“Of Withered Apples” was published in Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy in July 1954. I read it in We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2. It can be found there on pages 249–256.
Lori is sitting on the couch and hears a tapping from outside on the window. She opens the window and a leaf blows in, wraps itself around her neck gently, and falls to her feet. She realizes she is wanted and needs to go out again. Lori tells her husband, Steve, that she is going out but is mostly ignored, as she is most of the time. Peter and Ed (her father-in-law) are “in the middle of business.” She promises this will be the last time she goes to visit the old abandoned farm up in the nearby hills. Ed tells Steve about some of the history of the farm and how the previous owners could not get the orchard growing there t bear much fruit. Steve asks her what she does up there, but she tells him she cannot explain it to him. She leaves and feels the leaf in her pocket digging into her.
Her heart racing, Lori walks toward the abandoned farm. After crossing a field she sees the grove of old trees. Only one was still living, struggling to survive despite years of neglect. She tells the tree that she has come after being summoned by the leaf. She tells the tree that she will not be able to come again because Steve does not like it. As she moves closer to hold the tree, its branches surround. She escapes the trees branches, reminding the tree that it cannot have her. As she walks away a small dried up apple falls to her feet. She takes and consumes it while preparing dinner for Steve.
In bed, Lori feels a sudden burst of pain from her stomach. The pain intensified and her screams wake up Steve. Ed comes into the room, unable to save her. The next day Doctor Blair completes his examination of Lori’s dead body. He believes it was appendicitis that killed her, but asks if she could have eaten anything strange before she died.
Half a year later, Steve is still feeling guilt over Lori’s death. Had they lived in the city, she could have lived. Ed tells him it has been long enough and he should forget it. They visit Lori’s grave and notice a nice young apple tree already showing fruit, despite it being only April. The red of the apples was the same as the red of Lori’s cheeks.
“Of Withered Apples” is the third story from Dick’s prolific 1953–1954 period about an adulterous woman having an affair with a non-human (and non-alien; the alien affair will come a bit later in “Human Is”). The other two stories in this vein are “Beyond the Door” (cuckoo clock) and “Out in the Garden” (duck). This may be the most elegantly written, mysterious, beautiful and touching of the three, but it does not put that much more on the table for analysis. Lori is living in a farm with her husband and his father. She is mostly neglected by the two men. They are slightly concerned by her odd behavior of going out at strange hours, but as long as she cooks dinner, they are indifferent. She is sexually frustrated, finding desire in the invitations of the tree (made with leaves, using the wind as messenger). Her condition is very similar to the women in “Beyond the Door” and “Out in the Garden.” Like “Out in the Garden” was see that the affair lead to the birth of a child. In this example, it is the apple tree that grows from her grave. This “pregnancy” was caused by consuming one of the withered apples grown by the last survivor of a neglected apple orchard.
In the novels, Dick will explore the broken marriage obsessively. The adulterous wife is a character he reuses often. In this trio of stories, Dick seems to be looking at the problem obliquely through the genre of low fantasy. It this because Dick could not face his anxieties about women yet? Unfortunately, I do not know much about his early efforts at mainstream fiction. The first of these mainstream novels to be published was Confessions of a Crap Artist, and that novel has adultery as a major theme. It seems he was taking on this question directly in some of his other early writings.
Audiobook reading of “Of Withered Apples.”