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Words Without Borders is one of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winners!
from the June 2018 issue

Apple

蘋果 西西

In this bizarre tale by the Hong Kong writer Xi Xi, a once banal, everyday fruit intoxicates the popular imagination of Fertile Soil Town. 
 

1

“How come so many people are applying for travel documents?” an official from the Immigration Department asked.

“Thousands and thousands of ’em are turning up out of the blue—it’s really strange.” The official who processed paperwork inked stamp after stamp.

 “If this were a bank, it’d be a run.” An achy-handed official signed certificate holders’ photographs over and over and over . . . 

 “Is our country hosting the world’s largest beer festival?” The consular official filled in numbers in the “Visas and Comments” section.

“Maybe everyone wants to have a white Christmas.” A flying eagle emblem landed on the lower left-hand corner of the fifteenth page of a hardcover booklet.

“The European consulates are swarming with people. Aren’t the Spanish Olympics over?” A stamp depicting the king’s profile was superimposed on top of another stamp.

“The tourism industry is booming!” The staff member from the travel agency’s ticketing department held the phone receiver and said, “I’m sorry, this month’s plane tickets are all sold out.”

“But why haven’t any of the usual tour groups been organized? Everyone’s setting off alone. Is this the age of traveling the world solo?” The young tour guide hadn’t led a group in half a month.

“Most of the people traveling alone aren’t young but middle-aged—there aren’t any elderly people or children, either. It’s really quite something.” The airport restaurant waiter was unexpectedly idle. The large air-conditioned eatery buzzed with a single fly.

“Business is going great. I never thought it’d be so good. People are turning up in droves to buy thick plush socks and gloves, along with those woolen caps that look like chimneys, the kind that only expose the eyes. What’s going on—is everyone planning to climb Mount Everest?” the owner of a small shop specializing in mountain-climbing supplies asked, rushing to wire an order for additional merchandise to replace what had been sold.

“My business is just as good. People sure love traveling in winter! They keep coming in to buy heavy-duty rainproof and windproof pop-up tents, down sleeping bags, camping knives, camping lights, cooking utensils, compasses, and maps. Folks today are full of get-up-and-go.” The manager of a sporting goods company pushed the latest novelty, a mountain-climbing motorcycle, into the display window. A jeep that could wade through water and trample duckweed was already parked at the store entrance.

“So then, what’s the reason that my business is doing so well? Everyone’s clamoring to order the most comfortable beds and bedding,” the agent from the furniture store said.


2

That particular summer, Fertile Soil Town was bustling like never before. As in previous years, when summer came around, it was customary for the town to hold a large-scale cultural festival that, in addition to a variety of drama, music, dance, painting, and sculpture exhibitions and performances, also featured a special contest. Due to boycotts and protests from women’s groups, the Miss Fertile Soil Town Pageant of yesteryear had been replaced by competitions such as Fertile Soil Town Soccer Player of the Year, Fertile Soil Town Model Youth of the Year, and the like, all of which made for exceptionally lively extravaganzas. This year broke relatively new ground: in honor of the first Internationalization Campaign, they decided to put on an Apple Pageant. Various groups would nominate the world’s most outstanding, most popular, most admired, and most praised apples of all time, and then a bronze statue would be erected in the square in front of City Hall to commemorate the winner.

Before summer had even arrived, the whole town was already brimming with excitement. Fruit stands made apples the star of their promotional campaigns. Cafés rolled out apple-themed meals. Coffee shops sold apple pies. Italian markets crafted specialty apple pizzas. Streets and alleys overflowed with apple cider, apple ice cream, apple candy, and apple yo-yos, along with apple-branded clothing, hats, scarves, swimsuits, and so on. Everyone sang songs about apples. All of the medical clinics gave out apples as a token of thanks to every single patient who came in for a consultation.

Before summer had even arrived, the contest nomination forms poured in to Fertile Soil Town’s Ministry of Culture, which then, after preliminary review, selected five finalists. One of the forms, submitted by the Fertile Soil Town Women’s Club, nominated the golden apple from Greek mythology. This apple, as everyone knows, was intended to be awarded to the fairest of all the Greek goddesses. Every goddess coveted the golden apple, but the judge, Paris, presented it to Aphrodite, as Aphrodite had promised him Helen’s hand in marriage. Helen, however, was already betrothed to Menelaus, but Paris didn’t care and abducted her, which resulted in a ten-year war in the city of Troy. There’s a famous poem by the Greek poet Homer that recounts this incident. As Helen was the most renowned beauty throughout history, there was profound meaning to the Women’s Club’s nomination.

