THE SPROUT AND I

Life is too short and too busy to stuff mushrooms, or pickle eggs, or forge unwanted relationships, but today, because it seems like the ultimate challenge, I am going to bond with a Brussel sprout. That most maligned of vegetables and I will spend the morning in close proximity while I study its form and ponder its importance in the general scheme of things. I will do my best to empathise with it with a view to writing a spellbinding piece extolling its virtues. Then, perhaps with a dramatic flourish, I will plop it into the pan with the rest of its clan.
I place it in the window. Just the one. No need to go overboard. Don’t want a row of little green bowling balls lining up, attracting attention. They wouldn’t understand, those whose Sunday mornings consist of checking last night’s lottery and wondering whether to do the lawn or nothing at all.
“They wouldn’t understand at all would they?” I say, leaning frighteningly close to the sprout, just as a little hand rests on my arm.
“Who’re you talking to Nan?”
Dilemma! Is talking to yourself worse than talking to a sprout? Seconds to decide. Lie? Tell the truth?
“Nan. Who are you talking to?” Jake insists.
“The sprout. There in the window.” There we go. The truth is always better than a lie – so we tell them. And six-year old boys have imaginations. He’ll appreciate this. “I was talking to the sprout.” I tell him.
“Why?”
“Because I’m trying to understand it.”
Whoops! He goes roaring into the living room, as only an six year old can, making a bee-line for his brother and now all I have to do is wait for Kieran to saunter in, hands in pockets, hood up. Eleven years old. Growing too fast.
“Talking to the veggies then?” he asks. “Jake says you were talking to a sprout.”
“So,” I say, “My kitchen, my sprout, my choice.” Now who sounds like the child?
He shrugs. A nothing-to-do-with-me-if-you’re-losing-the-plot type of shrug.
“Granddad says can he have coffee and dad says can he have one too.”
“Why not?” I say. “I’ve got nothing to do but peel potatoes, make Yorkshires, baste the meat…”
“It’s alright. Ask the sprout if he can help,” he says and dashes for safety.
I stare at the single sprout as if it is to blame for my lack of caution. What a stupid idea.
“Should have waited ‘till no-one was here. Should have tried it tomorrow, I say, knowing as soon as the words leave my lips that the sprout and I are not alone.
“You OK mum?” my son asks.
Good grief! Are they taking turns to view the demented woman in her habitat?
“I’m not crazy you know,” I tell him, more than a little irritated. “There is a reason why I’m doing this. It’s an experiment in empathy. Can I become involved with this sprout? Can I… ” I stop. I’ve seen his face.
“Hey! I think you’re perfectly normal,” he says, lifting his hands, holding, them palms out and backing away. “It’s the sprout that thinks you’re nuts.”
For the next half-hour I steadfastly avoid looking at, or talking to, that that I am beginning to think of as ‘that damned thing!’
Jake’s back. He, at least, has stopped laughing.
“Have you given it a name?” he asks as I watch his face. He’s not mocking. He means it. What have I done to this child?
“No. You don’t give names to sprouts,” I tell him.
“You do if you talk to them. Cedric, I think. Cedric the sprout.”
“I’ll have Cedric on my plate,” Kieran says. He’s standing at the door,behind his brother, boredom festering in his mind, trouble festering in his eyes. “Yummy yum yum. I’ll eat Cedric,” He chants. He used to be such a nice child and now I’ve got him flexing his pre-teenage muscles on a sprout.
“You won’t. You wouldn’t eat Snowy would you?” Jake asks.
“Snowy’s a hamster,” I remind him. “Even I wouldn’t eat Snowy.”
“But I’m not eating Cedric and neither is Kieran,” he says giving his brother a far from friendly push.
“Stop it. Both of you. Go! Scram! Find something to do that doesn’t involve fighting, arguing, making a noise or making a mess.” Now there’s a real challenge.
“Football,” Kieran says. “Back garden. I’ll be goalie.”
Great! Just two more windows and I can have a brand new greenhouse.
I’m about to drop Ced – damn – the sprout into the pan, when Jake peeps round the door and flashes me a look that makes me feel like a hired killer.
“Not Cedric!” he hisses.
“What do you suggest I do with him – it?” I hiss back.
“Plastic bag,” he says, “put him in the fridge. I’ll take him home with me tonight. And don’t tell Mum.”
Help! I’m in the wrong world.
Dinner’s over. Family’s gone. Cedric is tucked firmly into Jake’s pocket. He may end up in the bin. He may be thrown in the washer and end up a pulpy green mess. Or, more likely, he’ll lie forgotten in the corner of a drawer until the smell becomes a noticeable hum. If Kieran has his way he’ll end up in Snowy’s cage. A meal for a hamster. Shame!
The house is quiet. Peace reigns. Time for reflection. I have learned little about sprouts and even less about empathy. I do know that I will never, ever, hold a conversation with a hot dog, or a cheesecake, no matter how interesting they look. At least not in public. And certainly not when my grandsons are around. And yet, strangely, and alarmingly, Cedric is still on my mind.
My husband, bless him, hands me a glass. “Let me introduce you to a friend of mine,” he says. “This is Walter Whisky…”

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