Middle raced past the dad on his scooter, nearly pushing youngest over and leapt off the kerb onto the road with a crash as loud as two very small wheels can make.
‘Off the road!’ the dad snapped.
Middle looked back, his hair whipping, his foot still pushing forwards on the road. He jumped back onto the path with another crash and zoomed close. ‘Not my fault,’ he said as he rolled past the dad and youngest to circle behind them as if he were herding them.
‘Who’s fault is it then?’ the dad asked without turning to look at middle.
‘I blame gravity,’ the middle called out. He swept past them and sped on ahead.
‘What does he mean?’ youngest asked.
‘I don’t know,’ said the dad, looking down to youngest and smiling. ‘But let’s hope he doesn’t bother telling us. Youngest grinned up at the dad and let him swing their arms together for a few steps.
Middle slowed his scooter and drifted back to them. ‘It just makes you drop, so I couldn’t help it.’
‘You didn’t have to scoot towards the road,’ the dad pointed out.
‘Gravity,’ the middle child assured the dad.
‘Right,’ said the dad, hoping to leave it at that.
‘Why is it called gravity anyway?’ middle asked. ‘It doesn’t make much sense. He could’ve just called it ‘drop’. Just ‘drop’ on its own.’
‘I don’t know,’ the dad said. A spark flared in his mind. ‘Actually, it might be from…’
Middle cut him off, ‘Don’t tell me, Latin?’ He said this in a bored voice as if Latin were some ridiculous catch-all explanation that he heard every day.
For all the dad knew, he did. But that wasn’t what he was going to say. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I mean it might from the way we use gravity to describe to people.’
Youngest looked up at the dad, saw a friend in the distance and squirmed his hand free, then said, ‘People aren’t gravity.’
‘No,’ the dad agreed, ‘but it can be used to describe people.’
‘How?’ middle asked.
‘Well, if you say that someone has gravity, you mean that they have a sort of weight to them.’
‘Do you mean that they’re…’
The dad cut the middle off. ‘No, I don’t mean that they’re fat. I mean that they’re somehow more impressive, more present, more there than other people.’ The two children looked at him and rolled their eyes. They always did that when the dad tried to explain words; he never made much sense to them.
The dad saw he was losing them but plunged on regardless. ‘I mean that people with gravity seem more real, more important, more believable, more trustworthy. They seem like they have more weight and other people get attracted to people like that.’
Middle was nodding now. ‘Just like gravity,’ he said, and then smiled. ‘People drop towards them.’
‘I suppose so,’ the dad agreed, only slightly annoyed that an 11-year-old had explained his own idea better than him.
Middle stepped off his scooter and pushed alongside the dad, a sure sign he was thinking. The dad braced himself as middle spoke. ‘So does that mean that Isaac Newton stole the word?’ he asked.
‘Erm, no, he might have re-appropriated it, I suppose.’
‘What does that mean?’ asked youngest.
‘Taking something and making its meaning yours.’
‘That is stealing,’ said youngest.
‘Ha!’ middle shouted, gaining a few looks from the school mums around them. ‘Then he did steal it!’
‘No,’ said the dad. ‘He just used an appropriate word. Anyway, I don’t even know if that’s what happened.’
‘So he stole the word and the idea,’ said middle.
‘How did he steal the idea?’
‘From the apple,’ said middle. Youngest giggled, which didn’t help. ‘He saw that apple fall and he stole the idea from it.’
‘No,’ said the dad, already feeling like he was losing even though he was clearly the only one making sense.
‘He has all these ideas about - quotation marks - gravity,’ (middle’s hands were busy pushing his scooter so he couldn’t do a double finger wave to indicate the quotation marks) ‘but he stole them from the apple. He wrote books, got rich and famous, claimed to be a genius, got called Sir and then claimed it was a law. All because he stole from an apple.’
‘I don’t think apples have very many ideas to steal,’ the dad pointed out.
‘How do you know?’
‘They could be just as clever as us. They could be communicating all the time and we don’t even know it. They might be smartest beings on the planet.’
‘Do you mean that they’re intelligent…’ the dad paused for effect, ‘… to the core?’
The dad laughed. Middle looked at him from beneath his hair. Youngest flicked confused eyes between them. ‘Get it?’ the dad asked.
‘Yes,’ middle replied, deadpan.
‘It’s funny,’ the dad insisted. No one laughed. ‘You don’t get it.’
‘Apples have cores,’ said middle, just as deadpan.
The dad smiled, waiting for the laugh. At least a smirk. Nothing. He sighed. Youngest shook his head at the dad and ran off to join his friends. The dad was left with middle. ‘Apples don’t have idea,’ he said.
‘They might,’ said middle. ‘You can’t prove that they don’t.’
‘They’re apples. They just grow and they just drop.’
‘Doesn’t mean they’re not clever.’
‘Well, it does.’ The dad was exasperated. Middle heard it in his voice and pressed on.
‘Doesn’t. You can’t prove they’re not intelligent.’
‘I don’t need to.’
‘Yes you do.’
‘No I don’t.’
The dad stopped himself from saying don’t and instead resorted to what he thought was logic. ‘They’re just apples.’
‘They might have an advanced civilisation and we’re too stupid to see it.’
‘Because we keep eating them?’
‘In an alternative universe…’
‘But not this one!’ the dad leapt in.
‘In that universe, apples rule everything and that Pink Lady that fell from the tree was a ruler, a queen, and in that other universe she could’ve had Isaac Newton executed.’
‘Could’ve been a Granny Smith,’ said the dad.
‘Apples are at the centre of all things! They speak to each other!’
‘No, they just grow, just drop and just rot. Some of them might hope to make new apple trees.’
‘Exactly!’ middle exclaimed, drawing looked from the now many mums; they were close to the school gates. ‘They’re taking over the world!’
‘In this universe or the apple one?’
‘In all of them! There will be an apple apocalypse and humans will be wiped out!’ Middle threw his hands in the air to imitate a mad megalomaniac and his scooter clattered into the gutter. The two of them stood frozen as mums and other children moved around them.
The dad rumbled back to life and mumbled sorry as often as he could to the mums while middle bent to pick up his scooter. Mounting it, he pushed away and called over his shoulder, ‘That’s why I won’t be eating that fruit you’ve put in my pack-up. It’d be murder.’ He rolled through the gates and was surrounded by his friends.