First, gather the apples. After the neighbors move out, in the seclusion of nightfall, crawl with your little sister beneath a gap dug by their brown dog underneath the fence between their yard and yours. Shimmy on your belly like a snake. Once you are safely inside their abandoned homestead, reach up to take a large bowl your mother hands you over the wooden fence posts.
Don’t let the landlord’s family see you. Watch for his eyes from the window, binoculars at the ready. Work quickly and move with stillness. Pretend that you and your sister are spies gathering secrets. Check the apples as best you can in the dark for worms or rot. When the large bowl is filled, reach up to the top of the fence, balance on your tiptoes as your mother relieves you of the stolen apples.
Wash and clean the apples, throwing out the ones that are unusable. Breathe a sigh of relief when Mother says you’ve made a good haul. With a dull vegetable peeler, slice the bright red skin from the fruit flesh, occasionally holding the apples under running water to keep the sweet pulp from getting brown.
Ask to use a paring knife to cut the apples into bite-sized slices. Stick your thumbs in your armpits and pout when Mother says that you’re too small. Watch Mother cut through the fruit with expert speed. Next, climb up the stepladder to the kitchen counter to help Mother pile the apple slices into a waiting circle of pillowy pie dough, and drizzle the fruit with melted butter.
Coat the apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. Protest when the silver canister is taken out of your overzealous hands. Watch as Mother carefully lowers a top layer of dough like a blanket over the sugared apples. Use your small thumbs to crimp the edges of the upper and lower layers of dough. Place the pie in preheated 350-degree oven to bake for an hour.
Follow your mother’s instructions to sit quietly at the table with your little sister so you can have a talk as the pie bakes. Shake your head when Mother asks the two of you if you know why your former neighbors, a girl named Libby and her parents, moved away two weeks ago. Listen as Mother tells you that when you drop off the rent check, you won’t hand it to the landlord anymore, but to his wife or daughter.
Say no when she asks you and your sister if the landlord ever touched you. Say I don’t know what you mean when she asks if he had ever touched you, “you know, down there.”
When the kitchen timer dings, forget all about the pie.