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Fiction

Bitter/Sweet – By Georgia Cook

You read a story once– you must have been ten or twelve at the time, far too young, and you do not remember the story’s name– about a girl imprisoned in a high walled garden, forced to tend to plants and flowers of such unimaginable poison that eventually she becomes poisonous herself; unable to touch the ones she loves.  

You tell the gardener this as you walk through the orchard together. She laughs; asks if this is all you know about horticulture. You feel yourself blush. 

The gardener is unknown to you. In fact, you hadn’t even realised the house had a gardener until this evening. She is younger than you expected, with dirt on her cheeks and patches on her overalls. There are sharp little laughter lines around her eyes, and her hair shines like glass in the setting sunlight; shines like the reflection of rubies.  

She walks like it is she, not your friend, who owns the house on the hill, and quite possibly this is true. Quite possibly this is true of all gardeners.  

She is very beautiful, you think.  

She tells you there had been an orchard on this spot since the middle ages. She tells you that the trees here are older than the house, older than the countryside, older even than her.  

She smiles as she says this last part, but it is a smile both prideful and wistful.  

“Throughout history,” she murmurs, her fingers caressing the rough bark of the nearest apple tree, “there have been apples to tempt us. Apples created to shame us, or to unlock our deepest desires. We are told both that we do not deserve them; that to eat is both gluttony and worship. To tend an apple tree is to walk in the footsteps of Eve, of Idun, the Hesperides, Persephone…” 

She plucks an apple from the nearest branch and holds it out to you. Although it is an imperfect apple– pitted and warped as apples often are– it glows in her hand like burnished gold.  

“What do you think happens,” asks the gardener, softly, “If you tend to such a fruit for too long?” 

The apple smells of summer and wine. It smells of apple orchards and winding walks through rustling grass. It smells of freedom and temptation and the kiss of a gardener whose name you no longer know, and I have long forgotten to ask.  

It tastes of nothing so terrible as longing.  

Is it truly temptation, you think, if you embrace it gladly?  

Is it truly temptation, if you wanted it all along?  

Georgia Cook is an illustrator and writer from London. She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, Staunch Book Prize and Reflex Fiction Award, among others, and published as both an author and reviewer. She can be found on twitter at @georgiacooked and on her website at https://www.georgiacookwriter.com/

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