The apples are still standing.
I had a feeling my eyes would be drawn to them first, and sure enough, the moment I first walk through the gates, they are. One of them, a brilliant red, eaten through to its core, just as Eve must have bitten through the one she stole in the Garden. One pierced through with an arrow, to represent William Tell’s familial leap of faith. Another, a duller red, lying on the ground, as must the piece that struck Isaac Newton on the back of the head. Yet another, lime-green, sliced in half to celebrate the Beatles’ record company. And finally, the fifth, missing a neat chunk, evocative of Steve Jobs’ brainchild, the logo that still graces his technology products today. The Five Apples Project, a symbol of harmony and community cohesion, of people coming together and creating art, still resting at the top of the hill on the far side of the park.
I’m relieved, of course. Having only just noticed the sculptures for the first time on a recent visit early this year, having walked up to and studied and discussed them with my friends on a fine Spring afternoon, it would have been particularly gutting to find them now gone. But it’s only a momentary reprieve. Because as soon as I’ve taken in the sight of them, as soon as I’ve confirmed for myself that they’re still intact and unspoiled, my gaze drifts back down to the rest of the park. Sweeps briefly over the lake, reflecting back the ashen gray of the sky, with its myriad avian wildlife, untroubled by the change in their surroundings. Over the visitor welcome centre and the gardens, until finally, I can avoid looking at it no longer, and at last I set eyes on what remains of the children’s play area.
I have to sit down. And it puzzles me a little that I do. That the sight of it should have such an instant effect on me. I felt anger when I read about it in the paper, of course. When I saw the headline screaming out from the Belfast Telegraph, I experienced the same sense of shock and outrage that any resident would to learn that a local facility, well-used and beloved by the community, had been destroyed. But it’s not as though I’ve used the park myself for many years. Long gone are the days when it would have done for me to be seen climbing the steps to the top of its towers, or to fall gleefully down the slides, to joyously kick my feet from the ground and lift high into the air on the swings. And they aren’t likely to return unless the time comes when I have kids of my own. But despite that, despite what I’m seeing not representing any kind of immediate or practical loss for me, I still feel bereft. To see the wood I once happily stepped over blackened and charred, the foundations of the towers I once mistook for real castle turrets so damaged and unstable that it simply isn’t feasible to try to repair them, I feel a sense of loss, of deprivation, weighing down my body and making it feel difficult to stand up again.
Memories of clinging on to the overhead rope as the type swing carried me from one end of the play area to the other, the sheer abandonment of it, the idyll, the sense of freedom on cool summer’s evenings, free of care or anxiety or responsibility, the whole world simply laughter and friendship and fun… Those memories call to me, half-mournfully, half-mockingly, as though designed to make me long for them, yet denying them to me in the same moment. The sound of the wood chippings under my feet as I ran from my parents’ reach, or chased after friends, the too-hard seat of the roundabout against me as I spun wildly whilst holding on for dear life, the sensation of my stomach leaping into my mouth as I began the descent down the metal slides… All of it swirls and weaves and echoes from across the years, trying to call me back to it, as though merely sitting here, in the place it all happened, will somehow transport me there again.
But it doesn’t. Instead, I sit, staring at the blackened remnants of someone’s vision for the children of the town, darkened and decayed like the rotting of flesh. A cancer caused by the lighting of a match by some drug-addled lout, or peer-pressured coward, or perhaps something worse, some dark-hearted sociopath. The flames eroding structures and beams as surely as smoke might destroy lungs. An integral part of my childhood, something that could have been a part of so many more, ruined and defiled. In that form at least, gone forever.
I’m not ashamed to say I almost cry.
Christopher is a graduate of English from Queen’s University Belfast, and of the MA in TV Fiction Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University. He writes both prose and theatre, and has had short fiction read and performed around the UK and Ireland.