The police force, Civil Aid Service, armed forces, and martial arts community jointly nominated William Tell’s apple because of his godlike marksmanship, which rivaled that of the famed Han dynasty general Li Guang: with the single shot of an arrow, Tell was able to split an apple on his son’s head exactly in two. Given this demonstration of abundant military skill and outstanding courage, William Tell naturally was an adored and venerated heroic figure.

The academic community nominated Newton’s apple. Academic circles seldom participated in these competitions—they kept their heads buried in work, rarely displaying any sort of romantic feelings. This year, however, they made an exception and put forth their own nomination, as Newton was a scientist whom they greatly revered. It was a tiny, tiny apple that led Newton to discover gravity.

Religious groups nominated the fruit from the Garden of Eden. After Eve ate this fruit, she was expelled from paradise, and henceforth, humans were born with original sin, paradise lost for all eternity. In the preliminary round, the jury hesitated when it came to Eden’s forbidden fruit, since no one could prove whether the forbidden fruit that Eve ate was actually an apple. Painters have flipped through countless catalogs, concluding that it was probably an apple, since many well-known paintings have clearly so depicted it, but scholars have had no luck in their various efforts to research, trace, and seek out its actual identity, since the Bible only refers to it as the forbidden fruit, and there is no evidence of the word “apple.” Perhaps this is why the forbidden fruit wasn’t the recipient of the Apple Award Grand Prize.

Educational circles nominated an apple from a fairy tale: the apple that Snow White ate, prepared just for her by the Wicked Queen. After eating it, Snow White fell into a deep slumber until a handsome prince came to save her, whereupon they lived happily ever after.

The whole town voted for the Apple Award. The entire population of five million, including the elderly, children, tourists, and green card holders, were all eligible to vote. In the end, the apple from “Snow White” was crowned the winner. People voiced numerous opinions about the Apple Pageant, and every day the newspapers published their critiques. Some said that while the golden apple itself was good, it led to war, and war was definitely not good—there wasn’t one person in Fertile Soil Town who welcomed it. Some found William Tell’s apple to be truly worrisome: it scared the living daylights out of mothers, as the whole thing was too close a call and simply came down to a stroke of luck. Some declared Newton’s apple to be pretty good but noted that gravity had already existed—Newton merely discovered it but didn’t actually invent it, so it didn’t seem to be that significant a contribution to humankind, unlike electric lights, rice cookers, televisions, and videogames, all of which were comparatively more useful.

People unanimously praised the apple from “Snow White.” What an extraordinary apple! they said. If you eat it, you can avoid all disasters, and when you wake up, you’ll meet a handsome prince and thereupon live happily ever after. Happily ever after was the life for which each Fertile Soil Town resident yearned.

Before long, statues of Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs, the Wicked Queen, the handsome prince, and the magic apple were unveiled in the square in front of City Hall. Everyone cheered, applauded, shot off fireworks, knocked back a few drinks, and feasted on apples: a wholly festive summer. Within a week, bookstores sold a million copies of children’s books, especially anything having to do with Snow White. Supermarkets sold out of applesauce. Young people all pinned apple brooches to their lapels. The elderly clutched their applewood canes. Women went out and about coiffed with apple hairdos sprayed red and green. Adults filled out membership forms to join the new Apple Club, an Apple MasterCard tucked in every pocket.

Only one person sat motionless beneath an apple tree, waiting to finally see an apple flying toward the sky, in order to confirm that the Earth had lost its gravitational pull.


3

“I’m sorry, we’re all out of storybooks about Snow White,” the children’s librarian told a group of adults waiting in line.

“We’ve sold out of every last book about witches,” the bookstore clerk called out from his perch on the highest rung of a steel ladder.

“Apple seeds? Apples aren’t houseplants—how about planting some other fruits and vegetables? We have seeds for tomatoes, chili peppers, Chinese okra, papayas, and peas, as well as sword beans, red beans, mung beans, and corn . . . ” the woman who owned the flower shop said.

