issue 212 - October 1990
Illustration: Jackie Morris
The apple, the madman
and a very clever pig
Knowledge could prove a useful ally in the battle between Good and Evil
- but only if it falls into the right hands. A fruity tale by Robert Woods.
Well, regarding this business of Buffy and the apple, you know - the pig doesn't come into it until the end. Buffy was a young man at the time, just setting out on the journey of life, if you know what I mean. He'd finished school and was trying to decide between art college to become a painter, and university to be a poet; his family wanted him to train for accountancy but he wasn't having any of that. Good friends we were, Buffy and I, all through school, even though he was much the cleverer. That was before he saw the apple.
We both saw it, actually. More and more fruits they seemed to be importing in those days, all colours. Purples and reds and deep shining oranges, and yellows straight out of Gauguin. They were gleaming under a stripy awning outside the greengrocer's, from all sorts of exotic places: a piled cornucopia of temptation on the lovely dark green artificial grass. I remember years ago, when apples, bananas and oranges were the only fruit you could buy. Dates were for Christmas, anything more unusual like melon was immoral, and kiwi-fruit hadn't been invented.
But on that day there was a new variety of fruit, a single example, perched on top of the pile. It was Huffy, the curious one, who asked whether it was an apple.
The greengrocer was large, round and taciturn with a white apron wrapped completely around his waist like a sheet which brushed the floor.
'In a manner of speaking, I suppose,' he said, 'It's The Apple.'
You couldn't describe its colour, except that there seemed to be depths within it, and depths within depths.
I was all for passing by on the other side of the road, but Huffy wouldn't let it drop.
'The Apple that grew in the Garden of Eden. The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.' The greengrocer seemed unperturbed by the import of what he was saying. He might have been discussing bananas.
Huffy laughed. 'The publicity schemes they do think up,' he said.
'No, sir. Not an advertising slogan. No more than the truth.'
'You mean they've identified the species of tree - some evolutionary left-over from pre-history which they are propagating?'
'No, sir.' The greengrocer spoke with exaggerated patience as though explaining something to a backward child. 'That's not how the knowledge of Good and Evil spreads.'
Huffy picked the apple from the pile and shuddered. 'Ugh, it's been bitten.' Scars of flesh showed pale against the skin.
'Course it has. Twice. Once by Eve, once by Adam.'
'Don't be silly, it would have rotted if it was that ancient.'
'The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? God's special fruit go bad?' The greengrocer looked mildly reproving; he didn't seem to mind being called silly, or that the quality of his goods was being impugned. I don't think I have ever met a more phlegmatic man.
'What would happen if I ate it?' asked Huffy.
'You would acquire knowledge of good and evil I should imagine, sir.'
'Don't I know about that already?'
'A young gentleman of your tender years, sir? I should hope not indeed.' He sounded respectably shocked, like a deferential old-school valet. I don't think Huffy had been called 'sir' in a shop for a long time, let alone 'young gentleman'.
'I don't believe it would have any effect at all,' said Buffy.
'Well, sir, I wouldn't advise feeding this little fruit to a nudist colony.'
'They might cover themselves up, sir. "And they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" Genesis three, verse seven.
Buffy looked puzzled. 'Just my little joke, sir,' said the greengrocer, although he didn't look like a man who made jokes.
'All right, tell me what things I might learn.'
'You would see into the hearts of men, I should think, sir. See the true motives for their actions.'
'That wouldn't worry me. No-one nowadays believes in goodness ruling the world.'
'If you say so, sir'.
'Though of course you'd see all the unexpected good motives as well. You might get some pleasant surprises,' said Buffy.
'You might, sir. You would certainly get, shall we say, a different perspective on things.'
'I don't think it would be terrifically interesting.'
'Oh, I think I could promise you it would be that.'
There was a pause. Buffy was waiting. 'Well, go on. What else would I know?'
'I should imagine, sir, Consequences' said the greengrocer. 'Wouldn't you think so, sir?' he added, turning to me.
Well, I tried to turn it into a joke -not a very good one, I admit - but I said something about that party game called Consequences, you know where everyone writes down innocent things that get strung together because nobody knows what the others have written and it gets all mixed up and you get a silly story with a stupid ending. It was my sole contribution to the conversation. They both ignored me.
