By Tim Wilson
My mother always makes sure I’ve packed an apple before I leave home. Always red, always firm and juicy its my link to my safe place of comfort, a place where she is busy with her daily tasks, preparing those treats and the familiar smell of her food. It’s my reminder that I have a place to go back to after school, somebody waiting for me. The smell of her cooking wafting down the street, the smell of home. No matter who attempts her recipes, its never the same. My mother with her portly frame and rosey smiling face, always happy and interested, always makes sure I have my apple.
The apple is on the table but I can’t reach it. Its shiny surface dances with light, reflecting a hive of activity behind me. I feel so tired, my arms have weights attached to them as if they are being pulled down onto my lap, I’ve little coordination with my movements feeling second-hand, somehow delegated to a 3rd person on my behalf and tiredness creeps over me like the way mother pulls the blanket over me at bedtime.
I’m comfortable, my chair is firm but well padded and it won’t hurt just to shut my eyes for a few minutes. I’m sure I’ll be woken when the bell rings, just a small snooze, closing my eyes and letting my head nod forward into the reassuring oblivion of sleep.
Have I been asleep? How long? It’s difficult to tell. The apple still mocks me. It’s mine, it’s delicious but I can’t have it. There’s still a flurry of activity behind me, if I could just have that apple.
I stretch out my arm, am I close to it? there’s something wrong with the light here, I can’t judge the distance. I lean a little forward, it must be close now, it’s skin is dulling as I’m blocking the light reflecting on it.
One of the dinner ladies passes in front of me and gives me a smile suggesting she knows far more than she should. Her white apron is spotless, she’s got cleaning products sticking out of a front pocket. Why isn’t she helping me? Where are the teachers? It must be nearly the end of the lunch hour. Why won’t a dinner lady help me? I want my apple.
I’m definitely closer now, I’ve managed to lean my tired body a little more forwards I can almost feel the smooth skin and firm flesh. That subconscious signal that says you are close is telling me as much. A little more leaning forward, its painful. My back hurts, my shoulder hurts. I think I fell over earlier today in the playground, I seem to have a memory of that although I seemed older then, maybe 15 or 16. How old am I now? 11 I think. I’m not overly concerned, I’ll have the apple first.
I move a little closer but something is wrong. I feel I’m falling, the room is a swirling mess of colour and unfocused objects, I’m falling somewhere. An eternity passes while I wait for the impact. Will I fall forever? Where am I now? Has the dinner bell gone yet? How old am I?
A reassuring yet painful impact tells me I am not falling forever and I can see the metal legs of the table. My face hurts but its soothed by the cold tiles on the floor. Down here I can smell clean. Disinfectant and bleach, it’s not unpleasant. I see the legs of other school children moving around me, unconcerned by my plight. They hobble around slowly, maybe they fell over at playtime too?
I wonder if my apple is still on the desk. I remember when Tommy from Wheeler Street stole it once. I cried all evening, but mother explained that Tommy was poor after his Dad had left one day to go to work and never come home. She said that Tommy’s mother was having to work at a pub just to feed his brothers and sisters. what sort of mother works in a pub? I don’t think Tommy is here today though.
There’s hands over my body, firm but sure hands that are supporting me and lifting at the same time. The hands are steady and strong, I feel safe yet restrained I’m being taken from the dining room. I ask them for my Apple and yet they don’t seem to hear me, they are talking about someone else.
‘How old is he supposed to be?’
‘93 next week.’
The voices sound matter of fact and uninterested.
I try to struggle free, I don’t want to leave without my apple, but strength beyond mine prevents me from my freedom. I kick my legs to try and gain purchase, knocking over a display board.
“Twilight Retirement Home” it says in friendly letters, clattering angrily as it skids across the floor.
I just want to collect my apple and then I’ll go with them.
As we leave the dining area I see an old man pick up my apple and take a bite out of it.
I want to go home, I’m going to tell my mother.