Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Tell the story of a half-eaten apple.
The Residual Half
By Brigid Whoriskey
It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. It’s a stupid saying really, no doubt originally coined by someone who felt comfortably distant from the grey brigade and, I would venture to guess, who lacked canine companionship.
This old dog has moved with the times in a way of her choosing, rejecting nonsense like the dreaded smart phone, which seems to possess those who possess it, and embracing innovations such as the iPad, a marvellous invention for communication and knowledge. My crossword completion rate has soared with the assistance of Google – though I hasten to add it is consulted only as a research tool, for hints of the answer, and never a crass entering of the entire clue, which teeters too close to the edge of cheating for my liking. The joy is in the chase. Searching for 19th century French authors is so much more enlightening than finding a solved clue on the net. (See, there’s another new trick I learned. One day it’s the world wide web, the next it’s the net).
‘Here you go, I’ve got it Aunty Anne’ comes the self-satisfied exclamation of a grandniece or nephew, who have been known to spot the half-finished cryptic and decide to be helpful to the old lady. Learning precisely nothing in the process.
I’ve generally relished new experiences over the years. People have often commented on how well I keep up with the times. Today has been a day of illumination – however on this occasion the new experience is unwelcome. Gaining the realisation that feelings of mounting panic can co-exist with calm focussed action. Learning the sharpness of perception, noticing for no particular reason that a stillness that had entered the room, an alteration to the atmosphere, drawing my eyes to the chair opposite.
We often sit for long periods in companionable silence, and thankfully don’t feel the need for constant meaningless prattle. The conversations, when they come, tend to be more interesting and stimulating. But in this moment, there was a change in the silence.
The angle of the head, the slight parting of the lips, something was not right. An absence was present.
I gently shake her. She is warm. There is no response.
Another new experience. I somehow managed to reach my 80s without ever having the need to call the emergency services. It’s an automatic pilot thing, if you’ve never experienced it. Grabbing the phone, dialling the number by instinct rather than conscious action.
‘Can you feel a pulse madam.’
‘No I can’t. I am not medically trained. She is breathing. I can see her chest is rising and falling a little.’
‘Someone is on the way, stay on the line’.
Then the transition. From the stillness of the room to the flurry of activity.
Paramedics invading the space, taking over the sitting room.
Chrissy laid on the stretcher.
The call to my nephew. The siren of the ambulance.
‘You did the right thing madam; you rang us immediately. They’ll take good care of her in the hospital. Would you like a blanket?’
‘Certainly not, I am not ill. Look after Chrissy please”.
The sterility of the hospital.
The hushed conversations.
The cups of tea (though that dirty brown liquid in a plastic cup bears but a passing resemblance to tea in my opinion).
‘Maybe you should go home, Aunty Anne’ comes the hushed tones of my nephew.
‘No, I’m not leaving her’. The very idea. She would need me on hand when she awakes.
If she awakes.
I pick up her hand and gently hold it, feeling her gold ring and looking at mine. One our mothers, and one our grandmothers. I held both behind my back that day, eons ago, and she picked one. I wonder if she knew that it was not a fair draw. I got Mother’s more ornate ring. Looking at Chrissy’s hand now, perhaps she got the better deal after all. The thicker gold band on her finger is strong, no nonsense, like Chrissy herself. And beautiful, in an understated way.
People find it odd that we lived together all our lives, never married. The eccentric sisters. Old maids. Well, it wasn’t for the want of opportunities I can assure you. Chrissy and I never lacked company of course. Over the years our Friday evening drawing room drinks became legendary and often continued until the early hours. The numbers have dwindled but we still dress to impress and welcome those who stimulate us with their talk and tales. And right up to last Friday, there was an impressive bottle count.
Another new insight in my day of new experiences was the boredom. Of all the things I didn’t expect when sitting by my sister’s deathbed was boredom. But it creeps up nonetheless, somewhere between three and five hours in.
Within 8 hours it is all over. Her hand still in mine.
‘Good night my dear, sleep well.’
I am no stranger to death and loss. No one my age is. It is her time. We talked about who might go first and assured each other we would be absolutely fine. Stiff upper lip and all that.
I carefully thank all the staff, who (bless them) are treating me like a fragile china doll that might disintegrate at any moment.
Hushed tones spoken to my nephew
‘Maybe she should see the GP tomorrow, get something for the shock, and maybe help her to sleep. The poor thing, such a loss to live with someone for all those years.’
Another innovation that I happily embraced is the micro hearing aid. Many people make an assumption of hearing impairment for people our age, talking in hushed tones about you, oblivious to the fact that the sound travels better to my ears than to theirs. I smile thinking of telling Chrissy when I get home. We often laugh at the misinformed treatment (often meant kindly) that started in our 70s. You feel the same but are treated differently.
The smile quickly slips from my face.
‘Will you stay with us tonight, Aunty Anne? Or I could stay with you?’
‘You most certainly will not. It comes to us all my dear, and it will come to me too. It’s the way of life and hardly a surprise at our age. Though I will concede that I did not quite expect it after breakfast this morning. Typical of Chrissy to head off without so much as a by your leave. And her bedsheets were only changed yesterday. Take me home, dear. We can talk arrangements tomorrow’.
I am surprised to feel old when I sit down. I never feel old. The ancient Greeks had it right – they had two ways of measuring age. Your Chronos age – which is measured by the passing of years – and your Kairos age, which is your qualitative time of life, your zest for life. On that measure I have remained 60 for the past 28 years. Life would be more pleasant if people recognised your Kairos age, but life is in the control of the youth.
I look at the empty chair opposite me, which has the better view of the television but that’s Chrissy for you. Despite the view, I can’t see myself sitting in that chair now.
It wasn’t the moment I saw her in the chair, and knew deep down that this was it.
It wasn’t the beeping in the hospital room.
It wasn’t when the beeping stopped.
It wasn’t the empty chair.
It’s when I open the fridge to pour milk into my tea – and there it is. The half-eaten apple, cut side down on the china saucer. A full apple was just too much.
‘Eat the damn thing or throw it out, but must you persist in placing half-eaten apples in the fridge?’ was one of our well-worn bickers. You can’t live with your sister for 88 years without many well-worn bickers.
And there it was. Sitting expectantly. Slowly browning. Waiting to be eaten. Drawing my tears from a deep well within.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Brigid has always loved writing, but a career in financial services got in the way. She now has a portfolio career as a coach and non-exec director – and makes time for writing. She has almost finished a children’s book (full of elves and magical creatures) and is working on a young adult novel. She loves the weekly inspiration and challenge of Sunday Writers Club.