Mum had a habit of eating the entirety of an apple. The peel, the fruit, the core; all the apple would disappear. The first time I saw her leave an apple core unchallenged, Henry had made a comment, a jibe trying to be a joke that didn’t quite pay off. Henry was always doing that – trying to challenge my mother, to unsettle her. But in his passive aggressive cunning, he didn’t notice the way her eyes glazed over, and how, like hitting restart on a computer, she’d shut down for a short time before putting her face of normality back on and delivering a similarly sharp retort that snapped his neck to the ground with embarrassment. Mum was always doing that – trying to put him in his place, pushing him out of our circle.
When I was young, we never had apples in the house. Dad was severely allergic, if he even so much as smelt one growing on a neighbourhood tree, his throat would start to swell up. It left him incapable of going to the supermarket and it meant that I’ve never tried one just in case. I remember when he would lift me up onto his hip as a small child I would poke his neck, pushing against the bump that stuck out of him from the inside. Feeling its edge filled me with worry that it was hurting him, like he was permanently choking on the corner of a sharp crisp.
He called it his Adam’s apple which I found odd because Father Roberts had taught us that Adam started the world, but that the apple had been part of the Fall. How could the start and the end both be an apple? And how could it be in my Dad’s throat? And how could he could be allergic to something that was always inside him? I used to have nightmares of him choking on the apple inside his throat. I’d imagine the Devil one day deciding he wanted his apple back and flying down inside of Dad’s throat to steal it.
The day Dad died Mum baked an apple pie. I opened her front door to the warming smell of apples baked with cinnamon and raisins wafting from the kitchen. The sweet softness hit me like a tonne of bricks, cutting short my shout of hello. One breath told me Dad had died and that apples weren’t a danger anymore. I followed the sounds of the radio and a faint singing to find Mum standing over a saucepan making a custard, wooden spoon stirring the egg mixture in one hand, green apple in the other. The crunching of the juicy Granny Smith rhythmically marked the passing of time and with each bite Mum moved one step further away from the man lying dead in her bed.
“Hi love.” A lump in my throat tried to block the rage bellowing up from my stomach that wanted to lash out at her. My head tried to reason with her actions, passing them off as shock. What had happened obviously hadn’t sunk in yet. Dad had been ill for months. We all knew this day was coming soon enough. It could have been any day. She was clearly in shock, her mind dislodged by the fact her years of waiting had come to an end. She wasn’t thinking straight.
“I thought I’d make an apple pie; I’ve always wanted to bake my own. It’ll be done in a sec if you want to stay for a slice?”
I felt myself nod.
“Do you want to pop the kettle on? Be nice with a cup of tea won’t it?”
My hands busied themselves with mugs and teaspoons, pouring water and adding small splashes of milk to each brew. Following Mum’s directions, I took the hot teas shakily through to the conservatory and sat myself down on one of the armchairs. A few minutes later, Mum came in and set the pie in the centre of the table. She’d baked it in a big, cream coloured ceramic dish that I’d never seen before. A pastry lattice adorned the top, apple filling bulging through the buttery windows. She scooped out two portions of the pie, drowning each in a large volume of custard, and sat herself down opposite me. As she swallowed the first spoonful, I watched the muscles in her throat move the food down past the point where Dad’s Adam’s apple would have been. My spine shivered.
She finished her portion before I’d even picked up my spoon and looked at me like I was a child who had left the greens untouched on their dinner plate.
“You okay El? Do you not like it?” she questioned.
“Don’t eat apples Mum,” I mumbled. She furrowed her eyebrows so I said it again, “I don’t eat apples Mum, I might be allergic.” I clipped the last words, afraid the lump in my throat might break my voice mid-sentence.
“Oh,” she sighed, “oh well, more for me then,” and she took my bowl in her hands, finishing off another slice with decisive determination. No thought of Dad flashed in her eyes, it was as if, now gone, Dad had never been here at all. We didn’t talk as she ate; her swallowing and self-satisfaction were the only sounds being made in the whole house.
The emptiness that rode over me, trampling my spirit into smaller and smaller pieces, seemed to lift Mum up. An hour later and the whole pie was gone. The dish empty, only the lingering smell of stewed spiced apples hinted at what the dish had once contained.
The day Mum died Henry baked an apple pie. He saw my mother’s dead body in my eyes as soon I opened the front door. He walked towards me, reaching out a consoling arm, a shoulder to cry on. He offered me anything, anything he could do to help. I asked for pie. While he baked, I ran a bath and let the soothing lavender tones of the bubbles comfort me in my new grief. I got into my dressing gown rosy pink with warmth, cut myself a portion of pie, and waited for what might happen.
By Emily Walden