You know you ain’t done yet.
The voice floated up from that familiar place in Applejack’s chest that, over the last few weeks, had begun producing a lot of unfamiliar feelings. It never began as a voice—it always started as an aching feeling in her torso, under the breast, like her heart was leaning up against her rib cage, trying to make a bed out of bone. Each time the peculiar sensation came, she’d brush thoughts of it out of her mind like anypony—anypony who’s got something better to do than pay heed in regards to silly phantom feelings, anyway.
Just gettin’ tired, that’s all, Applejack would usually reason.
The sensation would thicken in response, as if it had heard Applejack’s logic and wanted to prove her wrong. It went from a little ache to a solid feeling that made the pony unconsciously prod at the area with a hoof every now and then. Prod, prod, prod—each time a little harder, because her head told her that if she could buck the apples out of a tree, she could knock bad feelings out of her chest. Analogy and association, like her ol’ friend Twilight always preached about.
Science and fancy Canterlot learning did no good for her, though; the feeling would intensify until it was all Applejack could think about, and she would end up walking around the farm like a mindless pony. Her duties were done, but not with the same gusto as she’d always performed. Attention was split unevenly between farm work and trying to get that darn ache out of her chest, and for each minute that passed without relief, the balance would dip further.
And then, when the voice started to come up from that achy spot, she would feel the whole weight of her attention fall right into the pit of her chest and add pressure to that odd, odd feeling.
A good filly’s work is never done, the voice continued. And you haven’t even begun yours! Get up, Applejack.
Tonight was a bad night for the voice to come. Indeed, she was lying down inside, her Stetson propped on the top of the couch, her body stretched comfortably along both cushions without a care. Applebloom was upstairs, Granny Smith was in bed, and Big Mac was out in the field, still, being on his lonesome. If she wanted to hog up the whole couch, she would darn well do it—and she would enjoy every second of the lazing. The day had been long, the workload had been mighty, and her body had been put to full use.
Applejack lifted her chin off of the foreleg rest and buried her nose in the crack between the rest and the cushion’s edge. She breathed deeply and sighed with gusto into the couch, trying to exhale her feelings. It was a foalish little thing to do, but it was an exercise that she had practiced all her life, and if anypony wanted to chide her on it, she’d say that acting like a foal was good for a pony’s health every once in awhile. After all, the work was done—
Is it, though? You know it’s not.
Applejack pushed her nose further into the material, hiding her face in the couch. Sweet-smelling locks of blonde mane cascaded around her head as she released the red ribbon tying them up with a free foreleg. She tossed her red tie over the edge of the couch blindly and burrowed just a bit deeper. How enjoyable, that simple feeling of being curled up in her own mane. Foalish, but comforting.
This is my resting time, now, you hear? she thought to the voice. Go away, or I’ll prod you silly.
That was always the way it went: the voice would come up, needle her about things left undone, and Applejack would threaten it. Sometimes it took longer to push it back down, and most days, it put up a fight, bugging her with all these questions that she did not have the energy to answer. In times she thought about the odd event—for even she had time for contemplation among the apple orchard—and considered that it was so stubborn because it was coming from inside her, and Applejack wore her obstinate attitude like a badge. But if it’s mine, she reasoned, I can control it.
After a few weeks of back-and-forth, it revealed itself to apparently not be hers; the voice would fight until it had nothing left to say, and then come back for more in times of rest. Control? She didn’t even know where it came from.
Up, up, up! called the voice. You’ve still got it in you!
“No,” mumbled Applejack. “No more.”
The achy feeling in her chest intensified and Applejack shoved a hoof against the spot. She pressed in with all her might, bruising the flesh slowly, trying to push that badness away. What was that, anyway? Her heart leaning against the rib cage? Just some aching muscles acting up? General soreness from all her work?
Heartsickness, the voice said. Because you know you’re not being honest with yourself. Work is to be done.
“I did the work,” sighed Applejack.
Those were chores you had to do. Now is time for work you need to do.
“The farm is all I have for work,” whispered Applejack.
You can’t lie to me, sugarcube. And you can’t lie to yourself, neither.
Applejack listened to the silence of the living room for a moment, her face still buried in the couch, her hoof still pressed up against that darn spot. If the voice was inside of it, maybe she could buck it silent?
Nope, it answered pleasantly. I’m here for the long haul.
Applejack scrunched up her nose and glared, feelings her eyelids squeeze shut with force. She lifted her face from the couch and flipped over onto her back. Both forelegs crossed over her chest—right over that spot—and she concentrated her glare on the ceiling.
