It started off like any other school day. I was playing a game as I walked to school in the morning, bouncing my ball three times then throwing it up in the air three times and catching it, which demanded all my attention, when not only the ball came down but also an apple. I was passing under an overhanging branch of an apple tree, and the ball must have knocked the apple off its twig. I caught them both, to my own great astonishment, and looked round to see if anyone else had witnessed my amazing accomplishment. Nobody was there.
“Well,” I thought, “this must be my prize for being so clever at catching!” (I didn’t yet know the word ‘dexterity’) so I put the apple in my pocket and continued on my way. At break, I remembered the apple and fished it out of my pocket. Angela, sitting beside me, studied it intently.
“Where did you get that nice big apple?” she asked.
I explained how it had leapt into my hand out of nowhere.
“That’s the Vicar’s apple tree,” she informed me. I nodded. I knew that. Everybody knew that.
“You stole it from the Vicar.”
“No, I didn’t, It fell off into my hand.”
“You stole it from the Vicar, and that’s like stealing from God. You’ll go to hell.”
With that, she turned on her heel and left me.
I gaped after her receding back, and then at the apple, rosy and ripe in my hand, ready and willing for me to take a bite out of it.
Angela’s right, I thought. That is the Vicar’s apple tree, and so this really is his apple. If I eat this, I’ll be like Adam and Eve, and … well, we know what became of them, eating God’s apples.
I put the apple into my school bag where it glowered invisibly at me all day. At home time I looked at it again and knew what I had to do.
My steps slowed as I neared the Vicarage and my heart beat faster. I walked up the garden path and rang the bell. I waited. Nothing happened. Should I just leave? No, I must be brave. I rang again and then I heard steps inside. The door opened and there he stood, looking down at me. The Vicar.
“Hello, what brings you here?”
“Please sir,” I began, not quite sure how to address the man who represented God on earth, but certain that he was no less important than my teacher, who was always Sir. “This is your apple. I’ve brought it back.”
His eyes rested on the apple in my outstretched hand, then on my equally red and shiny face and he smiled.
“Come inside and explain yourself,” he said.
If fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, fear of the Vicar isn’t far behind. I didn’t dare refuse. I followed him into his study and he gestured towards an armchair.
“Now then, sit down and tell me all about it.”
“This is your apple, sir, and I don’t want to go to hell.”
The Vicar’s eyebrows reached for the sky.
“Why do you think you might go to hell?” he asked gently.
“Like Adam and Eve, sir. They listened to the serpent and ate the apple and God was angry.”
“Aha,” he said, “and you think that if you eat an apple you’ll make God angry too?”
I could feel tears beginning to burn the back of my eyes, and the corners of my mouth turning down. Of course I didn’t want to make God angry. I gulped.
“It’s YOUR apple, sir,” I told him. “It fell off your tree and I caught it. I was going to eat it but Angela said I stole it from you and that’s the same as stealing from God. I didn’t mean to steal it, sir, honestly. But Angela …” I choked on the words that signified my damnation and blinked hard to stop the tears that were welling up.
The Vicar nodded.
“I see. It fell off the tree into your hand?”
“I caught my ball with one hand and the apple with the other.” I couldn’t help boasting of my feat.
“Hmm. So did the ball make the apple come down?”
My turn to nod.
“Did you throw your ball up into the tree on purpose to make the apple fall?”
“NO!” I exclaimed indignantly. “I didn’t even see the tree.”
The Vicar looked at me with a very serious expression on his face, preparing the theological explanation that the situation demanded.
“Well, as I see it you didn’t steal the apple. If you didn’t even see the tree, how could you know that the ball would knock an apple out of it? So your intention was honest. Then, secondly, the apple fell all by itself – or maybe even God made it fall – just exactly at the moment you were about to catch your ball. That really was very adroit, by the way, to catch both your ball and the apple. So in a way, the tree gave you the apple. Or, if you like, God did. So I would say that it’s actually YOUR apple.”
“But it’s your apple tree, sir,” I protested.
“Yes, that’s true. But were you on my side of the wall, in my garden?”
“Oh no, sir. I was outside on the pavement.”
The Vicar smiled at me again.
“You see, that’s a public place, so if an apple falls outside my garden in a public place, it’s public property. That means anybody who wants it can have it.”
“You mean finders keepers?”
“Absolutely. You aren’t a thief and I see no reason why you should be going to hell. Please explain that to Angela, too. Now, shall we see if there are any more good apples lying around under the tree? Windfalls can be just as good as the apples you pick, you know.”
He led me out through the back door into the garden of the Vicarage and we walked to the little orchard. There were plenty of apples lying about on the ground, freshly fallen and not at all bruised or worm eaten. He handed me a carrier bag.
“Take as many as you like, and tell your mother they’re a present to you from God, a reward for being honest. I hope you enjoy them.”
He patted me on the head – which I hated – with a blessing and went back into the house. I filled the bag and took the apples home to Mum, who was beginning to wonder why I was so late home from scholl.
Perhaps those apples were also blessed: it was the best apple pie I had ever eaten in my life.