Biting The Apple
Biting The Apple
Berkeley author Lucy Jane Bledsoe is profiled in the September issue of Diablo. Bledsoe has received many accolades for her books her travels to about Antarctica. Her newest novel, Biting The Apple, is a fictional story about a former Olympic athlete. Here's an excerpt:
Biting the Apple is the story of Eve Glass, once an Olympic sprinter and now a motivational speaker and author of two books, Going the Distance: Endurance for Achievers and If Grace is the Goal. The problem is, her own endurance is waning and her confidence in her expertise on grace is paling. Even worse, her kleptomaniac tendencies are intensifying and a friend from her childhood has begun stalking her.
Eve Glass, having been a product of other people’s dreams her entire life, is a woman in search of authenticity. She sheds her ex-husband/coach, shakes free from her business manager, and lands not only in jail but eventually in the arms of her stalker. As her handlers panic, Eve Glass finally walks away as the author of her own story. Biting the Apple pokes fun at some of our dearest held postmodern ideas about the existence of a true self and humanity as product.
The next morning Eve awoke to a lovely Saturday. The night rains had washed the sky clean, leaving only a transparent blue, and the sunlight coming in her bedroom was pure and brilliant. She could see the entire color spectrum in each ray. Eve’s fever was gone, but it had left her feeling dry and empty. She got up and drank two glasses of water, and then lay in the stream of sunlight for a long time, as if it could recharge her.
Without the fever, without Nick and Alissa propping her up, without the need to sell grace, Eve thought of the two laughing women differently. She lay in bed trying to understand how. To say fondly would be misleading. Maybe jealously. As if she wanted to ride the rapids of that laughter to somewhere entirely new, fresh, true.
A journey. That’s what she needed. She would go to Audrey.
Eve leapt out of the bed. She yanked her suitcase off the top shelf of her closet and threw it on the tangled sheets, and then she started rifling through her clothes, looking for the perfect effect. Nothing. How do you dress for a poet who cares most about the beauty of language? All of Eve’s clothes looked tacky, too lacy, too short, too something. She pulled on a low-cut white tank top, a purple miniskirt, a pair of sandals, and grabbed her shoulder bag.
She went shopping. Eve wasn’t supposed to be in the department store at all. Because of the earrings. She had gotten only a bit of community service and an order to not inhabit the premises of the store for a year. Which made stepping through the glass doors when they opened at nine o’clock very exciting. She spent several hours trying on shoes and then leather coats, of which Audrey would never approve, and then admonished herself to get serious. Dressing to please someone else is a complicated business. You don’t want to dress as they do because people are rarely attracted to themselves, so you must dress how they would dress if they had thought of it. You have to be a step ahead of them. In the case of dressing for Audrey, she had to be casually elegant, but the elegant part had to be disguised because Eve doubted Audrey would want to acknowledge to herself that she liked elegant. Though she was quite sure she did. Her poetry, after all. Eve did find a beautiful white cotton shirt, classically cut, quite elegant actually, but one shirt did not make an outfit.
Eve supposed she wasn’t trying hard enough. She shopped aimlessly, wandering among the racks, in and out of departments, as if she were a nomad hunting herbs. That very thought came to her while she rode the escalator down from the fourth to the third floor and she looked out over the merchandise, like a field of wildflowers, trying to figure which patch might yield the greatest harvest. She did, for a moment, truly believe herself to be in the out-of-doors, perhaps somewhere in southern Italy, perhaps a couple of thousand years ago, her eyes alighting on some bright green that might be just the herb for which she searched.
She returned to her real self somewhere among the dress blouses. The department was quiet, except for one woman who wanted a cream silk blouse to go with the chocolate brown wool slacks she was wearing. She seemed a bit urgent about the cream blouse, and had engaged a saleslady to help her. She wanted attention, lots of it, and that interested Eve in the woman. She did not want the saleslady to wander off to attend to other tasks. She wanted company as she pulled different blouses from the racks and held them against her thin chest. A nod or comment from the saleslady would send her to the mirror for further evaluation. Eve noticed that when she made these trips to the mirror, she left her purse on the floor by the rack from which the blouse came.
A thief has logic, just like anyone else. Eve had been banned from this place. Why? Because she had stolen from them and might again. She shouldn’t have snuck into the department store, but knowing that she would not steal from them again, which was really the issue, not her presence itself, she didn’t feel guilty being there. Now, her reasoning continued, if she took this purse, she wouldn’t be stealing from the store. She would be stealing from that lady in the chocolate brown slacks who wanted a cream blouse. But the logic went deeper than that. What she was about to do didn’t feel like stealing at all. It was more like asking someone out on a date, that vertigo from the dual chance of rejection and possibility. That purse pulsed like the cover of a good novel. Eve wanted to look inside.