“You’ve asked us to keep airing apple-themed programming, so today we’re going to teach you a few more apple recipes. Now we’re going to introduce apples with fish slices, apple-stuffed shrimp, and apple salad. Apples contain no fat and have natural sugar. Each apple has an average of only eighty calories . . . ” the guest host of the TV show said.

“These people never know how to address their envelopes clearly,” a young bespectacled employee in the mail-sorting office grumbled to a letter.

“There are still undeliverable letters without street names and house numbers?” A clerk who also wore glasses held up a piece of mail at nose level.  

“Once again, someone’s written Fertile Soil Town as Floating Soil Town. They always write Fatal Soil Town, Floating Soil Town, Flying Soil Town, or Futile Soil Town, but can never leave well enough alone and write Fertile Soil Town.”

A Christmas card sent from the state of Illinois contained the following typewritten line: What? Is Floating Soil Town going to be swallowed up?

They all went out searching. I knew that they were looking for Snow White’s stepmother. They were on a quest to find that extraordinary apple. They wanted to eat the apple, and then they could lie down and sleep for a long, long time, and when they awoke, all of their nightmares would have vanished, and everyone would live happily ever after, forever and ever. Let’s go look for that extraordinary apple, they said. Let’s take a bite of that apple and go right to sleep, they said. Let’s sleep through all of the unpleasantness and our dire fate, they said. Let’s wake up to a beautiful country, where people can live and work in peace and harmony without a care in the world, they said.

So they all set off in search of the apple. Would they be able to find Snow White’s stepmother? Was she still alive? Did she still have that extraordinary apple? Was a happy country still waiting on the other side of sleep? I had my doubts, but they all went looking. They said, What choice do we have? There’s nothing we can do anymore except look for the apple. So they all went off to find the apple. And as for me, what was I to do? Merry Christmas.

蘋果 originally published in Plain Leaves Literature 素葉文學; reprinted in the author’s A Woman Like Me 像我這樣的一個女子. © 1982 Xi Xi. Translation © 2018 by Jennifer Feeley. All rights reserved.

蘋果 西西

1

 

    「怎麼有這麼多的人申請旅遊證件?」人民入境事務處的一名官員說。

    「忽然竟出現了上千上萬的人,真是怪事。」處理證件的官員不停地蓋章。

    「如果是銀行,那就像擠提了。」手都酸了的一名官員繼續在持證人的相片上簽名簽名簽名……

 

    「我們的國家要舉行最龐大的啤酒節嗎?」領事館的官員在「簽證及批註欄」上填上編號數目字。

    「也許,大家都想過一個白色的聖誕節。」一幅振翼飛騰的標誌降落在一本硬皮本子第十五頁的左下角。

    「歐陸好幾個國家的領事館都擠滿了人,西班牙的奧運會不是已經結束了嗎?」繪著國王側面的印花一枚糊疊在另一枚上。

 

    「旅遊事業正如日中天哩!」旅行社票務部的職員一面手握電話聽筒一面說:對不起,這個月的機票都已經滿座了。

    「可是為甚麼一般的旅行團卻組不成團呢?所有的人都是獨自出發的,如今是單槍匹馬走天涯的時代嗎?」年輕的一名導遊已經有半個月沒有帶團出外了。

    「獨自旅行的竟然還不是青年人居多,而是中年人;既沒有老年人,也沒有小孩,這是很特別的。」機場餐廳的侍應生這一陣倒很清閒,空氣調節的大餐廳裏嗡嗡地出現了一隻蒼蠅。

 

     「我的生意很好,沒想到會這麼好。那麼多的人都來購買毛絨的厚襪子和手套,還有煙囪也似的絨帽子,就是祇露出兩隻眼睛的那種。是怎麼一回事,人們都要去攀登額非爾士峰嗎?」專賣攀山用品的小店鋪老闆說,他連忙拍電報去補購更多的貨品來填充空缺。

    「我的生意也同樣好,人們可真的喜歡冬季旅遊呀,他們都來買防雨防風的堅固輕便帳幕、買羽絨的睡袋、露營的軍刀、營燈、炊具、指南針和地圖,現代人,真是精力充沛。」體育用品公司的經理把最新產品的機器腳踏爬山車推出窗櫥內展覽,店門口已經停泊了一輛可以涉水登萍的吉甫車。

