The Apple Stalk Game
A, B, C – three quick twists of the stalk with hardly any pressure as I make my way to the picnic benches outside the lunch hall with Holly and Trace. The early spring sunshine warms my face like a sudden smile, even as Holly’s words chill me: ‘Lorna’s sister said that a girl in her class got pregnant after she went to the skanky swimming pool by Asda. Turns out some guy had – you know – in the deep end and nobody knew ‘til after and the girl must’ve just swum in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
D, E, F – a bit more pressure as I twist now. Mum always takes me to that pool because it’s a pound cheaper than the one in the new sports complex. I count back the days to when I was last there, feeling sick as I try to piece together how I would explain something like that to my mum. I know I got my period two days ago, but still… I read about a girl in Bliss who carried on having periods and didn’t know she was pregnant until she gave birth in the toilet at McDonald’s.
G, H, I – longer twists now to start to sever the stalk, but careful not to break it just yet. ‘How would I know?’ Holly replies to something Trace has said, ‘but she stopped coming to school in the middle of the term, so what do you think that says?’ Holly raises an eyebrow and I make a mental note to practise doing that in front of the mirror. Holly’s mouth doesn’t go all twitchy when she does it.
J, K, L – three smooth twists, tugging harder. We walk past the tree where a yawn of boys is lounging, blazers off in a pool of sunlight. Marc has his shirt sleeves pushed up; I wonder how he has the hint of a tan already. He glances towards us, meeting my eye so that my face gets hot. I clamp my legs together as we sidle past, convinced my tampon is about to slide out and worm its way over to him.
M – a huge twist and tug so the stalk snaps off. My elbow slams into Holly’s side. ‘Ow!’ she yells, louder than she needs to, turning to frown at me, her skirt whipping out as she does, causing a wolf whistle from the tree boys. She brightens at that, turning to Trace, on her other side, so she’s facing the tree. Holly says, somehow louder still, ‘Sophie is so weird!’
I flick the apple stalk away, suddenly feeling like I understand why the swimming pool girl stopped showing up at school.
Katie Holloway writes tiny stories in the south of England. She is often tempted to uproot her family to go and live in a tree. Katie has received a DYCP grant from the Arts Council England, a nomination for the Pushcart prize, and the first prize in the 2023 Retreat West prize (flash fiction category). Katie tweets @KatieLHWrites