by Aidan Chivers
The skin yields satisfyingly beneath my eager teeth, which dive hungrily into the citrus depths. Top teeth meet bottom, and the juicy pulp is happily sucked away, leaving a perfect, circular crater in an otherwise unblemished sphere of fruit.
New things in life can bring with them immense pleasure and excitement. Fresh tastes can take us above ordinary, mundane routines and give us glimpses of intense vitality and passion. Different experiences can stop us fading into patterns and habits which deaden our capacity for excitement and the joys of life.
Sometimes, fresh starts are forced upon us. Leaving my school of fifteen years forced me out into a world of exciting new possibilities; my year abroad will take me away from weekly essays and translation exercises; one day we will all graduate and be thrown outside the security of university and college life.
But not all new beginnings happen on such a major scale. We can keep ourselves fresh and alive on a daily basis with a thousand new approaches, life choices, and changes in the relationships we have with others.
Baudelaire, though supremely conscious of a long literary tradition behind him, strived with every poem to discover a new approach, a new idea, a new perspective. Famously he concludes his anthology Les Fleurs du Mal by renouncing even the traditional distinctions between good and evil (‘Hell or Heaven, what’s the difference?’) and desires only to throw himself at all costs into a world of new poetry and new experiences: to ‘trouver du nouveau’, to ‘find something new’.
This freshness typically takes the form of newfound intensity of emotional experience. It is the exhilarating taste of unfamiliar passion. The new glow of shared feeling. The dizzying uncertainties of early attraction.
The leap of faith which comes with that first bite doesn’t always leave us with the taste we were expecting. It can be sharp, and leave us wincing at the sudden sting. It can be soft, and give us a mouthful of mushy disappointment. If we’re particularly unlucky, we’ll find the twitching tail of a newly-decapitated worm inside.
Yet nothing makes us feel more alive than that first moment of contact between teeth and fruit. We can spend our life munching on one apple until we’re left staring at the sticky pips, or we can keep biting on new, fresh, exhilarating experiences, and fill our lives with a rich variety of tastes and memories.
I look back at my apple. It is reassuring, because I know what taste is coming. Its green flesh still holds the potential for many more tasty bites. But as I look at its gaping, vulnerable centre, the flesh exposed and already starting to go brown, I cannot help but arrive at one conclusion.
Subsequent mouthfuls may be sweet and pleasant, but they will never live up to the purity, zest and enticing promise of the first.