Thankfully, I've read a few short stories in the past day that I now feel comfortable to post tonight for this challenge. I picked up the collection of short stories in Don't Look Now, which are selected by Patrick McGrath (my review of his book Asylum can be found by clicking here), but I've been eager to read "The Apple Tree" which is not included in that collection. I tried to find it in a couple of the regular places I go to, but to no avail. My husband, the kind soul that he is, surprised me tonight -- after deciding to stop into one of the libraries we hadn't been to in a while, he found Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre and surprised me after dinner with it, opened to "The Apple Tree."
Here's what drew me in a few weeks ago from Wikipedia:
"The Apple Tree" follows the actions of a man who, following the death of his neglected wife, suspects her spirit inhabits an old apple tree in his garden which he resolves to remove, but never gets around to doing so. That is his mistake.
"The Apple Tree" tells quite a story. A fairly downtrodden husband is married for over twenty years to Midge, who doesn't quite nag or even pick. Instead, her very nature is so thoroughly passive aggressive that she simply seeps into her husband's guilt, compelling him to obey to her every meandering subtle prod.
Nagging wives, like mothers-in-law, were chestnut jokes for music-halls. He could not remember Midge ever losing her temper or quarreling. It was just the undercurrent of reproach, mingled with suffering nobly born, spoilt the atmosphere of his home and drove him to a sense of furtiveness and guilt.Following a quick bout of influenza turning into pneumonia, Midge passes away. He feels a sense of freedom, unburdened by the chains of her subtlety that he felt for so long, and he begins to enjoy life. The crispness in the air is more clearly felt, the ability to go for a stroll around the grounds more inviting, popping into the local pub or to simply pass the time in his living room -- all are free for him to do without any guilt. Without any annoyances.
But creeping just below the normalcy of the new life he's experiencing, the apple tree in the back begins to be a bit more...noticeable. He's never really looked at it in the past, but now it's a bit more prominent. The withering branches almost become more sickly and pronounced. The apples from the tree taste sweet to others and instead give him a sick and rotting taste. The wood burning brightly and fragrantly in a fireplace becomes for him a stench that even lingers in his mouth, making him sick.
I found this short story to be incredibly unsettling and disturbing. Riding just below it all is a sense of something truly creepier. Into the husband's subconscious is a tangible and real version of his once living wife, quiet and martyr-like that she was. Could her spirit be inhabiting a simple and old tree? Or could the husband be slowly going mad? I started to wonder if after a lifetime of something that he is burdened with, can he truly feel comfortable without it? It seemed as if he placed his wife's existence into the sad tree, that sits so forlornly behind the house, almost as if to say that if not for his neglect, perhaps it could be something more.
What a freakish enjoyment I had in reading this story -- you really should check this out, if you haven't already. Du Maurier has become a new favorite for me.
Coffee and a Book Chick