The Apple
Sharon Ashton

First published 2008 in Through The Writer’s Eye
(University of Birmingham)

He sees it from Green Park tube entrance, a golden ball in a row of waxy,red apples. He thinks it must be a reflection of the morning sun. Can anyone else see it? He wants to ask someone ‘Do you see it? Do you?’ But they might think he’s mad. Perhaps he is.

Turning to pass with thousands of other commuters into the underground, he looks back. It’s still there, burning itself onto his retinas; stringing him back out and across Piccadilly like a puppet .

The fruit-seller waits, grinning through rotten teeth.

‘You want apple, yes?


‘Help keep the doc away, yes?

And before he can point to it, the summoning apple is picked out and placed carefully into a brown paper bag.

‘For you, just one pound,’ says the fruit-seller, twisting the bag with one practised flick of his wrists.

‘Be careful how you give it - to right lady, yes?’

‘You don’t think I should eat it?’

‘You joke, yes?’

‘Yes,’ he says.


The underground gods smile on him; he finds a seat straight away. Placing the bag on top of his briefcase, he carefully untwists the corners and teases the paper down to reveal the apple. Silvery now under the fluorescent lighting, it yields a teasing-sweet perfume in the subterranean heat.

He caresses it, moving his forefinger from dimpled base to slender stalk and recalls someone once telling him that the curved os of a womb can be seen in both ends of the fruit.
A woman sits down beside him and pulls a child onto her lap. The child points timidly at the apple with a finger held close to its fleece-wrapped chest.

‘Tha,’ says the child.

‘Apple,’ says the woman, ‘apple.’

The child grows bolder, stretching its whole hand towards the apple.

‘Tha, tha.

‘Apple. Charlie say “apple” ’

‘Tha!’ It shouts, rocking its whole body towards the fruit.

‘Charlie loves apples, don’t you Charlie?’ The woman laughs, making little effort to restrain the child.

‘Perhaps the nice man will let you hold his apple?’

He notices the child’s grubby fingers, and snot crusting in the channels beneath its nose. He imagines it dribbling over the apple, biting its firm, white flesh with its little white teeth. He twists the apple back into its bag and stands up.

‘This is my stop,’ he lies.


He emerges at Chancery Lane into late September sunshine dissolved in a water-blue sky. The light, uncertain of itself, bears no guarantee of warmth. There are leaves everywhere; some yellow-fringed and papery, others still green and supple, torn down prematurely by double-deckers. It’s 8am, and the traffic is grid-locked; it will be quicker to walk to the city. He sets off, kicking through the leaves.

Minutes later he crosses to the south side of Holborn, lured by Hackett’s window. He sees his own face reflected there, and those of commuters trapped behind him in the windows of a stationary 242.

Inside a shop assistant unpacks boxes of cellophane-wrapped shirts. She waves at him, and he realises it’s the pretty one, the one he thinks he will ask out whenever he buys a shirts here; the one who looks like fun.

He could do with some fun. Work has been too serious lately. It’s usually at this point in a job that he bails out, changes course, changes job. But his father has warned him; this is his last chance. No more string-pulling; no more favours called in. So at the end of the month he has to make his presentation to the chairman; identify how the company might expand. He’s been asking himself for weeks how the hell he’s supposed to know that.

Gerry would know. Gerry, his older, brilliant, Cambridge-Blue, apple of his father’s eye, happily married, father of a son to carry on the family business, brother. One call and he’d help - probably write the whole bloody thing - and he wouldn’t tell a soul, not Gerry. He loves Gerry, but he won’t call him - not this time - because this time something amazing is going to happen. He doesn’t know what, but as he walks along, swinging the apple in its bag, he knows something amazing is going happen.


Outside the Company building, he feels his usual reluctance to be confined inside its rectangles of glass and steel. Instead he walks round to the rear, where there’s a small, tree-lined garden. It’s deserted. He finds a seat and places the apple beside him on its crumpled bed of paper. It is dappled now, by light breaking through London plane trees. Above him the sky becomes a sea for him to sail.

‘Hoping to keep the doctor away with your apple, Alex?’

Startled, he looks ahead to see Alice, tall and slender, blocking out the sunlight and rendering the apple blood-red .

‘Morning, Alice. It’s some apple, isn’t it? Almost too beautiful to eat. I’m thinking of making a gift of it.’

‘I like apples. You could give it to me.’

‘Perhaps I will, Alice, my grey-eyed goddess,’ he calls, as she walks away.

He thinks about what Alice could do for him. Alice, head of IT; a Joan of Arc in her armour-grey suit, soft, fair hair cut like a helmet around her head.

Clever, clever Alice, who knows everything there is to know about computers;

Alice with her soft grey eyes - but sadly no breasts. Not that breasts are everything of course.


‘I didn’t picture you as a packed-lunch man, Mr. Hemphill ?.’

‘I’m not, and you’re very formal this morning, Mrs Parker-Jervis,’ he replies, flirting with Annie, the chairman’s wife and head of PR.

‘Alice told me about your apple. It is rather beautiful - for a piece of fruit. Why not give it to me?’

‘Perhaps I will, divine Annie, queen of the company.’

She laughs, but he knows she wants the apple; wants preference over Alice, and would probably give him something in return. He’d be mad to refuse her. In the City, Annie and John’s marriage is the stuff of myth. John’s mistresses have come and gone, but she’s still hanging in there, still attractive, still clever enough to influence John. What might she give him?

As she walks away he knows it’s a contest: Be careful how you give it - to right lady, yes? And he’s the judge.


‘Is the apple for me, darling?’

‘Amanda! Looking as lovely as ever!’

She stands in front of him in a red silk shift, pulled in tightly at the waist by a wide patent-leather belt. An intense scent of vanilla clouds her, and as usual he wants to bury his head deep down in the dark crevice between her breasts. And as usual, when he imagines doing this, he gets a hard-on.

He places his briefcase on his lap, and the apple on the briefcase.

Amanda is head of Secretarial. He knows she likes him, but he doubts she’d sleep with him. She may be a serial flirter, but she’s careful about affairs. Considering her husband, this isn’t surprising. He’s an ugly bastard - built like a tight-head prop. Everyone wonders what she sees in him.

The thing is, though, she surrounds herself with gorgeous girls, and her parties are legendary. All the single men in the company, well, to be honest, all the men in the company would kill to be asked to one of Amanda’s parties.

‘You must come to my next party, you beautiful boy,’ she says, and bends over him to stroke the apple with the back of her scarlet nails. In the shadow of her breasts the apple looks black.

‘Just waiting for you to tell me when, Amanda, eternal mistress of men’s desires.’

As she smiles down on him, he can hear Gerry warning him not to think with his dick, and the truth is that’s always been his problem. But not this time; this time he’s going to be rational. Amanda is of limited use to him in this business; the apple must go to either Alice or Annie.

As Amanda walks away, spiking the grass with her stilettos, he notices how her buttocks curve beneath the rosy silk like the apple beside him.


Later he places the apple on a desk. The note beside it says : for the fairest.


At lunchtime he picks up a text message.

Darling, what a lovely surprise! How long do apples keep? Come to a party, my place, Friday about 8, there’s a gorgeous girl I want you to meet , I just know you’re going to love each other to destruction. A x

The Apple
Waiting for Mary Poppins