The Apple by Bailee Smith-Garcia
How did I end up here?
There’s no one answer I can give. There isn’t one moment I can point to. Instead, there are many moments that led me down this path. A path I didn’t know I would ever go down. A path no one would willingly want to go down.
Today I walked into one of those one-stop-shopping places. The type of store who sell groceries, clothes, household goods, and other things. A few days of yard work was enough to earn some money to be able to buy a loaf of generic bread and cheap peanut butter.
After an uncomfortable talk with the cashier, I headed back outside. The hot Arizona sun beating down on my already sunburnt skin. My once beautiful long dirty blonde hair now dirty and filled with large knots. The clothes the shelter had given me were already two sizes too big and made me appear smaller than I was.
Some people like to argue living in Tucson, Arizona is good for me. They always talk about how I don’t have to deal with snow. Sure, they might be right about that, but they’ve never lived through a summer here. Having nowhere to go when it’s a 120 outside isn’t just a problem. It’s deadly. Luckily for me today was only near 90.
Holding the plastic bag close to my chest, I walk through a small crowd of frat looking boys. Most of them hoot and whistle after me, but I don’t look back. But, another small group of frat boy’s rushes towards me, and I’m shoved to the ground.
“Disgusting druggie!” One shouts down at me.
“Take a shower!” Another one shouts.
They all laugh hysterically before heading into the store. I shove the items back into the bag and start to stand up. Except something makes me stop. An older man is stacking golden crisp apples. He pulls each apple out one by one and places them on a wooden display.
My stomach growls at the sight of the apple. It’s been two days since I’ve had any sort of real food. I reach into my baggy pants pocket and pull out the rest of the money. Two pennies and one dime. Not enough to buy even one apple.
Instead, I watch the man stack the apples. After a few minutes, a young mother and son approach the old man. I’m too far away to hear what they’re saying, but the old man leads the woman and her child into the store.
With the old man gone, I walk over to the crate of apples and look down. Inside there must be 20-40 apples. Again, my stomach growls and my hands shake. With a light whimper, I turn to head back to the shelter.
But, I don’t get far as a young man steps out in front of me. He has the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. A brushy head of black hair. He’s dressed in a grey suit with a black tie. He offers me a gentle smile.
The young man appears friendlier than the group of guys, but I don’t trust him. Living on the street makes it hard to trust anyone.
“Take them,” he says. “No one is watching, and there’s no security cameras. You’re starving.”
My stomach growls loudly confirming his guess. Looking down at the apples again, I know he’s right. Without the old man out here, there would be nothing stopping me from taking these apples.
But, I know if I take them, the shelter I’m living at would want to know where they came from. If I cause even the slightest amount of trouble, they’ll kick me out. Last month they kicked out my cot mate for stealing extra food from the kitchen.
“It’s stealing,” I say.
He casually shrugs. “Maybe it is. But I think it’s pretty fucked up, you have to live like this. No one gives a damn about you, or your living conditions, so take it. Fair is fair.”
I recoil as if the man slapped me across the face. Deep down I’ve always wondered if people give a damn about me. Everyone wants someone to care, right?
The man reaches down into the crate of apples and pulls out a fairly large one. He tosses it up in the air and catches it. “They’re perfect,” he says. “Probably juicy enough to make your hands all sticky. It’s the best kind if you ask me.”
As if the man had a point to prove, he takes a large bite of the apple. The apple crunches underneath the bite, and I grin. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that. Usually, the shelter ended up with all the older apples no one wanted to buy. Juice trickles down the man’s chin and onto the black-tie staining it.
With a mouth full of apple, the man gives me a wide tooth grin. “What is with you? Doesn’t it get boring doing the right thing all the damn time?”
Uncomfortably I shift my weight from one foot to another. Does he have a point?
Without thinking my hand snakes down into the crate of apples and pulls out one. I hold the apple in the palm of my hand. The apple is so firm and perfect. Part of me had forgotten how simple an apple could be.
“You’re just going to stare at it?
“No…maybe…I don’t know.”
My long dirty fingernails squeeze the apple and some of the juice spills out. Who the hell was this man to say I was boring? Chewing on my bottom lip, I scoff. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
A devilish grin spreads across his face. He takes another bite of the apple. More juice running down his face onto the tie. This time he waits until he’s finished the bite of the apple. “Over the years, I’ve had many names. Depends on which one you want to pick.”
“Do you ever give a straight answer?”
“Maybe,” the man smirks. He takes another bite of the apple and shakes his head. “We’re getting off the subject, darling. You know, there is no shame in stealing food when you need to survive.”
I swallow hard. “I know.” It sure as hell wouldn’t be the first time I’ve stolen food. If I hadn’t I would’ve died.
Casually tossing the apple out into the parking lot, the man bends down picking up another apple. Instead of biting into it, he tosses it over my way. I dodge the apple and let out a breath. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“You were supposed to catch it.”
“I already have one.” I hold up the apple with my nail marks in it. “Why do you want me to take these apples so badly? What do you care?”
The man takes a small step towards me. “Have you ever considered I’m trying to help you? Maybe I don’t want you to starve. You don’t have to eat all of these apples. I’m sure your friends or whoever you hang out with are in the same position you are. The only person you’re thinking about is yourself.”
I open my mouth to argue but close it. Is the man in front of me, right? I guess he is. These apples would make everyone at the shelter happy, and I could sneak them in there. My friend, Katherine, has a large bag which could hold the apples.
Taking a deep breath in, I toss the apple with my nail marks back into the crate. Turning towards the door, I’m not sure why the old man hasn’t come out yet. Maybe it’s fate. Maybe something good will finally happen to me.
“They won’t miss them?”
“Please, the old man will probably think he put them up already. It’s only a few apples. Take them.”