    「那麼,我的生意好卻又是甚麼緣故呢?人們都來訂購最舒適的睡褥和睡床。」家具店的代理商說。

 

2

 

    今年的夏天,肥土鎮真是再熱鬧也沒有了。今年的肥土鎮,也像往年一般,到了夏天,循例要舉行一個大規模的文化節,在節日期間,除了各類的戲劇、音樂、舞蹈、繪畫、雕塑展覽或演出外,還要辦一次特別的競選大會。早幾年一直舉行的「肥土鎮小姐競選大會」,因為遭到婦女會的杯葛和抗議,所以決定不要再辦了,代之而起的,是選舉「肥上鎮足球先生」、  「肥土鎮模範青年」等等,都是異常熱鬧的盛事。今年,比較別開生面,是響應「競選國際化」的一次壯舉,主題是「蘋果競選」,方法是由不同的團體推薦世界上有史以來最出色、最受歡迎、最獲欣賞讚美的蘋果出來,然後,在大會堂前的廣場上立一尊銅像,以資紀念。

    還沒到夏天,全鎮的人就已經十分興奮了,水果店都擺出了蘋果作主要的推銷目標,餐室推出了蘋果餐,咖啡室兼售蘋果批,義大利商店也特別製造了蘋果薄餅,至於蘋果酒、蘋果雪糕、蘋果糖、蘋果搖搖、蘋果牌衣褲帽子圍巾泳衣等等,滿街滿巷都是,每個人都唱起了蘋果歌,所有的醫務所對前往診症的病人均贈送一個蘋果作為酬謝。

    還沒到夏天,競選的提名表格已經紛紛呈遞肥土鎮的文化部了,由文化部初選評審,選出了五份表格作最後的競賽,其中一份表格,是由「肥土鎮婦女會」呈交的,提名的是希臘神話中的金蘋果。這個蘋果,大家都知道,本來是要來送給希臘眾神中最公平的一位女神的,所有的女神都想得到金蘋果,可是評判巴里把金蘋果給了阿普第,因為阿普第答應把海倫嫁給他。但海倫已經許配給曼里紐了,巴里不管,把海倫擄劫了。於是,發生了長達十年的特洛伊城的戰事,這件事,古希臘詩人荷馬就有名詩吟唱過。海倫是歷史上著名的美人,婦女會的提名,是有一番深意的。

    警務處、民安隊、三軍軍部及國術界聯合提名的是威廉泰爾的蘋果,因為他的箭法如神,可以比美漢代的大將軍李廣,把一個蘋果放在兒子的頭上,也能不偏不倚射中,充分表現了精湛的武藝和過人的瞻色,威廉泰爾當然是人們崇拜敬仰的英雄人物。

    學術界提名的則是牛頓的蘋果。對於甚麼甚麼的競選,學術界一向很少參與,他們都是一些埋頭實幹的人物,很少表露浪漫的情懷,不過,今年他們破例也提了名,因為牛頓是他們敬仰的科學家。是一個小小的蘋果,使牛頓發現了萬有引力。

    宗教團體提名的就是伊甸園的果子了,這個果子,使夏娃吃了之後,被逐出了樂園,從此之後,世人就有了原罪,永遠地失去了樂園了。初選的時候,評選團對伊甸園的禁果頗覺躊躇,因為誰也不能證明夏娃吃的禁果是不是蘋果。畫家們翻了很多畫冊,認為那大概是蘋果,因為許多著名的畫幅明明畫的是蘋果,可是學者們多方研究、追溯、尋找,並沒有結果,因為聖經裏祇稱那是禁果,沒有「蘋果」的字證。也許是因為這樣,禁果結果沒有當選為蘋果獎的大獎得主。

    教育界所提名的則是童話裏的蘋果,那就是白雪公主所吃的蘋果,由女巫的皇后親自製成,吃了之後,白雪公主就沉睡了,一直到英俊的王子來救她才醒來,從此過著快快樂樂的日子。