Work is calling, the voice teased. You love work. Why aren’t you working?
“It’s not work.”
You’re right—it’s not work; it’s destiny. Responsibility. Honesty.
That last word was flung at her with such force that Applejack let her glare loosen. “Honesty, huh?” she muttered.
No word of a lie! You’re honest with everypony else, but when it’s you and yours, you just lie like a rug, Applejack. A dirty, lying rug.
“You take that back,” the pony hissed.
Sorry, sugar—I can’t lie, either!
Applejack closed her eyes. She breathed in deeply through her nose, focusing on the movement of air into her belly, swelling up her body. And then she held it for a moment.
Gonna let it go, now. Let it right go. Silly, silly notions going out with the wind.
The filly released, letting the air out more quickly than it had come in. She wasn’t that magical, not like the unicorns or some of the stranger earth ponies, but she could conjure up a visual. She did exactly that, too—that breath she let out took a long, red wisp with it, straight from the achy spot in her chest. Applejack imagined the spot lessening in intensity as the wisp was carried away. It was her body, her power, and her control. No more ache, no more voice; if she wanted something gone, she could just breathe it right on out.
The last of her held breath escaped, carrying the red tail of the wisp along with it.
I ain’t going nowhere, honey.
“Drat!” hissed Applejack.
The pony seized her hat from atop the couch and clutched it to her chest. Maybe if she forgot she had a body, she would stop feeling it. No body, no ache, no problem, no stupid voice.
I really don’t know what your problem is, the voice continued. Everypony’s off to their own devices, and the barn’s empty. Just a nice, clear loft, open for one in full moonlight. Wonderfully romantic, ain’t it?
“I don’t care, and I ain’t movin’.”
If you didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here. And you wouldn’t be hurting much, neither.
Applejack rolled her eyes and snorted. What was this, anyway? Some voodoo or weirdness a foal had put on her?
No, the voice declared. Guess again.
“I don’t like dumb games,” she said. “And this is getting’ downright ridiculous. Hay, it ain’t even a game—you’re just pesterin’ me, now!”
Maybe you’re pestering me. Maybe you’re pestering both of us.
“What are you? Who’s ‘us’?”
We are us.
“And who is we?”
You and me, honey. Applejack and Applejack.
“I am Applejack.”
And I’m Applejack, too, and I want to be heard!
The physical Applejack closed her eyes and sighed. She was resigning, feeling all that anger go, now. This was always the point in the conversation where it turned real weird, but it was the hour of night just before dawn. If she could put the voice to bed now, she could get some shuteye and be up for work tomorrow bright and early.
Chores, sugarcube. They’re chores—you’ve abandoned our work for more than awhile.
“I am a farm. Pony.”
Applejack felt a tremor in her chest, like that spot was having a spasm. Pressure began to build up behind both of her eyes and work its way toward the lids. She swallowed, trying to force that back and calm down the achy spot, too.
She was a farmpony. And that’s all she could ever hope to be.
“Nothing else,” she whispered. “I’m doing this one thing, and it’s all my family’s ever done, and it’s all I can do.”
Does it always have to be all-or-nothing?
Applejack felt her grip tighten on the edges of her Stetson. A weird feeling was in her throat, now, like a little ball blowing up. She swallowed again, but failed to push it down. “I won’t be made a fool, you know,” she said softly. “I’m good at farming, and lasso, and being Applejack from the Apple family in Apple Orchard. I buck apples and do farm work… that’s it.”
You don’t think you have opportunity to be more?
A long silence passed as the memory played over in her head. One night, alone in the loft, in that crown of moonlight. Nopony else around, nopony to listen in and ask questions or make comments. Leaning against a hay bale, jaw open, letting it free from deep inside and feeling—
Like a fool if I’d been caught, she thought instantly. Like a squirrel trying to swim in the lake with the fish.
Applejack turned her hips to the side and stared at her cutie mark. Yup, same ol’ apples; her position and purpose had not changed. Dream on, lil’ pony, but you ain’t moving on up.
That last bit was what got her—she bit her lower lip and scrunched her eyelids, feeling the tears welling up. No, not gonna cry.
Why is there shame in trying, Applejack? the voice pleaded.
“It’s not what I’m meant for!” she said. “I can’t get by on that! I can’t find pride in that! It’s—it’s—“
You’re scared, aren’t you?
“No… I’m reasonable. Realistic.”
What would you tell Applebloom? Or even another friend of yours?
