Apple Juice and Other Short Stories
I wish. Oh how I wish! But there, it’s no earthly use making wishes like that; no
good trying to claw back the past in order to bite the cherry a second time. You can’t
go back. Not ever. The tape of life winds only one way, and having wound to the
end, stops. If it breaks in the process, it stops sooner than expected, but that is the
only variation permitted.
I was offered the moon once, but like a spoilt child - was I spoilt? - probably, would
satisfy with nothing less than the stars. And now? Now I had the tiny patch of earth
underneath my feet, a patch that changed constantly with my footsteps, and all of it
second hand. Still, the beach gave a spurious sense of ownership, washed constantly
as it was to a smooth uniformness that gave the impression of being new and unused.
My feet sank into the soft, wet sand as I stared at the bottle drifting in with the tide.
Retreating every now and then against the encroaching waters, I waited with what
patience I could muster until the bottle was within reach, then stooped and picked it
up, feeling slightly self conscious about the act. To be sure, there was nobody close
enough to see, nobody even in sight at all, yet the feeling persisted just the same.
Years ago I wouldn’t have felt the same self consciousness, but then years ago I
wouldn’t have wandered along a deserted beach for company. Years ago I was a
foreigner and did things differently.
I looked at the bottle with an artificial feeling of interest. It was green, a dark, deep
colour that could only be described as bottle green. It was almost, but not quite
opaque, though it was impossible to see what, if anything, might be inside. Without a
label, there was only one way to find out. I removed the cork, half expecting a genie
to swirl out and grant me my heart’s desire, but of course no such thing happened. I
would even have settled for one wish, and anyone else could have had the other two.
The contents of the bottle, whatever they had been in the past, had long since gone,
only a faint musty smell remaining, a smell that aroused a vague memory in the
pathways of my mind. It wasn’t apple, but that’s the memory that came.
* * *
I was just eighteen when I accompanied my mother on her retreat to the countryside.
Not that I had any objection, as I had always liked rural life, so different from the
busy, noisy, and above all, impersonal city we lived in. I never liked cities, but I