He called her late at night. He said: I got your kid. You want it back, you pay two hundred dollars. She sounded desperate. The kid had been missing all day. She accepted and he put the phone down. He thought her voice was beautiful and lonely.
The kid sat in the back room with black tape over its eyes. He was wrapped in a blanket. It was winter and his house was cold. The walls, up in the corners, green-freckled damp. He needed the money because he had his own kids in the next room. His wife had died and he was no good at holding down jobs.
The kid was crying so he hit it. Smacked it right upside its face. The kid fell down to the mattress and cried some more. Its face purpled. Looked like a berry or a spider’s abdomen. He didn’t know what to do so he just shut the door. He turned on the television and ramped up the volume.
He got hungry. He went to the fridge and there was nothing in there except a cheese wheel and a carton of chopped tomatoes. And then he heard his own kids crying too.
His house was just noises. Crying and hushed talking. So he left the house, went for a walk. The midnight air was fresh. His lungs liked the air. He went to the local bar. The bar was just a small hut with a neon sign reflecting green on the asphalt. He pushed open the door, took a seat, arm on the bar and asked for a beer. As he drank his beer, he saw his reflection in the mirror and saw a giant head, hollowed out.
He waved at his own reflection. Inside, all the locals sat around the bar in silence, looking into the mirror too.
He got turned on by the beer in his system. He looked around for a woman. He found one. She looked like a bag of nails. She was thin. She had a dirt-brown train track in her arms. He leaned over to her. He asked her if she wanted a drink.
Her head dropped off and rolled away like tumbleweed.
He laughed it off. Too much drink, he said. So he went home. Walked all the way back, stumbling, holding onto walls. He pushed open his front door and went to check on the kid.
The kid wasn’t a kid anymore. The kid was an apple tree and his branches were spread out and scraping at the ceiling. The roots were coming up through the floorboards. The leaves had started turning brown.
He laughed it off and said this was the drink talking. But after a long sleep, he woke up and the kid was still an apple tree. He started to sweat. He drove his kids to school, went back home and called the mother again.
I got the money, she said. He said does the kid have a history of illnesses. Why, she said. He said: no reason, just give me the money. Put it in a briefcase, leave it at the station at two o’clock and walk away. Else I kill the kid. I’ll chop him up. She said I don’t have a briefcase. He said any bag would do.
Phone down. The kid’s branches were starting to anchor downwards. The roots were looking dry. So he filled up a bucket with water and poured it down the floorboards, into the darkness.
The branches became erect and several apples grew out of the tree. An apple dropped on his head. He picked it up and ate it. The apple leaked hot, iron blood all over his chin and hands.
He threw the apple down into the pit in the floorboards.
The apples began to turn brown too. He picked up his kids from school. He had no money to feed them. His one kid, the boy, he started crying. He looked down at the boy and the boy was just a head with a hole in it. Wanting. The girl was silent and white.
He needed the money.
He told his own kids to start filling up the buckets with water. They did. They followed him into the spare room and he said chuck it down that hole there. They did. They watered the apple tree and apples started growing.
He and his kids, they survived on apples for days on end. They ate the apples and blood ran into the floorboards. Then he called the mother. It was a risk but he needed to show her what’d happened.
She turned up an hour later with two hundred dollars. She said here’s the money. Where’s my baby?
He showed her to the spare room. There he is. Your boy’s an apple tree, ma’am. And I can’t get him out of here.
She leant down and started to pick at the roots with her hands. He’s dug in there good alright. Yes, he said. He is. And I can’t be hacking at your boy with no axe, you understand? She nodded. He explained why he did what he did. Said he had two kids of his own to feed. She understood.
She moved in a day later. The man and the woman started to look after the children together. The apple tree remained in the spare room for years. They celebrated the apple tree’s birthday every year. They fed it cake. They bought it presents. He had father-tree talks with it.
One evening, the man and woman were asleep. He left the windows open. The midnight air was good for his lungs. He heard the trees outside. They cried in silence. He heard a storm brewing, somewhere far off. He heard the trees move in the wind and smiled. He got up and stared out the window. She moved up behind him.
She made a comment about the apple orchard, just behind the house. He held her hand tightly and they listened to all those apple trees.
Oliver Zarandi’s recent publications include Hobart, Electric Cereal, the newer York and the Quietus. Follow him on @zarandi.