On the first day they are shown the workshops and the studios. The rooms smell of clay and wood and paint and plaster.
Then they are given pears. Their teacher, a man in denim clothes, tells them that they are to look closely. They are each to notice everything about their pear. They are each going to replicate their pear exactly. That is the first task, the teacher says. The students look at each other, sitting up at the challenge. You have until Friday, he adds, handing them each a shin- sized block of wood to work with.
Saul carries the wood and the pear carefully to lunch. He has the soup and sandwich deal in the canteen. The carrot & cumin soup is very hot and he spends a long time over it. Whilst he does, he looks at his pear. The light in the canteen is very good. The building is not like school at all, though its skull, its shell, is almost the same: a Victorian brick building with high windows. The windows are the difference, he thinks. They somehow scoop in all the light from the road outside. And the light is danced by the plane tree branches, by their shadows and dapples.
He looks at his pear again. It is a conference pear: green and gold, hard, dappled. The wood is — he’s not sure what. Light, pale, tight-grained. It looks as though it will be good to work with.
He has stayed for lunch, thinking that there will be more lessons in the afternoon. But there is only a fire safety talk. He goes to the correct door, and looks through at the empty room. He does not go in.
There isn’t a freshers’ week, exactly, on the course. But the next day, as they are measuring their pears, the group decides where they will go out tonight. It seems that they have already been out together, it must have been last night. Saul would be envious, but he is too focused on his pear, measuring a dark brown line on its full belly.
By morning break he has finished measuring his pear. By lunch he has begun to cut into his wood. The teacher, in silver clothes today, nods approvingly at him.
By mid-afternoon his replica is pear-like. It’s all going pear-shaped, the teacher jokes. He hears the teacher making the same joke on the next table, later.
He feels familiar with his pear, now. This must be how people feel about one another’s bodies, he thinks. When they model for each other, or have sex with each other.
By six o’clock everybody is packing up, and he thinks he had better go with them. They leave their work in the studios, but he carries his pears, the real and the replica, back with him, careful of their stalks. He leaves them in his room, on his desk.
Then he joins the others in a kitchen. There are candles burning, in a way that feels very adult, and there is large, calm music playing. He sits on the edge of the table, and talks to the girl next to him. She has very crooked teeth in a way that he finds sexy. He can tell she is wearing perfume.
The evening throws new people at him in a churning rhythm. He recognises the faces as they talk in the kitchen, on the bus, in the queue, in the club.
The club is spacious, more like a warehouse. They stand in a ring around their rucksacks and coats, and they dance. The girls dance with their arms above their heads in a wafty, reedy way. They tilt their heads, as though they are listening to secret voices. They all kiss each other, the girls, and he would like to join in.
He buys cans of Red Stripe, and he sees the girls holding keys that glint under the lights. He knows there must be drugs. But they do not invite him to join. They do not kiss him. Nobody leans their face up close to his. And he doesn’t stay past midnight. He thinks about his pear on the bus back, is glad to see it on the desk when he gets in.
In the morning, he carries his pear and his wood to the studio, begins work. He has not finished carving the wood, but he is already thinking about the way he will stipple paint across its surface. The teacher nods at him, pleased by him. He is hard at work when the others roll in, back to their pears and their work.
He stands outside with them at lunchtime. The girl with crooked teeth, her name is Annelise, is talking to him. She is smoking, fiddling with her lighter, as she speaks. She exhales smoke and tells him the German word for lightbulb is Glühbirnen. It means Glow Pear. He likes the word. The way it turns his attention back to his own language. Lightbulb. Like a bulb, like a root.
When he gets back to his desk he looks at his pear, and at his teacher. His teacher is in yellow plastic clothes. He wonders what the point is. Of these pears. Then he keeps on working.
At the end of the day he has finished carving, just about. He picks up his pears, and the fruit feels a little different. Softer. The skin has changed very slightly. He stands still.
You look like an omen, Annelise says to him on his way out. He laughs, and carries the expression home with him.
He hears feet cantering outside, people are going out, in the evening. He stays in, examining the pear. He has realised that it is changing. Very slowly decaying. It makes the project feel urgent and impossible at once. He wants to capture the pear as it is, now. Exactly now. And now. And now. Each moment in the event that is the pear.
He falls asleep thinking of the pear and wakes up thinking of the pear. He goes to college carrying the pear. It has changed more in the night. The top of it, its neck, has softened. It slumps when he puts it down on his desk. Only a tiny amount, fractional. But he notices it. He mixes paint with medium, trying for the perfect pear sheen, the greenish yellow of the undercoat.