So she hovered, watching the purse. The woman picked it up off the floor, slung it from her elbow as she moved to another rack of blouses. The purse seemed heavy, pulling on her arm, as she pushed blouse after blouse aside in her search. Then, an interesting blouse. The arm straightened and the purse slid to her wrist. She bent and let it rest on the carpet. She held the blouse against her chest and turned to get an opinion from the saleslady. But the saleslady had wandered back to her checkout island. Which annoyed the customer. Eve saw her frown, consider whether to call across to the saleslady, and then compose herself, and finally, with the blouse held out in front her on the hanger, stride over to the checkout island.
Her purse remained on the carpet, beneath the hanging blouses.
That would have been Eve’s moment. The customer’s back was turned. She was absorbed in her pursuit of the saleslady’s opinion. But Eve was torn. As much as she wanted to lift the purse, she was interested in what would happen now between the customer and the saleslady. She empathized with the customer. After all, there was no one else, other than Eve and she wasn’t asking for assistance, in the department. There was no reason the saleslady couldn’t have remained in attendance.
“Too plain,” Eve heard the saleslady say rather too sharply. She dropped the pile of tissue she’d been arranging and bustled to a rack in the far corner of the department. The customer followed, still carrying her tailored cream blouse. Eve’s opportunity was yet improved, but still she watched as the saleslady held up a cream blouse with a big ruffle down the entire row of buttons. Now Eve wasn’t a professional fashion consultant, but even she could see that that woman in her chocolate brown slacks would no more wear those ruffles than she would wear spike heels.
If, for Eve, thievery were a kind a revenge, she would have found something to steal from the snooty saleslady for whom her dislike was growing. But it didn’t work like that. Again, the thief’s logic. She wanted to give that poor woman who needed a blouse to go with her slacks a hug. Feeling close to her gave Eve a rather desperate urge to know her. Of course she couldn’t give her a hug, or even introduce herself, so instead, she walked quietly over to the rack from which she had taken the blouse, which was still in her hand, and stood beside her purse on the floor.
It was that feeling at the top of a roller coaster, the moment before the descent of the biggest drop. She crested the rise, then swooped down and lifted the purse off the floor. She slung the long handles over her shoulder and walked slowly away. She even paused, one department over, to inspect a chartreuse jacket. This wasn’t theater, she wasn’t trying to look nonchalant and innocent, she was truly interested in the jacket, which was a nearly luminescent green, a color that floated off the fabric. Eve could have taken that instead, but she wasn’t supposed to shoplift from the department store. So she continued on forward, trying to remember exactly where her car was parked. Once she rounded the escalator, she stopped to stuff the purse into her own big shoulder bag, as any woman might do after making a purchase, and kept walking. She remembered that she had come in through Men’s Apparel, so that’s where she exited. Once outside the department store doors, Eve turned her face toward the bright yellow sun and smiled, eyes slit to protect her corneas, and let the warmth shoot straight into her pores.
The purse in her bag was a like a piñata. Or a box of Crackerjacks. A blind date. A letter from Audrey. The contents were anyone’s guess, but they might be richly rewarding. Eve sat in the front seat of her car, the vast parking lot surrounding her, the sun pouring in the window, and pulled the purse out of her shoulder bag. She let it sit in her lap for a moment. A supple, dark brown leather – to go with her wool slacks, of course – the kind that feels creamy to the touch. A simple zipper closed the one cavity and Eve pulled it slowly, like she was undressing The Correspondent. That thought made her pause, laugh. Yes, unzipping The Correspondent. The tiny zzzzz sound was lovely and satisfying. She reached her hand in before she let her eyes enter, remembering Halloween parties where peeled grapes were eyeballs and wet noodles were brains. Instead she felt a small packet of paper. Letters? A leather rectangle. The wallet probably, and it was fat. Loose coins, a pen, a tin of mints. She was about to open her eyes, going first to the letters, or what she supposed to be letters, when a shadow crossed her car. Two hairy hands clamped on the open sill of her window. The torso of a headless man, but not voiceless, for he said, “Ma’am, would you please step out of the car?”
“Sure.” Eve tossed the purse in the passenger seat.
The detective’s back was to the sun, and she was facing it, so she saw only a black cutout of a man. She imagine he looked like most department store detectives, including pocked skin, too much hair product, and a blocky body. She smiled at the sun, again, well aware that he would think she was smiling at him. Also well aware that, although she was forty-three, she wore a purple miniskirt and a sleeveless top, cut low enough to show the swell of her small breasts. That guy didn’t know that she was a former Olympic runner. He didn’t know that she was a national expert on grace. But he probably knew that she looked good.