“… To follow their heart.”
So why are you so different? You been lying to them all this time? Can’t even use your own advice? How honest is that, sugarcube?
Applejack felt the gates let go; pressure burst and tears were flowing freely from her eyes. She turned back over onto her stomach and pressed her face deep into the couch, hiding. That aching feeling in her chest was so prominent, now, so great and strong, and she recognized it at last. It was not unfamiliar.
Years ago, when she had been a filly, the achy spot had been with her. It had developed just a few weeks before she went to Manehattan to live with Aunt and Uncle Orange and showed up whenever she had her most private thoughts. In doing her work, she’d always felt right, but this… this was different. Apple-bucking, farming, selling for the Acres, doing all that farmpony work was so in her nature, but—
But this is in your heart. And it’s always been there. You keep bucking your heart with every tree you throw your hooves against, sweetie.
“If I had been meant for this, it would’ve shown up on my flank!” she cried into the cushion, smacking it with a hoof.
How do you know it still won’t?
Applejack chuckled without amusement and shook her head. “Cause I’m no filly fooling around with a potion tryin’ to make all her dreams come true,” she muttered. “You get one, and that’s what you get. I love my life and I wouldn’t trade it.”
Growth isn’t a trade, Applejack. You don’t replace one apple you’ve made with another if you’re a tree—you grow more, and then there’s more fruit for everypony.
“… What if I grow bad fruit? What if I don’t make fruit at all?”
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And if there’s nothing to gain, nothing was lost.
Applejack ran her hooves over her eyes and sniffed. She pressed the side of her face into the soft cushion and let the tears flow freely. That achy spot didn’t hurt so much, now; memories of the night in the hay loft were floating in her mind, making her heart sing.
“Is that why I’m hurting?” she whispered. “Is my heart all achy?”
As if you don’t know already. You don’t feed your body right, something’s gonna hurt. And you can’t always just keep using apples.
“… I don’t want to be made a fool. I’ve always been looked at as a work pony, and if I try this—“
Then shame on anypony who puts someone else down for trying to be a better pony! You’ll still be Applejack, still be on the farm working, best apples in the land and even better cider. Element of Honesty and all that magic most folks don’t get to be a part of, too. And if you try… you can be known for more.
“I’m scared, heart.”
That means you care. And caring is what makes it worthy of a try.
There was a long silence as Applejack remained on the couch, unsure and yet, leaning in one direction for release. She had been so stubborn for weeks, pushing away the desire to try again after being caught by Applebloom that night. If anypony heard her, if anypony knew…
You can’t find out if an apple’s any good until you bite it. And if you don’t share it around, you’ll never get a real opinion, neither.
“I’m no Sapphire Shores, you know.”
Ain’t saying you gotta be—you ought to just be Applejack. Maybe she’s a more diverse and talented pony than you realize. But if you only know Applejack the farmpony, then that’s all Applejack can ever be.
It was at that moment that the farmpony finally let out a breath that released the ache from her chest. She rose slowly from the couch, as if every movement were new for here. Then, she left the living room, the Stetson and her ribbon remaining behind.
Applejack walked out into the night and quietly made her way over to the barn. Three weeks ago, she had made this exact walk after hearing the Canterlot Choir that morning. Twilight had taken her, Fluttershy, and Rarity to go watch them, and their voices had been magical. “Aren’t they all so amazing?” Twilight had asked, eyes alight and grinning with awe.
They sure had been—so amazing that, after work in the field that day, Applejack had climbed into the barn’s hay loft and given it her own try, letting each shy note float out into the night.
Now, she sat in the hay loft again. It had been three weeks of struggling with a dream that she had held in her heart since she was a little filly. After Manehattan, she’d placed it away, filed in a spot in her heart where it couldn’t be found; her destiny was achieved as an Apple pony, and she would accept and love it. Singing had been forgotten.
Canterlot’s Choir had made her remember—and now, she was finally enough of a big girl to deal with the desire.
Applejack pushed open the doors to the hay loft window. The moon was nearly full in the late-summer sky, and it glowed down on her just as it had the first time. In fact—if she dared to believe—it was even brighter tonight. The farmpony smiled—a shy, almost hesitant smile.
Am I really going to do this?
The memory of the Choir’s notes came back to her and she shivered in ecstasy. Yes… ready or not, she was going to do this. And if she put in as much work in the hay loft as she did in the apple orchards, who knew?
Applejack could maybe... just maybe... be more than a simple farmpony.