Annelise is sitting nearer him. When he looks up at her, she tells him about the family she babysits for. The fact that they buy doubles of soft toys, secretly, so that if one toy was lost, there would always be its double to replace it. A kind of second chance.
He smiles at her. He likes the way she speaks. But he also wants to focus on his pear, so he looks back down at his work. He holds the wooden pear by its stalk and rotates it, slowly, so that he can paint an even basecoat. Whilst the pear is drying he holds its stalk and talks to Annelise. His voice is clogged at first, and he realises that he has barely spoken in days. He talks to her about music, hoping it will make him seem attractive.
Can I copy your technique? Annelise asks, butting into something he was saying about John Coltrane. Yes, he says, yes of course you can. She takes her pear by its stalk, and paints it, evenly. It is a moment too yellow, he notices, but he doesn’t say anything.
Soon the rest of the class are spinning their wooden pears, too. He is on his second coat by then. He wonders how each person feels about their pear. He wonders how the other pears are changing. All the other pears are left here overnight, which means that they are probably slightly cooler and drier than his. He hopes that his room is not accelerating his pear’s changes — by the warmth of his breath when he sleeps, for instance. He considers leaving his pear here, too, but the idea makes him uncomfortable. He worries about someone mistaking his pear for theirs, and taking it. He doesn’t know what he would do if that happened.
So he takes his pear with him in the evening, when they leave the studio. And he looks at it for a long time before he goes to sleep. He tries to remember the pear exactly as it is, exactly now, because he knows it will be different when he wakes up.
The next day is Thursday, the final day he has to work on the pear. He goes into college early, earlier than the teacher, even, so he has to wait outside. When the teacher arrives, in green gingham clothes, they smile at one another. The smile is a little gritty, though. He worries that the teacher is laughing at him, at his expense. But he focuses on his pear. On the outer layers of paint. The gold-brown speckling which seems to float on the surface of the paler green. The small dark stipples. The cautious rosette on its underside. The black green of its stalk.
He is getting close, he has been for hours. To a perfect wooden replica. His classmates come to look at him, at his work. That’s really good, they say. Woah, they say. They squint at him. He keeps working. The others leave, and Annelise smiles at him on her way out. He cannot read the smile, though. He keeps working until his teacher tells him that it’s time to go, he needs to lock up, and doesn’t Saul have a home to go to?
Saul carries his wooden pear by its stalk, not wanting to blur its paint beneath his fingers. He holds the fruit pear in his palm, though. The stalk does not seem strong enough any longer.
The two pears have been the most similar they will ever be, Saul thinks. He walks home, carrying each of them. Now they will become more and more different. Until the end of time.
He sleeps fitfully, checking on his pears during the night. Turning on the light he sees they are still there, but they are changing, both of them. The paint on his wooden pear has lightened, very slightly, as it has dried. He touches it, and then touches his fruit pear. He feels a terrible pulpiness beneath its familiar skin.
He is delicate when he carries the pears into the studio. It is Friday. The day of the crit. The teacher is in a blush pink towelling outfit. I’m ready to compare your pears, he says to the group. He gets a laugh, and he says it again. I’m ready to compare your pears.
You’ve all done fabulously, the teacher says. He pulls a pair of glasses from his top pocket. He inspects each pear closely. He awards distinctions to each person as he goes. Really intricate. So painterly. How lovely. Very accurate. Saul holds his breath as he watches. Uncanny, says the teacher when he comes to Saul’s pear, distinction. And then he moves on to the next.
Afterwards, Saul’s classmates photograph their pears. They eat their fruit pears, some of them, sweet juice wetting their chins. Waste not want not, says the teacher. Saul watches them, holding his pears, protective. They are still changing, the pears, even when he holds them close to him. The two of them coming further and further apart.
Saul looks down at his pears. Then he stands up. He takes white spirit from a counter, and asks Annelise to lend him her lighter. He walks out of the studio. In the smoking area, just beside the carpark, she watches as he sets the pears alight. The paint takes quickly, and then the wood, and then the soft fruit. She watches for a while, and then she walks back into the studio.
Saul stands outside for a very long time, examining the almost-matching ash. There is ash, dark, on each of his fingers. Dust, and the smell of rot and smoke.
Phoebe Thomson (she/her) is from South London. Her work has appeared in publications including Best Small Fictions 2021, Litro Online, IFLA!, Brixton Review of Books, Lunate and Flash Fiction Magazine. In 2020 she completed the Goldsmiths MA in Creative & Life Writing through the Isaac Arthur Green Scholarship.