It is a sunlit Saturday in late September, a block party kind of day.
Meg, Ali and I are seventeen, and certain it’s the last autumn we’ll be together in our hometown. We share an understanding that our lives are just about to bloom, we work our asses off to make sure they do.
It is the last year of the flip phone. Barack Obama is newly president. The jeans are low-rise and skin-tight from hip to ankle. Lady Gaga plays on the radio. When my journalism teacher says that Twitter will someday be used in politics, we do not believe him.
In a neighborhood by the river, Mr. and Mrs. So And So’s are scattered across front yards and sidewalks, catching up with one another, wearing blue jeans and flip-flops, holding red plastic plates of potluck, digging into meatballs with white forks. The leaves on the oak trees have not started turning yet, but they will soon. Friends of Meg’s older sister are at the block party, mostly boys with one-syllable names that begin with the letter C. They would share their beers with us, if we wanted. We’ll kiss them on Halloween in Meg’s parents’ pool shed, but not today. Today we’re going to pick apples and bake them into pies.
Meg’s mother’s black Corvette is parked like a hot prize in the driveway. Meg’s navy blue Volvo station wagon sits subtly beside it, and that boxy car is our mobile home. Meg ducks into the driver’s seat, Ali sits shotgun, I take my spot in the back. “The Volv,” is eclectic and cozy, like Meg’s apartment in New York will be a few years from now. She covered the backseat with colorful pillows and knit throws from thrift shops. In the hatch is a guitar to play while parked at the beach. Fahrenheit 451 is tucked in the pocket behind the passenger seat. Candle wax that has melted and hardened in asymmetrical forms sticks to the cup holders.
Meg drives and Ali navigates to the apple orchard a half hour up the parkway using a GPS named TomTom. I watch the sunlight glowing on blond and brown windblown hair, and pick the songs, all acoustic. Is it typical of me to forgo a task and enjoy languid contemplation in the backseat. We talk about college, what else? We are high-school overachievers who discuss our futures too much, all on the same brand of birth control pills. Now, Meg predicts she won’t like it because her sister is thriving at university, and for some reason, it makes sense to her that one sister will do well while the other does not.
“Someone has to struggle in college so we can tell our children. ‘Auntie Meg had a terrible time in college,’ someone has to say that,” she explains.
“That’s ridiculous,” I nearly shout from the backseat, above the rush of wind. The windows are open all the way. The three of us laugh. What I do not say is that I feel most likely to be the cautionary tale, but my hopes for my friends are high.
We reach into the branches on tiptoes, plucking apples from all heights, noticing names painted on little wooden signs. Arkansas Blacks, Jonathans, and Winesaps. We coo “that’s a good one” at every pick, rub the dirt onto our shirts, and eat them on the spot, hidden in a grid of trees, wandering through a golden afternoon. The orchard is vibrant and limitless, and we stay too long. We fill six plastic bags, one for each hand. Weighed down by apples, we sit on the ground in a three-point circle to weed out less attractive picks from the bounty.
Feeling the grass in her fingers, Ali picks a white clover. Its thin stem is curved over at the top. It looks like a question mark.
Back at her parents’ house, a colonial with high ceilings and stained glass windows, Meg pops Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily album into the stereo. We are consuming mostly female folk and alternative rock this autumn. We love listening to songs that our mothers vacuumed the house to when we were little: Bonnie Raitt, Rickie Lee Jones, Natalie Merchant. The opening notes of San Andreas Fault play and we sing-moan along, swaying and bending our knees to the beat. The surround sound echoes off the beige walls.
Meg pours three icy glasses of chardonnay from the big bottle left behind for us in the refrigerator. She opens the red checkered New Cookbook, then gathers bags of flour, salt, sugar, butter, and shortening. Tonight, we will bake a total of eight pies from scratch. Meg starts reading a recipe aloud, apron tied at her waist, hair swept up in a clip picked from a basket on the kitchen counter. Ali and I listen and nod, dangling our legs from high top kitchen stools and sipping our wine, impressions of women it might be nice to become someday.