(This is part 2 of this story; for part 1, click here)
For a while, I just drifted aimlessly. I eventually found myself in the heartwood, which I had not seen before. So far during my journey, I had stayed just under the bark in the living tissue where the sap flows. Now I went laterally, deeper, into the deadwood below. I wandered through the empty cells, the old dead from many seasons passed, now only shells, mere scaffolding and support for the living tree. There was a great deal of it, but little to see or find, and very dark. A long time passed, until I realized I was moving steadily upward.
I kept going, all the way to the top of the tree, returned to the living cambium, and then slipped into a leaf. Never had I seen such light; the whole place was infused with it, saturated, far beyond the dimness I had known before in the apple-stem, and unfathomably brighter than the deadwood of the trunk where I’d been so long lost. Here was an ocean of light, and I watched the chloroplasts in every cell swimming in it, making rapid circles, up and down, round and round. I learned of air, coming up from little holes in the leaf's lower surface. It made the place very spacious-feeling, more than anywhere else I’d been, and the openness was very relaxing.
Again came the uneasy sense of familiarity, a tip-of-the-tongue sort of feeling. There was a diluted sweetness here, which I’d been tasting all along, and I realized that it was here in the leaf, in all the leaves, that it was being produced. Yet it had been strongest in the apple where I had come from. Then I was struck by an epiphany, my mind rocked by the realization. This whole tree, every part, was there to make me! The leaves to make the sugars from light and air, the roots to gather the water and minerals, the trunk and branches to convey both and hold the whole thing up; it was all there so it could make my apple!
I cannot remember ever having felt such happiness. The relief of finally having my answer, the satisfaction of knowledge… it was indescribable. I shot back to my long-abandoned apple, giggling with sheer delight. I never stopped smiling, not for all the weeks it took for me to come fully into ripeness. I was a beauty to behold, glorious and red with joyful life. The masterpiece of the tree was I; me, the tree’s ultimate realization and purpose.
But then something terrible happened, incalculable in the horror it held for me. A wind picked up, a violent storm, and my whole tree whipped and thrashed. If I could have, I would have clung for dear life to my twig— but I fell. The apple-stem broke and I dropped to the ground beside the road. This was, I knew deep down, the beginning of the end. A series of events completely beyond my accounting had been set into motion.
I found myself being lifted, and rubbed clean of the dust and mud I’d gathered on the ground. The horror that followed I can hardly speak of. I was being eaten. If this was what the ripening had been all about, I wanted no part in it, and my despair was beyond telling. I retreated back to the core and closed myself up inside a seed, shaking with fear.
The end did not come; my deepest fears were not realized. I felt myself being thrown, sailing through the air, bouncing and tumbling and finally coming to a stop on a compost pile. I came out of the seed and beheld the devastation: nearly the entire apple, my highest pride and joy, was demolished, gone. So avid the man’s teeth had been in gnawing my beloved apple that several of the other seeds were missing, either fallen out or eaten. I wept and retreated again into the seed.
It was to be my sad fate to watch the mold come; the same mold with which I had felt a warm, if somewhat distant, sense of connection to that time down in the root. But now it was devouring the ruined remains of the apple, my apple, turning it into brown mush. In two weeks nothing but my seed remained. The seasons passed, grew colder, snows came and went. And then I died. I felt a cracking sensation, as if my whole body was tearing apart. There was a splash of light, and then nothing. I knew nothing more.