Five women were picking plums from the ground. Four were doing the actual work. They were carrying swollen bags of fruit, bent over to pile more on top. One, presumably the hardest worker, had already abandoned her bag and was continuing to catch the remaining morsels in her apron. Two others had wandered off in the distance as the plums became harder and harder to find. The fourth was grabbing the last few in the foreground, when she happened upon a sullen, black rock.
The fifth woman was standing with a platter in the center of it all. She was dressed differently than the rest. Her apron was white, and where the others wore a red over-coat, she bore no such garment. Her eyes darted between the women, but returned to the girl standing in the foreground. Her face was a mix of contempt and anguish, as if the girl had done something to wrong her that she couldn’t speak of in front of the rest of the women.
The platter she carried was a small, black platter, perhaps of well-polished, painted wood, or porcelain. It contained plums that looked similar to what the other women were picking, yet they appeared to be the deep color of overripe fruit and, perhaps, were for reference only.
I liked to think, as I passed by, that she was the headmaster’s wife. She was angry at this girl for having slept with the master, and had taken her anger out on her group of maids as a whole. In the heat of day, she had forced them to pick bags and bags of fruit—so many that they had run out of the massive bags, and yet still she made them relentlessly continue. It looked as though they had picked the orchard nearly clean, too. I think they would have kept picking too, had things not changed as I walked out of view.
A sharp cry echoed from behind me, followed by the soft thumps of a dozen or so fruit. I heard footsteps rushing through the woods, then a heavy thud of a rock against something. The footsteps stopped. Two, three, four more times the rock came down, and with each thud emerged a sickening crunch.
When I finally decided to turn back, the grove had been emptied. No bags were anywhere to be seen, nor any women, though there were two patches of plums. The first was far in the distance, where the two women had gone off in search of more. It appeared they had dropped a small handful from their bags as they left, which had rolled harmlessly for a few feet before stopping. The second patch was less fortunate. A dozen plums, much deeper purple, had smashed onto the ground; splattering across the floor. The pulp and juice seeped from beneath the little heads, creating a pool of matter that mixed in with the dirt as they rotted.
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