Apples by Anna Jacobson
There's a knock at the door. Dad answers and comes away with a box of apples from a farmer in Stanthorpe, who is selling them door-to-door.
'What are we going to do with so many apples?' I say.
'Eat them,' he says.
The apples sit in their box for a week. On the weekend Mum finds a juicer that belonged to Nana and brings it out. She lets me put the apple pieces in the slot and press it down with a plastic canister, while the blades whirr away. The juice comes out the spout all frothy. We make our own mixtures of ginger and apple, pear and apple, strawberry and apple.
At school our teacher is talking about the importance of fruit in our diets.
Everyone is fidgeting at their desks and one girl sharpens her coloured pencils, collects the bits of lead that break off and places them in a special dish. So far there are about one hundred rainbow colours in that dish and I can't stop looking at it.
'Marco, what do you think?'
I lift up my head to see the teacher looking at me and quickly scan the mathematics problem on the blackboard.
'If Johnny has three apples, then Maria would have six.'
The teacher sighs and the class giggles.
'Yes Marco, we established that answer five minutes ago. I was asking what fruit you are thinking of bringing for your science experiment this Wednesday.'
The girl with the coloured pencil leads looks up.
'Maria would have six?'
This time the guffawing is louder and Wendy blushes a bright red, almost as red as the pencil she's holding.
'Marco and Wendy, you can both stay inside at lunch today for not listening in class. Everyone else you can go.'
I sit at my desk. I wonder what I will say to Mum when she arrives at the pickup bay. I will have to give her my pink slip to sign, which says I've been naughty in class. At least I'm here with Wendy. I look over at her desk and see her vigorously sharpening more of the pencils.
'What are you going to do with them?' I say, pointing at the coloured bits of lead.
She looks at me and shrugs her shoulders.
'It's a secret,' she says.
'Come on,' I say. 'I won't tell anyone.'
She looks at me. Her glasses are colourful too, like the rainbow marble I have at home.
'Promise not to tell?'
'Ok.' She takes off her glasses for a moment and pinches the bridge of her nose, looking much older than ten.
'It's for my mum,' she says. 'She's in hospital and bright things make her happy.'
'Oh,' I say. 'Do you want me to help?'
She pauses and puts her glasses back on.
I swell with pride at my new job and get to work on my own coloured pencils.
I have a variety pack of Derwents with a twenty-four-colour range, way better than her twelve generic colours. Soon her dish is looking much more colourful with deep vermillion, lemon cadmium and Prussian blue mixing in with her red and yellow and greens. The teacher comes back from her lunch break and sits while Wendy and I finish the extra maths problems set on the board. My stomach grumbles and the time passes slowly in silence.
On Thursday afternoon there's still half a box of apples left and Mum decides to make an apple cake. She peels the apples, cuts them into slices and puts them in a saucepan to cook with a little water. The smell of hot sweet apple wafts through the house. She makes the batter, gently spiced and brown with sugar. We spread out a tablecloth on the wooden table outside and sit on the patio. She drinks tea and I have a glass of cold milk. It's the second type of cake she's ever made, apart from banana cake.
'Wendy's mum is in hospital' I say.
'Poor Wendy,' she says.
'She's collecting brightly coloured objects for her and I'm helping.'
'You're a good boy, Marco,' she says and ruffles my hair.
On Friday Wendy isn't at school. I collect a few more coloured leads to give her during class and am late to hand in my story. My teacher, Mrs Rice, makes me finish the story during lunchtime. It's about a girl who waits for a rainy day so she can collect a rainbow once the sun comes out again. She doesn't want to follow it to the end and get the gold. All she wants is to collect the colours for her mother to make her better. Luckily we don't have to show the story to the class, otherwise they'd call me a sissy. Only the teacher looks at it. Very imaginative, she's written in the margin when she hands it back to me later that day. It's not imaginative. It's real.
By Sunday there's two apples left, rolling around the box. I take one for me and one for Wendy for my science experiment in case she's forgotten.
'She's coming home tomorrow,' Wendy says as we halve the apples.
'That's great,' I say, relieved.
'I'll still probably have to make my own lunches until she fully recovers,' she says.
I stare at her in awe.
'You make your own lunch?'
'Yeah. I have to.'
'Stop talking you two.' Mrs Rice descends upon us.
An angry feeling spreads from the bottom of my feet like a hot rash and makes me want to run.
'We were talking about something important,' I say.
Everyone stares and the teacher turns back to us and arches her eyebrow.
'What did you say?'
'You and your stupid rules. You have no idea what's going on.'
I run outside, sprint along the oval and out through the school gates. I've never done this before. Never wagged school. But I need to be on my own. Away from Mrs Rice, away from Wendy even.
I eat the other half of the apple that we didn't use for the experiment and sit under a gum tree on the side of the road, halfway home. I tear apart a brittle leaf and the bits fly off in the wind as a car blares past. I pretend I'm fishing, find a long twig and spear the leaves, one after another, until I have a fish kebab. No one's found me yet and I wonder where I can go. I can't go home, or Mum will get angry. I can't go back to school, it's too sad and there are too many rules. Instead I lie down and look at the clouds, the grass prickly against my back.
Up in the sky is a magic castle where no one gets sick or goes to hospital.
There are no colours, no rainbows and no people. I stare at the sun with my eyes open until they begin to water and I feel the wetness slide down my face and drip onto the grass.
'Alright there, son?'
There's an old man out walking his dog. I sit up and pat the dog, its fur soft against my hands, until I remember about stranger danger. I turn and run some more until a stitch scissors through my side. I reach the park near our house and climb on the swing that's made out of a tyre. I swing for a few minutes, watching the world rise and fall, when I see a figure rushing towards me that looks like Mum. I skid my feet against the ground and stop.
'Marco, thank god you're ok. The school rang me and told me you'd disappeared.'
She sits on the swing next to me and we glide back and forth for a little while. I'm surprised she knew where to find me.
'Is there anything you want to talk to me about?' she asks.
'Wendy's mum is coming home from hospital tomorrow.'
'That's great Marco.'
My hands tighten on the swing chain.
'I just don't want anything to happen to you,' I say in a rush.
'Silly boy,' she says. 'I'm the one who's meant to be worrying about you, not the other way around. Come on chickadee, lets head home.'
My hands loosen on the chain links and we walk back along the footpath to home. Magpies hop out of the way, cocking their heads to the side and a scrub turkey dashes through the bushes.
'What's for afternoon tea?' I ask.
'Please not apples,'
'It's not apples,' she says.
She unlocks the front door and I walk inside. The first thing I see is a box of oranges. I look at her, perplexed.
'Ask your father,' she says.
Copyright © 2014. Anna Jacobson