden and if we tugged on the branches or the wind blew hard enough, some of the apples hung past the fence and over the grass verge outside.
Our plan was simple – pick these occasional over-hangers since they would only go to waste if they fell on the ground anyway. There was just the small matter of timing. And ripeness. And how to do it.
When the weather was fine we would take it in turns to sit on the grass near Miss Andersen’s to keep watch on the tree. Someone said maybe the apples would ripen very quickly and that we mustn’t miss it, like milk in a pan hitting boiling point and frothing over. Three days of watchfulness reassured us the apples were very unlikely to hit their peak in such a way and we scaled back patrols. However we made sure one of us checked on the tree at least twice a day, just to be sure we weren’t wrong.
One Saturday we noticed they had started to develop a gentle blush across the skin. The apples were now close to the size of fruit on sale in the grocer’s shop and the two things together told us it must be almost time. Like expectant fathers we planned for our deliveries, discussing the best routes to avoid bumping into parents, when Miss Andersen was most likely to be out at the Post Office and most important, who would take which roles in the delicate picking operation.
It was set for the following Saturday morning. Miss Andersen always went to the village Post Office and then called in for morning tea with her friend, Miss Parminder. This would give us a clear 90 minutes in which to set up, liberate the selected apples and get clean away from the scene. No problem, we were all boy scouts. No problem at all.
The branch required a lot more tugging than we had anticipated, so progress was slow. Previously we had all pulled on it together so it moved easily, but now with one boy riding another’s shoulders to reach as high up as the good fruit was, we were only half strength in the tuggers. Hands were scratched and knees skinned as we fought to strip that single over-hanging branch of its fruit. One by one apples fell to the floor, toed into a pile for easy scooping up should a grown-up happen by.
After an hour we had four fresh apples for each of us and we decided we probably didn’t have time to pick a fifth each before Miss Andersen was likely to return. Nobody has remembered a bag so we stuffed our spoils into our pockets and ran for our den in the woods. We all plopped onto the ground, arms and legs shaking with exertion and breathing hard. It was time.
On the count of three we all sunk our teeth into our first apples, crunching through tangy skin and tasting cool wet flesh on our lips. Working our way through all four apples each, there were few sounds except for scrunching, chewing and slurping for some time.
One by one our tummy aches started and we four boys ran for home, gripping bellies and buttocks. The twins raced each other knowing they might both need the bathroom at the same time, but Jack and I just rushed home and knew we had a fair chance of being the only desperate one in the family.
We hid in the den again and did things we wanted hidden again and ate stolen food again, but we never discussed the after-effects of those apples. And we never chose to eat so much fruit ever again.