After some reflection, I’ve decided not to publish my entire novella, ‘Apple Blossom House’. I wrote it a few years ago now and there is a lot I would change now about the style and structure. However, I don’t want to consign it to the dust completely. I’d prefer to share some snippets here first. I hope you enjoy it.
Apple Blossom House – Snippet 1
My well-used pencil hovered over the page of the weighty anthology, poised to annotate.
‘Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and –’
I pressed the blunt stub to the page and underlined ‘political greatness and wisdom meet in one’. A pause; a sip of my tea.
Thumbing through one of the magazines on the coffee table was Imee, the senior carer from the Philippines whom I had accompanied on the morning rounds. She was also sipping her tea, sitting on a plastic chair against the back wall of the staff common room. My attention, however, was devoted to the volume that lay open on my knees, balanced carefully in the wide front pleat of the lower half of my uniform.
‘- and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from –’
Already ajar, the door to the common room flew open and hit the wall next to my left arm. In marched Gemma Colley, a strong, sturdy curly-haired care assistant in her late twenties, with a storm in her brow. The famous words of Plato in my lap were no match for the tempest that engulfed the humble room as she stomped towards the kettle. Imee and I both followed her with our eyes: mine startled and apprehensive; hers wryly amused.
‘Oh, Gemma. What has she done now?’
Gemma breathed a deep sigh, flicked the switch of the kettle and produced a double Milky Way from her pocket. With a tissue in her other hand she wiped her temples as she rested her backside against the worktop, above a gaping hole and two hinges where a cupboard door had once been. A fiery revulsion swam in her eyes, which she directed towards Imee whilst pursing her lips.
‘She’s a flippin’ mental old woman, that’s what she is.’
Gemma looked at me, shook her head, and rolled her eyes, securing my unwilling compliance in her denunciation.
Suspended above her, the first chocolate bar slipped out of the Milky Way packet and fell into her mouth whole. Chomping slowly, she turned back to Imee with a mouth full of chocolate, making it difficult to understand her words.
‘She called me impolite. She says: you’re such an impolite young girl, I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life. All because I haven’t ever been scared of her.’ She began to swallow some of the chocolate in large chunks, which muffled her words even more. ‘She’s a bloody menace,’ she concluded, waving the Milky Way packet around, which still contained its remaining bar.
Imee stood up and carried her mug over to the kettle, which was now boiling. ‘She got a thing about you, for sure,’ she consoled, her hands lightly touching Gemma’s arm.
‘Oh, I tell you!’ Gemma was still shaking her head, and looking towards me: my quiet presence seemed to make her nervous. ‘I tell you – you wouldn’t want to be me working here!’ She spoke almost as though directly to me, and I fidgeted slightly in my plastic chair. She pointed to the volume on my knees. ‘What’s that, then?’
‘It’s Plato,’ I replied. I might have been speaking in Greek: her face was blank. ‘I’m retaking my A-levels next year, then I want to apply to Camford.’ But the rookie elitism in my tone was lost on her. After responding with a slow half-nod, she turned back to Imee.
‘I’ll have both of my sugars, chuck. I need ’em this morning.’
Finishing the tea-making, Imee commented,
‘Shame Albert’s gone. He liked books. You would like. Very well educated man. Nice, too. One of the residents here.’
‘Oh,’ I replied. ‘Did he move away?’
Gemma sniggered and shook her head, turning to pick up her tea.
‘He die a few months ago,’ Imee said, with a little smile to swaddle my embarrassment.
My eyes returned to the lines of black type.
‘- from their evils, – nor the human race, as I believe – and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.’
A face appeared in my field of vision to the left. The door, a cheap plywood installation on creaky hinges – presumably a recent addition in the building’s history – had swung half-shut from its impact against the wall. Mrs Johnson pushed it open gently so that she could stand in the frame, resting one hand on the door handle and the other against the painted wall of the corridor outside the staff room. Hand pointed gracefully upward like a manicured wing, her skin barely met the handle. The tap of her wedding ring could be heard against the aluminium as she bent her finger slightly to steady the door.
‘Emily!’ she called brightly. ‘I just wanted to check how everything’s going. Has your morning been all right?’
‘Yes, thank you.’
‘Are you being looked after?’ I thought I saw Gemma stop chewing for a moment and exchange glances with Imee. They moved silently with their steaming mugs to sit by the magazines.
I nodded awkwardly. ‘Everyone’s been very kind.’
‘Right. Well, let me know if I can do anything, won’t you?’
‘I will. Thank you.’
Mrs Johnson pulled the door shut as she left. I remained sitting at the opposite end of the tiny windowless staff room from my colleagues. Shut off from the corridor, we were all now bathed in a pale yellow light, issuing from a bare light bulb and reflected off the murky walls. It washed out the pale blue polyester of our uniforms and blended our faces with their surroundings. The aroma of cheap stale teabags, intermingled with sweat, made the brew by my side a little less appealing.
Gemma was alternating her gaze between Imee and my volume.
‘Well, she dun’t come and ask me how my day’s going,’ Gemma reflected.
‘We always know how your day is going,’ said Imee.
‘Oi, you cheeky wench!’ retorted Gemma, giving Imee a friendly tap on the thigh with the back of her hand as she picked up an edition of Hello! magazine with a picture of Trisha Goddard on the front.