Jules had not climbed the tree in a while, months probably. Now, the joyous discovery that trees-are-for-climbing came back to her. She was different though. Her legs were longer; her reach, greater. Her strength too, which surprised and pleased her. Lately, she felt awkward and weird. Jules’ best friend since second grade had discarded her. After spending the summer with cousins, Beth was seeking older, more worldly friends. The first few days of sixth grade seemed like a foreign country. It was natural to go to the apple tree.
She found a new place to perch, with a new view — right into the backyard of Miss Lena Craighy. The strange old lady who “keeps to herself.” Years ago, Jules saw her, a brief vision swishing through a store in a long black dress. She wondered if she’d imagined it until overhearing her mother and grandma talking, speculation that she tossed around in her mind, then filed away.
Now from high in the tree, she watched Miss Lena scurry around tending to young plants in various-sized cans; then go into the house and return with large shears, cut bright zinnias, and put them in a pitcher on a weathered table. She sang while she did that. Something about a blackbird in the dead of night. Breaking off, she called out, “Come down. There’s cake. And fruit.”
Somehow, Jules wasn’t that surprised to find herself dropping into Miss Lena’s garden. They ate quietly for a while, under a silvery weeping elm. “I climbed apple trees,” Miss Lena offered. “When I was lonely — or wanting to be alone. When I was sad — or too happy to be still.”
Jules considered her own words carefully. “And now — do you ever want to climb?”
“Oh yes. But now I work my feelings into the earth.” She cut an apple crosswise and placed the two halves in front of Jules.
“Stars,” said Jules, delighted.
“Nature always surprises you. Keep it close.” Then, “Take the apple. Go past the hedge. There’s a gate.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you soon, Miss Lena.”