    蘋果獎是由全鎮的人民投票選出的,五百萬人,不論老年人、小孩子、遊客、綠卡持有人,都可以投票。結果,得獎的是白雪公主童話裏的蘋果。人們對蘋果競選發表了許多意見,報章上每天都刊登大家的批評,有的說,金蘋果雖然好,可是引來了戰爭,戰爭就不好了,肥土鎮的人是沒有一個歡迎戰爭的。有的人說,威廉泰爾的蘋果可真令人擔心呀,做母親的真是嚇得魂不附體呀,太危險了,也太幸運了。有的人說,牛頓的蘋果也不錯,不過,萬有引力本來就有的了,牛頓祇是發現,而不是發明,對人類的貢獻似乎不大;不像電燈、電飯鍋、電視、電子遊戲機,比較實用些。

    人們對白雪公主童話裏的蘋果一致給與好評。大家都說:真是一個奇異的蘋果,吃了,就可以避過一切的災難了,一覺醒來,遇見了英俊的王子,從此過著快快樂樂的日子。快快樂樂的日子,那是肥土鎮的每一個人都嚮往的生活。

    不久,白雪公主和七個小矮人和女巫皇后和英俊王子和神奇蘋果的雕像就在大會堂前的廣場上揭幕了。大家歡呼呀,喝采呀,放煙花呀、喝酒呀、吃蘋果呀,整整熱鬧了一個夏天。書店裏的童話書,尤其是白雪公主,在一個星期之內,銷了一百萬冊,超級市場的蘋果醬賣得絕了市,年輕人的衣襟上都別著蘋果飾針,老年人則持著蘋果拐杖,婦女梳著噴上紅綠兩色的蘋果髮型上街,成年人都填上表格申請參加新落成的蘋果俱樂部做會員,他們的衣袋裏都帶著蘋果通財證。

    祇有一個人,坐在蘋果樹下一動也不動,他要等終於看見一個蘋果飛向天空,好證實地球已經失去吸引的能力。

 

3

 

    「對不起,所有關於白雪公主童話的故事書一本也沒有了。」兒童圖書館的管理員對排著隊的一群成年人說。

    「關於女巫的書本,我們這裏真的一本也已售清了呀。」站在鋼梯最上層的書店售貨員說。

    「蘋果的種子?蘋果並不是室內植物哩,種些別的蔬果好不好?我們有蕃茄、辣椒、絲瓜、木瓜、豌豆的種子,還有刀豆、紅豆、綠豆、玉蜀黍……」花店的女主人說。

    「大家要求我們繼續播放有關蘋果的節目,所以,今天我們就再教幾種蘋果食譜給大家吧。現在我們要介紹的是蘋果魚塊、蘋果蝦盒和蘋果沙律。蘋果不含脂肪、含天然糖份,每個蘋果平均祇有八十個加路里……」電視節目的特約節目主持人說。

    這些人永遠不知道該清清楚楚地寫好他們的信封。」郵政局揀信部一名年輕的戴眼鏡職員對著一封信又咕嚕起來。

    「仍是沒有街道名字、沒有門牌號碼的死信嗎?」也戴眼鏡的職員把信件栘到鼻尖前面。

    「把肥土鎮又寫成了浮土鎮。老是寫:非土鎮、浮土鎮、飛土鎮、否土鎮,就是不肯安安份份地寫:肥——土——鎮。」

    從伊利諾州寄過來的一張聖誕卡裏有一行打字機寫的字:怎麼,浮土鎮要陸沉了嗎?

 

    他們都到外面去尋找了。我知道,他們都去尋找白雪公主的母后去了。他們去尋找那些奇異的蘋果。他們想吃蘋果,吃了蘋果,就可以躺下來睡一次很長很長的覺,然後,當你醒來,一切惡夢都已經消失,人們將永遠快快樂樂地過日子。讓我們去尋找那奇異的蘋果,他們說。讓我們吃一口蘋果然後立刻睡眠,他們說。讓一切不如意的事、可怕的命運都在睡眠中度過,他們說。讓我們醒來的時候,看見一個美麗的國家,人民可以安居樂業,無憂無慮,他們說。

    所以他們都去尋找蘋果去了。他們能找到白雪公主的母后嗎?她仍生存嗎、她還有奇異的蘋果嗎、快樂的國度仍在睡眠的另一邊嗎?我總是懷疑,但大家都去尋找了。他們說,除了尋找蘋果,還有甚麼辦法可想呢,我們再也沒有甚麼可以做的了。所以,他們都去尋找蘋果了。那麼我呢,我該做些甚麼呢?祝聖誕快樂。

    一九八二年十二月

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