“My friends would like them.”
The man reaches down and picks up the crate. He holds it with ease and shoves it into my hands. I grunt struggling to hold onto the crate.
The longer I’m holding this crate of apples the more I feel like I needed them. It was as if I couldn’t live without them. Swallowing I look over at the man. “I’m going to take them,” I say.
“Perfect,” he says. The man grins and begins to walk in the direction I’m going. He tosses the bag of bread and peanut butter in the crate. “Why don’t I walk with you? No one will question you.”
I nod. “Thank you.” As painful as is it to admit, the man in the suit won’t be stopped. People won’t assume he stole the apples, they won’t assume he’s a bad person, they won’t assume he drinks too much. He’ll be respected because of the way he looks.
We walk for a while together in silence. There’s a small part of myself that can’t shake the feeling of something being wrong with this man. I dismiss the thought and try to tell myself he’s taking a lot of risks too. He clearly cares about the wellbeing of my friends and me.
Heading down the block, I struggle with the crate. The man offers me a soft smile as we come around the corner. As we’re about halfway down the street the familiar sight of red and blue lights makes my heart beat rapidly.
Turning around I turn to see a cop get out of their car. I pull the crate closer to my chest as he approaches me. His name badge says, Galway. Following the man’s gaze, I freeze. Office Galway and I aren’t friends. The first few months I lived on the street he and I got into an argument and he tased me.
But, now he looks much older. Office Galway looks to be maybe in his late 20’s. Older than those frat guys from the store. His brown eyes are filled with sleepiness, but they still seem safer compared to the blue-eyed man.
He walks over and tilts his head to the side looking at the side of the crate.
In big bold letters, the side of the crate says “Property of Legend’s Grocery Store. NOT FOR SALE”
How did I not notice that before? Why did I think I could get away with this? I turn to my left to look at the man with the bright blue eyes, but he isn’t there. The crate of apples slowly drops from my hands onto the sidewalk. Apples scatter across the sidewalk and a few roll out onto the street.
With my heart pounding, I turn to run back down the street. I try to dart down the street, but, on the busy street, it doesn’t make it so easy to push past people.
“Stop! Police!” Officer Galway yells after me.
I don’t stop. I keep running as fast as I can, but I can hear officer Galway getting closer and closer. I want to yell for people to get out of my way, but my throat is so dry I can’t speak.
“Stop or I’ll tase you!”
Coming to a stop, I place my hands in the air. There’s no way I’m going to let him do that to me again. Officer Galway roughly shoves me up against the brick wall, and I gasp. The sharp force on my face shoots pain all throughout my body.
He twists my arms behind my back, and the familiar cold metal closes around my wrists. Unable to fight back the tears as they stream down my face. He leads me down the street as everyone I’ve just run past is now staring and whispering to each other.
“You’re under arrest,” Officer Galway says. He begins to read me my Miranda rights. I nod when he asks if I understand my rights. Leaning back against the brick wall he crosses his arms across his chest. “What do you think you’re doing, Mia?”
I open my mouth to reply but close it. What do I think I’m doing? How did I let the man talk me into this? “The man,” I begin. “Where is the man with the bright blue eyes?”
Officer Galway raises a brow. “What man?”
“The man who…I’ve been walking with a man. I’ve been talking to him since the grocery store.”
“Mia, I’ve been watching you for three blocks. You’re alone. There wasn’t a man with you.”
“No!” I sob. “There was a man. He has bright blue eyes, a gray suit, and a stained tie with apple juice.”
Officer Galway shakes his head. He points down to the front of my shirt which has a wet spot on it. It looks fresh. “Your shirt has an apple juice stain on it,” he says. “Mia, you stopped taking your medicine, didn’t you?” His tone softens.
The mention of medicine makes me spin slightly away from Officer Galway. The last thing I want to talk about is the medicine I’m supposed to take. I didn’t choose to be this way. And, I can’t afford my medicine, so I have to go without it.
I know I’m better when I’m on the medicine. But, the only time I could afford the medicine was when I was living with my dad. That is until he kicked me out for losing my job. I’ve on the streets ever since.
“Mia, please? I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”
“You wanted to taser me five minutes ago,” I mutter.
Office Galway sighs. “It was the only way I could make you stop,” he says. “Mia, please? Let me help. I can…I can take you somewhere.”
Slowly I spin around. “Where?” I ask. “We both know the hospital won’t take me because I’m not sick enough. I’m not going to hurt myself or others. Just take me to jail.” I whisper. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been through this routine.
His jaw drops. “You want to go to jail?”
I nod. “I’ll get a hot shower, something to eat, something clean to wear. It’s more than I what I have now.”
“Please,” I cut him off. “Officer Galway, please?”
Without another word, Office Galway grabs my arm and leads me over to the cop car. He jerks open the door and I slide in with his help. Shutting the door behind me, I look up to see to another cop walk over. Officer Galway and the other cop walk away from the car far enough that I can’t hear what they’re saying.
Shifting uncomfortably on the hard-plastic seat, I swallow. My eyes drop down to the floor and I kick my legs at the navy-blue seat in front of me. Maybe I’m crazy for wanting to go to jail, but he would’ve taken me there anyway.
Why couldn’t there be a blue-eyed man? He should’ve been real. I want him to be real. Not because he’s a good person, or someone I should be around. But, at least then, I would know there’s nothing wrong with me.
I don’t want to be like this. Why did this happen to me? “Why couldn’t you be real?” I say to the blue-eyed man.
The sound of the blue-eyed man laughing erupts throughout the car. It’s the only thing I can hear.
I fear it’s the only thing I’ll ever hear.
Bailee Smith-Garcia is currently completing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Northern Arizona University. When she’s not buried in a good book, she’s writing mystery and thriller novels. This her first published work.