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'Spirit of the Orchard' at Tring Apple Day - a short story

‘SPIRIT OF THE ORCHARD’, TRING APPLE DAY by Andie Phillips - A short story

She wrote the Mummers Play and agreed to get involved, to be supportive of Ezra, who had bouts of depression, though not nearly as seriously as David, her husband, who was now housebound and had been very low since at least Christmas. She was his tedious, dutiful carer, day in, day out. The medication wasn’t doing anything, except keep him slow and withdrawn. If we were to go mumping with Ezra, she wanted some control. Ezra’s childish exuberance, often expressed in filthy sailor songs, were OK when he was out with Neil on a Sea Dogges mission, only he’d got us to agree to do the Tring Apple Fayre, and she needed to impress Martin, the organiser, who was an old friend of David’s from Uni. When she wrote it, she envisaged me playing the Spirit of the Orchard, and herself as Farmer: Ezra was obviously Scab Mould. She was mildly surprised when I opted for the Farmer’s part, but pleased to have only a few words to learn. The brilliant Elaine (I mooch in her shadow) was a wonderful gallumpher in.

We had a run through, and practised the fight scene, in small clearing in a back orchard, and she shooed away all those who stopped, curious to watch, on their way to viewing the ‘living hedge display’ in the far field. We were rehearsing, and they would see it later. She had an idea how Scab Mould could swing his staff around for a final blow at the Farmer, but then slow mo, and strike the Spirit of the Orchard down dead. It was a fresh, sunny October morning and the grass was thick with dew, so she didn’t want to lie in the damp grass for the ‘dead and doctor’ scene just then, but would do in the performance.

Just after midday, they called an audience, and she watched me stride around, proclaiming the opening scene in rhyming couplets:

‘I’ve an orchard with apples so juicy and sweet,

They’re biting and sharp and delicious to eat’. She enters the play, an orchard sprite, ‘blithely tripping tree to tree’, my 50 something friend, green makeup on her bemusing face, trailing a floaty pale orange cloak, which had been a table cover from her daughter’s wedding. She holds the scene as I finish my lines and exit. Ezra, thick and sturdy, booms out his entrance speech, and she stands, centre stage, knees knocking in fear and mock horror. This is the best fun there is. He chases her and grabs her, powerful presence, pulling her in tight. This squeezing closeness. Stronger and different to our usual welcoming and goodbye hugs. But the Farmer will come and fight him off her. Elaine watches, as we replay the clashing of sticks and chasing around, until the final swing, slow mo, and her fall. On the grass. On her front. A wise move. I wouldn’t want Ezra working his devious incantations at my breasts either.

 

‘Oh get on with it’, she calls from dead, interrupting the Farmer’s ‘woe to the apple presses’ etc speech, and I call for a Doctor, in good mumming tradition. Now, with a black, leather, long nose mask, returns Ezra, his ‘Frarnch axarn’ claiming skills and potions to cure her, testimonies from skeletal clients and a lewd look in his eye. He asks her what’s wrong. ‘I’m dead’ she calls. ‘Dead where?’ He squeezes and presses her shoulders, neck, arms, firmly, gently, soft hypnotic voice over her. He unties his red neck scarf, lays it over her head and neck, fingers lightly just touching, stroking, in the air above, ‘Dead here?’. He moves it down her back and places it over her bottom. Again, mesmeric fingers raking the air, ‘Dead here?’ She doesn’t move. ‘I can cure you’, and he moves in closer, his body almost over hers. The audience has closed in, spellbound, wondering.

Of course, this is where the Farmer intervenes, accuses him of just being a quack, and chases him off and the Spirit is returned to life by magic intervention of the children in the crowd. Elaine has written the final couplets for the Farmer to wish everyone a year’s success, and we take our bows. She had written another brilliant play, just 10 minutes performance, and we are all pleased with ourselves. Martin has provided a small hospitality tent and offers us refreshment; we get our tankards and Elaine and I sit and sip the sweet pungency of his home-made apple wine. Ezra has beer. The sun is shining. It is Apple Day in Tring. She has conjured the Spirit of the Orchard. Elaine is happy.

 

Glossary:

Mummers Play: traditional English street theatre performance

Mumping: performing mummers plays

slow mo: slow motion

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