I take my apple, and the smallest of the kitchen knives, and peel it. The knife edges its way slowly round the edge of the apple. Each time I do this, I try to get the peeled layer a bit thinner, slicing off ever more fragile pieces of the rose-veined skin. Eventually, I have the skin off, all in one piece. It lies on the plate in a spiral. You could almost re-build the apple from that delicate spiral of peel.
The apple sits, naked now, on the plate. Its round little form has new corners where I have sliced away the peel with the flat blade of the knife.
I don't want to eat it yet. Coffee first.
Why do they call it stainless steel when it still gets stained? The kettle is covered with tiny pale flecks, thousands of water-marks from a thousand boilings. I watch the water pour into the kettle, watch it encroach slowly on the maximum mark. It's almost too heavy to lift, but I get the full kettle over to its base, and flick the switch on. There won't be coffee for a while yet -that round little kettle takes forever to boil, particularly if I have filled it up that much. That weight of water takes a while to excite.
Back to the apple. I take the tiny knife again, and cut the corners off the apple. Apples should be round. Maybe kettles shouldn't, maybe it would boil better if it were taller and thinner rather than wide and round.
Of course, as I cut the corners off the apple, I make more corners. I need some sort of apple-peeler that doesn't leave corners when you take the peel off the apple. I thought the tiny knife would cut it, but I still need a better apple-peeler.
That was quite funny. The knife just doesn't cut it.
Dad comes downstairs. Unusual for me to be up before him, actually. Usually he's up before I am, making sure the coffee is already made.
"Morning, Dad. Sleep well?"
He smiles blearily at me. Dad's never very talkative during breakfast.
I lift the now-boiled kettle. It's really heavy. I thought water became less dense when you boiled it. Shouldn't it be lighter now? Dad gets two mugs out of the cupboard. One is the mug I always have. It's the perfect breakfast-coffee size, with spots painted on the outside. I don't like coffee from this mug later in the day, though. It is a breakfast mug.
Dad just has any old mug. He doesn't care. Today he has the chipped mug. I hate the chipped mug. It makes me feel a little bit sick. The chip isn't that big, it's just really ugly. The rest of the mug is a uniform blue, and then there's this ugly, off-white scar by the handle. Dad says it doesn't matter, because if you hold the mug in your right hand, the chip is the opposite side to where you drink from. But I really hate that mug.
I sip my coffee slowly, savouring the lovely smell of the dark, black, liquid. I could live off the smell of coffee. It counteracts the horrible feeling of the chipped mug. I sit down away from Dad as he drinks from the un-chipped side, and enjoy my coffee.
There is an art to drinking black coffee. First it's too hot, so you have to slurp at it. The game is to slurp without making too much noise, because then everyone knows you are too greedy to wait for your coffee to cool down before you drink it. But once it starts to cool down it cools really quickly, so you have to drink it fairly quickly before it slows down. But if you drink it too quickly, you'll feel really bloated, and burp. Plus it won't have lasted very long.
Some people add cold water into their coffee. Dad drinks his with milk. Milk! The very thought of milk makes me shudder. It's fatty juice, squeezed from a cow. Why do people think it's normal to drink that?
Between the chipped cup and the milk, I'm quite put off my apple. And it's already starting to go brown around the edges, the bits that I cut off first. I could cut the brown bits off, so that it is all perfectly round and greenish-white again. But I would have to eat it quickly, to enjoy it before it turned brown again.
I do like apples. But this morning I think I'll stick to the coffee. I pick the plate up off the table, with all the peelings. The tiny knife is still on the plate. I could throw the knife out with the peelings; after all, I do need a better apple-peeler. Somehow though, I don't think Dad will like this. I put the knife back on the side, and throw the apple and its peelings into the bin.
"What are you doing?" Dad almost shouts, he's so surprised. He's never very cheery in the mornings.
"I didn't want it. I'm not hungry." He stares at me in disbelief, but it's the truth. I do like apples, but I don't need it today. Particularly not if it was going brown. "Plus it was going brown. And I couldn't get the peel off so it was, you know, smooth. Is there something better for peeling apples than the knife? I thought the knife would cut it, but it doesn't."
He doesn't laugh at my pun. He draws breath as though he's about to speak again, but just then the doorbell rings.
I expect Dad to grumble; he doesn't like visitors in the mornings. I think I had better answer the door. Blood rushes away from my head as I leap up too quickly, and the world spins, flickering like static on a telly. As I stand there waiting for my vision to clear, I hear Dad answer the door.
"Good morning, Mr Jeffreys. How is she today?" A male voice says. My vision has cleared now, so I wander out into the hall to see who that could be.
His face is quite nice, thin with high cheekbones and dark eyes and hair. He's wearing a smart, long black coat. It makes him look quite broad-shouldered, but also very tall and skinny at the same time. I think it must be quite an expensive coat. Under the coat he is wearing cream-coloured trousers and brown brogues. What a funny outfit. It makes him look a bit like a university lecturer. At least, that's what I imagine a lecturer would dress like. I haven't been to Uni.
Actually, I'd probably better get on with my coursework. I do want to get into Uni. I turn to head upstairs and start working, but Dad calls me back.
"Ellie, this is Dr Phillips."
I wonder why he's come to visit so early on a Saturday.
"Medical or PhD?" I ask, trying to decide before he answers. To be honest, he could be either. Dr Phillips looks nonplussed. Then his expression clears. "Both, actually, Ellie."
I'm not surprised I couldn't guess then. I suppose that's quite impressive. But it doesn't really explain why he's here.
