My InterFiction badge fades to dark and I find myself standing in an apple orchard. I make my way along the rows of trees, ducking my head to avoid low-hanging branches. The apples are not quite ripe, but from what I can see it looks like a good crop will be had this year. Up ahead, I spot Jenna, and approach.
Jenna stands before an apple tree that bends at an awkward angle. The tree digs into the ground with firm roots. Despite it’s bent status, it is a majestic tree. She is trailing her hands along its trunk, and a wistful smile plays upon her lips. She reaches her groping hands upward, fingering a jagged hole where a branch once perched. She lowers her head sadly.
I approach her and introduce myself, “Good afternoon. My name’s Jenelle, and I’m with the InterFiction Gazette …”
Jenna turns slowly, blinking in confusion. I take an involuntary step back as I notice the scars around Jenna’s eyes. “F-Forgive me. I didn’t mean to–”
“You are from where?” Jenna frowns and grips the sturdy stick she carries. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you were my sister.” She sighs ruefully. “She doesn’t think I know that she follows me.”
I clear my throat. “Um, I didn’t see anyone else around.”
Jenna laughs. “Oh, she’s here. Don’t you hear her picking apples? She always picks apples this time of year.” In the silence that follows, I hear muffled thumps that create a background rhythm to the music of the birds. I strain my eyes, and in the distance, I see a young woman gathering fruit.
“But, the apples aren’t quite ripe,” I say, a bit surprised.
Jenna nods. “Poppa loves green apple cider. Mirabel gathers the apples, and Reinhardt helps her to press them.”
Jenna shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “He’s a physician,” she says shortly. She raises her right hand toward her face then abruptly lowers it. “He’s kind and helps us. I get angry at him sometimes, but that’s only because he can’t help me to–” She blinks rapidly and turns back to the tree. “Where did you say you were from?”
“The Inter-Fiction Gazette. We love interviewing new people. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”
Jenna frowns. “I suppose not, but I’m not very news worthy.” She laughs. “Now, the boy I met last year? He’s much more–” She abruptly stops talking and turns back to the hump-backed tree. “Yes. I will answer your questions,” she says.
“Wonderful!” I grin. “Will you start out by telling me a little about yourself?”
Jenna nods. “I live near this orchard, about a stone’s throw away. But, I used to live in town. My father’s a merchant. We owned many lovely things.” She bows her head. “But, we had to leave our home after my mother’s death.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I reply earnestly. “May I ask if she was ill? D-Do you mind explaining about your–” She pauses.
“You can say it if you want,” Jenna says a bit sharply. “You want to know about my blindness.”
Jenelle clears her throat. “I-I didn’t mean to offend–”
“You didn’t,” Jenna says softly. “I don’t appreciate people being afraid to mention it. At least you didn’t cluck at me like the villagers do!” She laughs and turns back to her tree. “Ill-bred hens,” she whispers through clenched teeth. Softly, she says, “Our house caught fire, and my mother was killed. I was burned very badly. It was a fire that I cau–” She abruptly turns back to face me. “What is your next question?”
I bite my lip, deciding whether or not to follow up on that particular thread, but then decide to try a different tack. “What are some of your goals and dreams?”
Jenna’s taut features relax. “I always loved to read,” she murmurs. “I cannot do that now, but I would love to find a way to learn again. I’d love to somehow teach children how to read. And, I’d love to travel somewhere mysterious, somewhere where I’m known for more than my loss of sight. I’d like to meet the boy again, the one that Poppa claimed was a–” She sighs. “I’d just like to be seen as an ordinary person.”
I nod, wincing a little. “Are you certain you don’t mind answering these questions?”
Jenna raises her head and smiles. “I don’t,” she says. “It’s nice to talk to someone new.”