Even Audrey had given her that. Cockles and mussels alive, alive-o. She claimed, not with words, oh, no, she wouldn’t stoop to even talk about it, but with her entire being, she claimed to be unimpressed with the words “Olympic” and “best-selling.” What interested Audrey was the pretty waif girl with her shellfish cart. A poetic image. Hawking whatever she had. As if grace were just desperation turned inside out.
“What do you need?” Eve asked the detective, and asked it seductively, not because she wanted to get away with something, because even though she knew she looked good, she knew that looking good at her age can annoy men. No, she spoke to him seductively because she wanted to annoy him. Make him want to say, “Oh, don’t think that’ll work with me, sweetheart.”
He asked to search her car, so she said, “Sure,” as she reached in her bag for her cell phone. In her peripheral vision, she saw him lurch, and she smiled, realizing that he thought she might be reaching for a gun. Right, she thought, just call me Louise. Or was that Thelma who blew the guy away? But her moment’s amusement passed quickly when, looking at the dial pad of her cell phone, Eve realized that there was no one, no one at all, that she could call.
An hour later, at the station, Eve closed her eyes as another man took both of her wrists in his one big hand. She looked for and found pleasure in the dry warmth of his skin. She concentrated on the softness of the pads on his fingertips and at the base of his palm, the way the bird bones in her own hands rested against these pillows of flesh. She even looked for the pleasure in the cold hard metal encircling each wrist now, the ache of its chill on her tender skin. A ratchety clank and the cuffs had her hands in the perfect position, behind her back, for the beginning of her yoga routine. She could bend now, reaching her connected wrists up behind herself, as she leaned forward, gravity flipping her hair over her head, her hamstrings stretching. But of course she didn’t bend now. She searched for the next possible bit of pleasure, like looking for the next stone in the crossing of a swift cold creek. The best she could do, and this would be a slippery stone, was the face of the booking officer.
Not unpleasant. Not ruddy red or unnecessarily hard. In fact, he was a large, pudgy man, with fat cheeks, a broad nose, and overgrown eyebrows. A moment ago, before he’d cuffed her wrists together behind her back, she might have been able to run. While still looking up into his pleasant face, she laughed at the thought of herself in flight with a law enforcement officer in pursuit, and this, it turned out, was what he didn’t appreciate.
“Lady, there ain’t nothing funny about what’s happening to you.”
Just then another officer entered the booking room with a printout in his hand. He said, “Two priors.”
“Huh,” the big guy grunted his approval. “Nothing even remotely funny.”
“I laugh when I’m nervous,” Eve tried to explain.
She shouldn’t have said “nervous” out loud. The word disturbed the air. Concentric circles of what felt like an electric current rolled off of her. The booking officer jerked, as if he’d been shocked.
“Sorry,” she said.
He put a hand on the place between her shoulder blades and gently pushed. Eve closed her eyes again, not wanting to see where she was going. When she opened them, just five steps later, she was in a cell. The booking officer stood in the doorway, looking at her. She guessed he had been waiting for her to open her eyes. He said, “Booking vestibule. Someone will come get you for security and medical.”
Then he shut and locked the door.
Eve looked for the pleasure.
This could be a locker room, she thought. A locker room found in an archeological dig, which would explain the absence of steamy showers, wooden benches, handy lockers, and of course, human flesh. Unless this were an archeological site like Pompeii, in which case there might be a mummified woman, bent at the waist, standing where the showers had once been, her right arm stretched down to her ankle, her hand in the claw position. Would the archeologists have ever figured out that she had been shaving her legs when the volcano erupted? It was possible, after all, for a Pompeii to happen here and now. Mount St Helens blew, so Mount Hood could blow, too. And if it did, this was where she, Eve Glass, former Olympic athlete and best-selling motivational author, would be immortalized. In the holding vestibule at the Multnomah County Jail. This was not a locker room, after all.
The cinder block walls of the vestibule, which were no more than four feet wide and six feet long, were painted white, semi-gloss. Eve lowered herself onto the cement bench and stared at the white cinder blocks. If this place were a black hole, one of those light-swallowing pits in the universe, she might be able to escape. The light that she was would be sucked through to the next universe. The beauty of black holes is that while no light can ever escape them, they are the birthplaces of stars. The end and the beginning all in one. But this place here, this holding vestibule, was a white hole, not a black hole, a place so brightly devoid of stimuli, that all the energy coming from oneself ricocheted wildly off the walls, gathered, filled the room. No worm holes to the next universe. This room was like a blank slate, with nothing to absorb the energy, so there was only Eve looking at Eve. Maybe if she considered that shiny white cinder block wall a screen onto which she could project herself, she could watch herself like a movie. Stopping the random way her energy was glancing off the walls would help. These Multnomah County law enforcement officers thought their jail, their handcuffs, the words “two priors,” were the primary terror for prisoners, and perhaps to some they were, but the classic bare light bulb would be what destroyed Eve.
Who she was now was not something she wanted to look at.