Apple Seeds, Barbie Buttons, and Beads

An excerpt from Jim Crace’s The Devil’s Larder, a book of short shorts on the theme of food:

We were brought up not to eat the cores. To do so was considered greedy, messy, ill-mannered and, we were assured, immensely dangerous. Vitalized by our digestive juices and the dark, the pips would swell and strike. An apple tree would spring up and flourish in the warm loams of our intestines ‘like a baby’, until its roots and branches spread and burst out of our sides. Our skins and clothes would tear apart. ‘Then you’ll be sorry,’ mother said.

The only cure, if any pips were to be defiantly swallowed by any of her girls, was a dose of weedkiller and, possibly, if that did not prevent germination, a painful operation with a pair of secateurs. ‘It’s not a story I’ve made up,’ she said. ‘Go down to the orchard and you’ll see how true it is. Look for the faces and the hands of the boys and girls who’ve swallowed cores. They’ve turned into bark.’

When I read this piece last night in bed I was instantly transported back to the first time I knew the fear of death, at the age of four. All morning long I’d been sucking surreptitiously on a tiny button that had fallen off a Barbie doll dress. When she noticed, my mother warned me not to put “that thing” in my mouth. Of course I didn’t listen and, in the end, I swallowed it. Although I felt the need to, I couldn’t tell her what had happened. I thought she would be angry and — I felt at the time — justifiably so. So instead I asked her what would happen if I swallowed, say, for example, a hypothetical apple seed. I remember her telling me, with great vehemence, that you should never ever ever eat apple seeds. They could make you terribly sick. I spent the rest of that day wandering around the house, bereft, waiting to die. It’s my first memory of feeling utterly alone. I’m uncertain how I made the leap from “apple seeds will make you sick” to “Barbie buttons are sure to kill you” but I did. I told my mom this story just a few years ago and she couldn’t figure out why she’d been so firmly against eating apple seeds. But she was, I swear she was. (I should mention that my poor saint of a mother is nothing like the threatening mother in Jim Crace’s piece. She’s one of the gentlest and least angry people I know.)

This reminds me: Maud has a much better story on the same topic. It features a bead.

Oh, and here’s the unofficial Jim Crace site.


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