Jenna smiles broadly, the first self-assured smile of the meeting. “Floraine is a beautiful place,” she murmurs reflectively. “Especially in the spring. Mother used to say that the fragrance of spring is the fragrance of love. Tecoptra guides us and helps us. Poppa says that if it weren’t for Tecoptra, we’d be in worse shape than we are. We have Flower Masters and Flower Mistresses here. They care for plants and trees. Sometimes, flora can be a bit unruly. It’s alive here, you know.” She smiles. “Sometimes, I think this tree wants to speak to me,” she whispers conspiratorially. “But only Flower Masters or Mistresses can understand their language. There are Fauna Masters and Mistresses, too, but we don’t hear as much about them. Flower Masters have magic to deal with plants, but it is the only magic they possess. I have heard talk of enchanters and enchantresses, but they are very rare. As for daily life, we tend to our land. I help my sister Mirabel in the garden and with household chores around our cottage.” She laughs ruefully. “I remember the first time I had to iron a dress. I’d been used to servants doing that work. I burned both my hands.” She bites her lip. “Mirabel won’t let me near heat anymore.”
“Ouch. I’m a bit afraid of irons myself. I can’t imagine doing it if I couldn’t see what I was doing,” I exclaim. “What are some things you enjoy doing for fun?”
“Oh! I love climbing trees,” Jenna says. “This used to be my favorite tree to climb, but the boy I met that day broke the branch. He said he could make the tree let me go, and–” She sighs. “I love sledding on winter days, and I love helping Mirabel make peppermint drops.” She reaches into the folds of the frock she wears and withdraws two pieces of candy. She pops a piece into her mouth and proffers the second piece toward me. “They’re my favorite sweet. Would you like one?”
I take the candy, a bit hesitantly because sometimes fictional food just tastes downright weird, but as the burst of flavor hits my tongue, my skepticism falls away. “It’s delicious!”
Jenna smiles. “Do you have any more questions?”
I clear my throat. “I have one, but you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want too. If you could change anything about your life, what would it be and why?”
Jenna turns back to the tree and fingers its rough bark. “I need to get back to the cottage,” she says. “I need to help Mirabel start supper.” She turns around and trails the stick she carries along the ground. She begins to walk, the stick brushing the ground in front of her to help her avoid obstacles. “Thank you for talking with me.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” I say softly. “I know that was a stupid question. I would want to see again, too.”
Jenna whirls around, her scarred eyes wide with surprised anger. “That’s not what I want!” she says harshly. “I would change the day of the fire. I would fix it so that my mother would still be alive. I wouldn’t have killed her. And, I would help the boy that the villagers wounded. I would keep him safe, even if Poppa did say he was a beast.” She turns around and walks away from the tree. After a moment, she turns back around. “I’m sorry,” she says softly. “Please come back here sometime. It’s nice to talk to someone.” She smiles slightly. “But next time, let’s talk about you. I’d like that.” She raises her hand in a gesture of farewell and shuffles away.
I’m left with a sense of sadness — not pity! — this character has a strength I’m sure most of her friends and family cannot see, but there is a bittersweet tang to her story, kind of like the gentle aftertaste of the candy she shared with me, and I can sense that she has more trials to face before she gets her happily ever after. I hope she does get her happily ever after… I can’t wait to get back to my world and grab a copy of her story to find out!
If Jenna’s story intrigues you, you can read more about her in Blind Beauty and Other Tales of Redemption, a compilation of short stories by Meredith Leigh Burton. The book is available on Kindle and Paperback, and the Audiobook is coming soon!
Ms. Burton also has another Snow White retelling releasing next week — Oct. 25 — as part of the Magic Mirrors release. This novella, The Princess and the Invisible Apple Tree, currently available for pre-order for just 99 cents, is one I’ll be reviewing as part of the blog tour for the release, and I can already tell you that you DO NOT want to miss this one!
About the Author
Meredith Leigh Burton is a voracious devourer of fairy tales. She is a motivational speaker, writer and teacher. She attended the Tennessee School for the Blind and Middle Tennessee State University. She received a degree in English and theater. Meredith hopes to convey through her stories that those with differences can contribute much to the world. She resides in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Ms. Burton recently had an article about her story published in an online journal. In the article, she talks a little bit about the inspiration behind the apple orchard in this particular story, as well as her view and tips on writing descriptively. It is a great article and I highly recommend it!