"Ellie," He says very slowly and carefully, "I'm here because your father is worried about your eating habits." He stares at me, trying to maintain eye contact. A feeling of cold starts at the top of my head, making all my scalp feel prickly, and then spreads down my back. Like someone has dropped water over me. I can see goose-bumps under the hair on my arms, and my teeth are on the verge of chattering. Did Dad ask him to come here? What I eat is not his business. It isn't anyone's business, other than my own.
"I don't think my eating habits are really any of your business." I almost spit the words out, I'm biting each syllable so hard. He completely ignores my comment.
"Have you had breakfast this morning?"
How rude. I'm not telling him anything. But then Dad butts in.
"No. She hasn't."
I can't believe him. "Dad, you saw me. I had that coffee." I haven't actually finished the coffee. It's still steaming, just about, on the side there.
"Coffee is something to have with breakfast, Ellie. Not as breakfast. And you threw your apple in the bin."
"But I didn't want it! I didn't need to eat it."
Dad doesn't reply to that. He turns back to Dr Phillips, and just says, "You see?"
"See what? What is the problem? I didn't want to eat that apple, is that a crime?" It's my turn to be almost shouting, or I would be if my teeth would stop chattering. Dad closes his eyes, then opens them again, rolling them towards the ceiling.
"Ellie, please don't over-react. We have tried to talk to you about this before. This isn't healthy, the way you've been eating. You know that. We...we just need some help getting you better." He sighs.
"I'm not sick, Dad."
"Dammit, Ellie. Yes, you are."
"Ellie." Dr Phillips pauses for a long time. I don't like it. "I realise this is difficult, but please be honest with us. Your father is concerned that you might be anorexic?"
"The adjective is anorectic, actually." That was the wrong thing to say, even though a real doctor should have known that. The wrong damn thing to say, a tacit acknowledgement to their point of view.
"Would you describe yourself as anorectic, Ellie?" Dr Phillips almost whispers, he's speaking so quietly. I don't want to answer that. I don't want to go down that road, open that whole can of worms.
"I am fine." I say, and my voice shakes as I say it. "This is my choice. My life."
"No, Ellie. No. It is not your life." Dad is shouting again. Surely he can't have just said that. He can't have meant that. He sighs as he meets my eyes. "It is your life, but you haven't...you don't realise that what happens in your life affects us, you know. It affects us as well."
"Who is us?" I didn't mean to say that. It's not that I don't mean it. I do, I really do. But this argument is not about them. The problem is, I'd like it to be, even though Dad looks like I've just hit him, and I can't stop myself. He has picked a problem with the way I am choosing to live my life; well, Dad, I'm afraid I have a problem with the way you are living yours.
"Who do you mean by us, Dad? You and Mum? Because I really don't think she even knows. And the others; Sylvia, Janie, Maria? Why would they even care what I do or don't choose to eat."
"Don't speak to me like that!" He snarls, and I know that I have touched a nerve.
"But they don't care, Dad. They don't. They are interested in you, not in me. They couldn't care less about an awkward teenage girl."
Dr Phillips hasn't said anything for a while. I wonder if he is used to fights when he shows up unexpectedly on people's doorsteps and declares them ill. Although I suppose he wasn't entirely unexpected. Dad clearly expected him.
"If you are so upset about this, Dad, shouldn't you tell me that yourself?" I have to know the answer to this. Did he ever notice? Did he see the problem by himself? Or did one of his many 'friends' point out that I never eat that apple in the mornings.
"I...would like you to eat, Ellie." He says sadly, closing his eyes. "I would like you to get a bit...to put on some weight, and eat normally."
As deliberately as I possibly can, I walk over to the cupboard where he keeps the horrible food, the crisps and all the greasy food that tastes far, far too good for the shit that it is made of. I'm shaking, as I pick up a packet of sausage rolls and bite into the powdery pastry of the first roll. I chew it, and before it's even swallowed, I cram the next one in. Dad averts his eyes. He wants me to eat, but then can't watch me do it. Dr Phillips is watching. I carry on, until I have eaten all six.
"That didn't seem to make you much happier, Dad." I say. My stomach is churning -I didn't even finish my coffee this morning. I can taste bile rising in my throat. Hand clasped over my mouth, I run for the loo, and get rid of all that powdery pastry and slimy sausage meat. I don't even lock the door.
Dad has followed me in here. He holds my hair back as I regurgitate the half-chewed rolls, gasping and shuddering. Dr Phillips has remained in the kitchen.
Eventually, I am done. I stand up, slowly, and wash my face. I glimpse Dad's face in the mirror. He doesn't look like my Dad, who has always been young, popular. He looks old and tired, and more than a little bit grey. Grey in the hair and grey in the face.
Did I do that to him? I look at my reflection. I generally try to avoid my reflection. This is the first time I have looked at me, really looked at me, in a long time. I'm very pale, although I have just been sick, so that could be why. My hair looks thin. I'm sure I used to have more hair. My eyes look big, too. Like, too big. They're all rimmed in red, as though I have been crying buckets.
I look away from the mirror. I don't want to see that reflection any more. The sight I turn to isn't much better though. Dad is watching me. He hasn't taken his eyes off me since I ran upstairs, his tired eyes in his exhausted face pleading silently with me to accept help. I don't remember him ever looking like this.
I feel like screaming. I don't think I can handle another stranger in my life. That tall, skinny, professorial doctor is bad enough. But my Dad looks like a stranger, in my own home, my own father. And I did this, didn't I? I did this to him.
I head back to the kitchen, to Dr Phillips, who is standing there in his big long coat, waiting expectantly.
"Well, Dr Phillips. Maybe I do need your help."