Man and the Apple

Last week, RW issued a writing challenge, and of course I just had to accept it. The rules were simple:

"Minimum 1600 words / maximum 1700 words on an old man eating an apple. You tell us why it is important."

Because I like working from pictures, this is the one I selected, and here is what I wrote...

Bernie hadn’t eaten a friggin’ apple since the summer of 1994 when he’d splurged a bundle on a vacation rental for his family out on Long Island. Between him and his wife, Myrna, their two grown kids, spouses, and three grand kids, there were nine of them stuck for two weeks together in a three-bedroom place that hadn’t been decorated since 1985. God, he hated that pseudo-Santa Fe crap. All that Pepto-Bismol pink and those friggin’ rubber cactuses. Looked like a goddamn Sizzler

Myrna and the girls had gone shopping in the village, leaving Bernie, his son Arthur, and his son-in-law Paul, to watch the kids—not something he appreciated. He’d spent his whole adult life loading three-piece suits and silk blouses into the drum of the dry cleaning unit at work and he’d faithfully stuck ten percent of his net into the savings account each and every Friday. It didn’t look like much at first, but it gradually built up into a nest egg that he was proud of, one he couldn’t bring himself to dip into, even when Arthur needed braces, or when Judy got married. He’d rather take out a high-interest loan than see the numbers in his bank book go down.

He’d reached the age when men start wondering just how much time they have left and having just turned 66, he knew that it wasn’t looking good. Sitting in one of the white Adirondack chairs on the front lawn, absently fingering the paint that peeled off of the arm, Bernie watched the cars go by on their way to the beach, the village, or just on a joy ride.

He hated that his body was falling apart. Even in the humid August heat his joints hurt. Goddamn arthritis. Goddamn dry cleaning. One of the apples Myrna bought the day before had left one of his teeth loose and he couldn’t leave it alone as he sat there, his tongue pushing it back and forth, in and out. Goddamn dentures. He didn’t have them yet, but he knew the day was coming just as surely as he knew he’d never make love to his wife again. Getting old was a lousy price for a man to pay simply for having been young, and not being able to get it up was a hell of a reward for having followed the rules all of his life. Goddamn apple. The old story was true, he thought. Man falls from grace when he takes an apple from a woman, and taking the starch out of a man in the middle of the act was one of God’s cruelest jokes.

Arthur plopped into the other chair and handed him a beer. He took after Myrna’s father with a belly that peeked out of the bottom of his too-small Hawaiian shirt, and those boats that he called feet scuffling around with the flip-flap noise that his rubber sandals made. He knew his dim-witted son still got it up; where was the friggin’ justice? He shrugged, guessing that in exchange for a stiff schwantz, God had given Arthur a limp mind. If Bernie had been given the choice, which would he have taken? He mulled this over as the cars drove past, the kids screamed, and Arthur scratched his belly.

Here he was, retired for a year and sitting in the yellowing front yard of a house that didn’t belong to him. The house didn’t even have cable for godsake and he was too old to walk to the beach and go swimming. If the walk there didn’t kill him, the trek back up the friggin’ stairs that scaled the cliff would. What was an old man supposed to do out here, anyway, besides yell at the kids when they started fighting, and think too much? He’d worked how many years for these two weeks?

If he were just ten years younger he’d be in the surf, or he’d be fishing. He be grilling in the back yard and playing badminton. He’d certainly be waking Myrna up in the middle of the night. Instead, here he sat, drinking beer and growing more depressed by the minute. It’s not good, he thought, for a man to have this much time to think. It always leads to realizing how futile everything is.

In his dreams at night, he was in his thirties—at his peak—but when he awoke and got up to take a pee he was forced to recognize that he was stuck inside the body of an old man. He thought that maybe the reason people identify less and less with their bodies as they get older is because they’re getting ready to leave them. Even a new Benz gets old and frumpy after a while, and you trade it in on a newer model.

Like I was ever a Benz… But there I go again, he chided himself. Too much time to think. He took a swallow from his beer and watched while a group of pretty college girls in bikinis walked by, talking and giggling, and tossing around a couple of colorful beach balls.

Myrna was still a good-looking woman, and though he wasn’t much of a groom anymore, he still thought of her as his bride. They had a good marriage, had seen good times and bad, and she had an insight into him that had always baffled him. More than knowing what he wanted, she knew what he needed.

“You’re a good sport,” was one the little endearments he’d always said to her, and it was true. She never minded that he was only a dry cleaner, or that the closest he’d ever gotten to a three-piece suit were those he put in the drum. And every New Years’ Eve without fail, she put Frank Sinatra’s “Mr. Success” on the hi-fi.

“Come on, Bernie,” she’d say, swaying in front of him, her ass as ripe as a peach, “Dance with me.” Regardless of how he felt about the failures of his life, to Myrna, Bernie was Mr. Success.

She’d insisted on going into the village to buy pears, peaches, and bananas. Soft fruit, she called it.

“Your father needs his soft fruit,” she’d said, “to keep him regular.”

Soft fruit. Feh! Women complain that everything goes south as they get old, but with men, everything goes soft. The belly, the ambition, the prick, even the gums. All this Bernie thought as he sat pushing his loose tooth back and forth, in and out, sending waves of co-mingled pain and pleasure through him.

Goddamn it, he thought. This is what I’m left with.

Arthur burped and unbuttoned his shirt, opening it up so that the sun could hit his white, hairy chest and belly.

“Jesus, Arthur,” Bernie muttered.

Dinner that evening was poached salmon with boiled potatoes and Russian rye rolls. Dessert was rice pudding. Soft, he thought. Everything goes soft.

Later, he was wakened by the sounds of his son schtooping Linda, in the next room. He might have been able to get aroused by the bed hitting against the wall if it wasn’t Arthur in there giving it to her. The idea repulsed him, never mind the image that came to his mind.

“Soft,” he said under his breath, and he turned over and went back to sleep.

Bernie sat in his favorite chair watching The Price Is Right. On the table beside him sat the TV guide from last Sunday’s paper, the daily crossword, a glass of flat club soda, the remote, and a small brown bowl of prunes. Retired life might not have been so bad if there was something he could actually do with all the free time he’d worked so hard for.

When he was young, he’d envisioned himself and Myrna buying a full-dressed Harley-Davidson and going cross-country. They’d see what lies beyond New Jersey, for godsake. Little did he know that by the time retirement comes, a man’s too worn out from punching the time clock and eating two cheese sandwiches at noon to want to go anywhere. When a young man thinks about retirement, he thinks of himself as he is, not as he will be when everything goes soft and he hurts all over. It isn’t the actual work that wears you down, he thought. It’s the friggin’ grind, the sheer monotony of it all. And a motorcycle at their age? He’d laugh if he could, but he was out of Fixodent and he didn’t want his dentures to fall out of his face. He heard someone come in through the front door.

“That you, Myrna?” he called, although he knew from the distinctive sound of her keychain that it was.

“Yeah, it’s me,” she answered as she came into the room carrying a paper sack. “I picked up some more denture adhesive for you, and your new prescription,” she said, reaching into the bag and handing him a tube and an amber-colored plastic bottle.

He looked at the label of the bottle which read, Viagra. He hoped the doctor was right about this new drug. It sounded too good to be true.

“I got you some fruit, too,” she added, and pulled out a perfect Red Delicious apple. As she went up the stairs she turned and looked at him, smiling over her shoulder. “I’ll be waiting for you, Mr. Success.”

Bernie opened the bottle and swallowed one of the little blue pills. He removed his dentures, applied some of the adhesive to them and put them carefully back into his mouth, biting down until they were secure. He then picked up the shiny apple and bit into it.

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