:: Article

Exnamuh

By Clare Fisher.

The Controller told me to sort the good apples from the bad. She told me that good apples were good apples and bad apples were soggy and brown. She told me it would be simple.

Alas, it was not. There were, it was true, a few apples whose badness was so advanced, they disintegrated into a cloud of mouldy brown mush when you attempted to pick them up, which begged the question: were they apples at all?

No. You thought ex-apple would be a more appropriate term. Though was it a tad offensive? Imagine if adults were called ex-children. Or middle-aged people ex-young people. Maybe you should call them an elppaxe. Yes. Elppaxe. It didn’t even sound made up, well, no more than any word sounds made up if you say it over and over and over again.

But what you thought about the apples was irrelevant; what the apples thought about whether or not they were apples was irrelevant; apples did not think about whether or not they were apples or about whether they would pair well with whiskey sours or with anything else; you should not be thinking anything else! You were literally the slowest apple sorter she had ever come across.

And how many had she come across? you asked, which made her scream exactly the sort of scream you imagined the elpaxes screaming when they heard what you had called them before you called them elpaxes.

You tried, then, to focus on the good apples — the ones with skin so firm and bright, it would not preserve them in this state of goodness forever.

Most of the apples, however, were neither good nor bad. From one side, they were pristine, but when you turned them over, you’d find a mighty worm hole, or a section of skin that was suspiciously soft, brown and/or flat. It was as if parts of the apple were still fully apple, whereas others had had enough. Consigning them to the ‘bad’ box felt like telling people they might as well die now seeing as they were bound to die sooner or later.

For this reason — and also because you could not help yourself from eating the unambiguously good — your boxes remained empty.

You understand that you’re paid by weight? the Controller said. She twisted her neck towards the other side of the orchard, where the other sorters were lugging heavy boxes of good and bad towards the pulping machine.

This. She thrust an apple under your nose. Good? she said. Or bad?

Umm… well, that tiny patch there looks quite bad, that patch looks like it might be about to go bad, and that —

It’s fine. She threw it into the ‘good’ box.

Fine, you said, has very different connotations from good.

She did a thing with her face that felt very much like a slap. You’d have liked to asked how she did it — being able to slap people without actually touching them is a life skill you’ve been coveting for some time — but your don’t-be-an-idiot voice, which had been hiding who knows where this whole time, told you not to. Then she left and the voice told you that if you wanted to be a ‘you’ who walked out of this orchard in the possession of more money than with which you’d entered, you’d have to sort the apples.

Well, you obeyed it. You filled one box of ‘goods’ and another of ‘bads’.

See, she laughed, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

You carried the boxes towards the juicer.

A woman who informed you she was currently in the Top Five juicers, wrinkled her nose. Is that all?

She switched on the pulper.

Go on.

You raised my box over the pulper’s dark mouth, through which you could see its blades, already turning, hungry for more than the straggles of skin that remained from its last feed. But some voice in you, a different voice, one you wouldn’t dare name, said: no. Said: sorting is the worst sort of violence. Your don’t-be-an-idiot voice replied: don’t be an idiot. You shifted the box from one hand to the other, not knowing which to trust.

What’s wrong with you?

She doesn’t speak English.

She does, she just doesn’t speak.

She’s been speaking to the apples!

No, she’s been eating them.

We’re not allowed to eat them!

Are you sure she’s a she?

The other sorters, their voices and their bodies, pressed your body, and all its voices, towards the pulper. Your head was now hanging over that hungry mouth, the blades so close, they were spitting pieces of ex-ex-ex- apple up into your face. You thought: this must be it. Your passage from humanity to whatever is a human’s next or ex or exnamuh.

It wasn’t, though. The Controller yanked you away from the blade just in time. You almost caused an insurance claim that would’ve bankrupted the whole orchard?

After trying and failing to imagine the trees surrendering their mortgages and their grannies’ jewels to the bank, you left.

You took my boxes of neither-goods-nor-bads in lieu of pay, though you’ve eaten none of them yet; you can’t even think about your teeth meeting their skins without hearing that scream. You hear it almost all of the time. As if an apple, or a human, or some other creature, is passing from itself to whatever is outside of the self — now. And now. And now.

And now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clare Fisher‘s short story collection, How the Light Gets In, was published by Influx Press in 2018 and longlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Her novel, All the Good Things, was published in 2017 by Viking and won a Betty Trask Award. She is currently studying for a PhD in creative writing and teaching in Leeds.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, November 17th, 2020.