‘The Apple Tree’ by Daphne du Maurier

Not a Christmas story, and it starts in spring, but it ends in winter, as retired City financier ‘Buzz’ (we never find out his real name) finds himself the victim of a strange old apple tree in his garden orchard, that seems to have taken on the vindictive personality of his dead wife, the equally long-suffering and insufferable Midge. It’s a fine predictable ghost story of sorts, and prickly and sad about a painfully stuck marriage, but it’s the later pages, with deep snowfall and freezing temperatures, that make this a perfect curl-up-by-the-fire winter’s story – if they didn’t show up quite how historical such things are. I remember whited-out fields and knee-deep drifts in the southern England of my childhood, but my own children only really know snow as something far less bountiful, rarely producing more than a few scraped-together snowballs. They’ve tobogganed, yes, but they’ve had to pick where to steer so as not to go straight through the snow to grass. So yes, a sad story is best for winter, but the saddest story of all is the story of how winter has changed in this country, in a single lifetime. 

First collected in The Apple Tree, Gollancz, 1952, which collection is now available as a Virago Modern Classic, retitled The Birds and Other Stories

Chosen by Jonathan Gibbs. Jonathan is the author of two novels, Randall and The Large Door, and a book-length poem written under lockdown in 2020 – and modelled on Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal – called Spring Journal (CB Editions). He teaches Creative Writing at City, University of London, and curates the A Personal Anthology project. You can read his full Personal Anthology and other seasonal contributions here.. 

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