'I mean, sir, you might see all the things that a perfectly innocent, well-meaning act could lead to. Like, say, crossing the road. I dare say someone could cross a road with the best of intentions - to help an old lady perhaps, or to look at a fruit-shop -then slip on a banana-skin and cause a perfectly horrible accident. You'd see all that in advance.'
'You'd see into the future you mean?'
'You could change the world.'
'If you think knowledge can change the world, sir.'
'Oh yes; it can certainly do that.'
'I'm willing to believe you.'
'It is tempting.'
'To some no doubt, sir'.
'You're not Satan, are you?'
'No sir,' said the greengrocer gravely. 'But I would say that, wouldn't I, even if I were?' He made a question of it, and Buffy laughed.
And I will say this for the greengrocer, he never at any time tried to pressurize Buffy into buying the apple. He even seemed reluctant to allow him. It was Buffy pushing all along the line.
'You'd know everything if you ate that, wouldn't you,' said Buffy.
'How much is it?'
'Oh you can't buy knowledge, sir. And I couldn't sell it to you - not for my life, I couldn't.'
I dragged him away after that. I couldn't see why the man kept it in the shop if it wasn't for sale. But there was one odd thing, I remember. The shop floor had sawdust on it, to absorb the dirt and bits of squashed fruit. There were footprints in the sawdust; and it seems to me, looking back, that some were oddly shaped. Like an animal's if you like, a sheep or a goat's cloven hooves. But it's only an impression, and I can't be sure. It couldn't really have been like that. Although you couldn't see the greengrocer's feet because of the apron.
The High Street Fire happened that night. There is a precinct there now -you can t tell where the High Street was, let alone the shop. I watched the fire on the TV news with Evie. The three of us had been going to spend the evening together but Buffy had slipped off. I couldn't say where he spent that evening, not for certain.
I am content to be a simple man, always have been. It keeps me happier, you know, not worrying. Buffy used to be the same, and well-meaning with it. He Ran the World, had his Band-Aid T-shirt, swapped his car to unleaded at the earliest opportunity and never bought anything from South Africa.
Since the apple, though, he has changed. He threw away his T-shirts, for a start. Says it's all much more complicated than that, arguments on both sides, whatever you do ends up wrong. He took to buying up all the old CFC-stock aerosols, spraying them around and laughing manically. He installed a mahogany lavatory seat even though he'd boycotted tropical hardwoods in the past because they destroyed the rainforest. 'Oh nobody cares about that,' he says now.
He spent all his savings on a fur coat - real fur, from as endangered a species as he could get. You couldn't take him anywhere.
Yes the apple certainly changed Buffy. He even broke with Evie. When I asked why, he said he had seen through her, though she always seemed like a nice girl to me. I dated her myself, as a matter of fact - well, actually, we're married now. We'd had the odd fling even while she was supposed to be engaged to him - the night of the fire was when we started it. At the time I didn't think he suspected, I'm not so sure now. He says nothing, just that I'll find out some day but by then it'll be too late. And he gives me a look of a kind that I don't altogether like.
Oh, and he signed up for accountancy of course. He said he understood quite enough of life already and there was nothing more he could learn by painting it.
We used to have fun, Buffy and me. That stopped suddenly. He couldn't bear crowds, he said - all that humanity together. And he started to cry.
I told him he should be able to see the good in people as well as the evil, so he ought to be happier. But he muttered something about proportions and how the odds were stacked.
I still visit him occasionally. Evie doesn't come - she says he makes her uneasy. It is understandable. They are quite kind to him in the asylum but of course a strait-jacket can't be that comfortable. And they daren't let him out. Not since they found the top half of the greengrocer. They never did find the bottom half.
After all that time the greengrocer s hand was still clutching the fruit and it hadn't decayed - the apple, I mean; the greengrocer's torso was quite rotten. The apple had three bites out of it. Of course the police didn't know what it was: they threw it in the pig-bin.
We have long talks together, Buffy and I. Sometimes in his ravings he talks of an all-knowing, super-intelligent pig. He says it ended up as bacon just the same.
Robert Woods is a left-wing sleeper working undercover for a right-wing UK newspaper.