The warmth of the summer day poured over the grassy orchard. Martha lay on the ground, smelling the crisp earth and the indulgent scent of sweet grass drying out in the sun. She had been lying there for hours, eyes closed, seeing nothing but a red blur through her baking eyelids. She had never suffered much from sunburn. A few squirts of lotion over her nose and on her shoulders was usually enough to protect her skin, and she usually turned a baked brown rather than burning, her freckles deepening to dark brown pinpricks like scattered coffee grounds. She didn’t even feel human anymore. She felt like a tree-stump, or a big, flat stone, soaking up the sunrays, utterly still. She could feel nothing but penetrating heat, even the ticking of the grass on the back of her neck felt like a distant sensation, felt by someone else, or in a different life.

She remembered that life. Then, everything had been keen to her. The pleasure of the sun was always edged with the sheen of sweat, the pinch of hot, drying skin, the dizzy nausea of heatstroke. She ran around too much, or that’s what her mother said. She was like a boy, she said, but always forgot she didn’t have the same energy as them, the same strength. Back then she climbed the apple trees, and the splinters were sore, the leaves and twigs scratched her face and tangled in her hair, making her cry out and pout. Now she laughed at splinters. She was too careful for bruises, too balanced to trip. But back then, climbing to the highest branch she could reach for the ripest, reddest apples…they tasted so much sweeter. Life tasted sweeter. Nowadays, she could reach even higher with the cherry-picker, but all the apples tasted the same. Her tastebuds had dulled, along with her vision, and the sensation in her fingers. Arthritis would be next, she guessed. Her mother had suffered from that. But she had a fair few years of life left in her. A fair few.

She could not help but think of the past. She thought of all the other children she had played with, who had come and gone. There were so many faces, so many visitors, but no one stayed. Sisters and brothers for months at a time, and then strangers, sending postcards years later, all fondness and thankfulness and reminiscence, but she could barely remember all of their names, sometimes. She knew that when she finally adopted a child, she would hold on to him, or her, like her own. No foster children coming and going, no opening up wounds that took too long to heal.

The sunlight dimmed for a moment, bringing dark and cold, a blue whisper, and she was sixteen again. Her arms were cold, her stomach peeped out from a floral-printed belly top, garish colours. Her hair spilled around her in waves of burnt-butter gold, and her hazel eyes glimmered as she opened them, to see what had shadowed over the sun. His face leaned down over her, inches away, his beetle-brown eyes, pointed nose, soft smile, black curls…

But it was just a cloud. Her limbs ached as she peeled herself from the ground, now moist and cool. She must have dozed off.

It was late now.

It was time to make dinner.

The washing was dry.


(Prompts: fleeting, orchard, renew)

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