The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2012 Results

Salad Daze

Copyright © Phil Tennant 2012

Stewart ambled reluctantly into the kitchen. Making meals for one wasn’t much fun at the best of times, but when you were on a diet it was doubly depressing. Before him, the grubby fridge door beckoned like the gateway to hell. Or the food equivalent of Pandora’s Box, containing all the evil foods of the world. Heaving a heavy sigh, he pulled open the offending door. The fridge door offered a moment of the slightest resistance, just teasingly so, and then gave in pathetically, with a responding sigh. The yellow light of the fridge cast a miserly glow across its contents.

God it looked unbearably healthy, albeit colourful. Most of the things in here barely qualified as food, so high was their percentage of water content. Most of it was more like a drink in a skin. Cucumber, lettuce, tomato, melon, grapes. He might as well get a straw, as a knife and fork. You couldn’t eat pie and chips with a straw. But then Stewart remembered a particularly drunken party, involving pie and chips, and a blender. The experiment had only been partially successful. The gristle tended to clog the straw up.

Smiling at these happy memories, he began pulling items from the fridge and tossing them on the counter. Soon he had the makings of a reasonable salad assembled. Either that or a litre of water and some pulp. He carefully shut the refrigerator door, and turned to eye the offending vegetables suspiciously. Bastards! He thought. He craved fat, lard, bacon, cheese, anything with a bit of flavour. Did water even have a flavour? It was a neutral taste, like white wasn’t colour, and the greens weren’t really a political party. Even the skimmed milk he was now forced to use did nothing to alleviate the boredom. It too tasted of nothing. All it did was made his coffee (only one cup a day!) a slightly lighter shade of brown. Its only redeeming feature was that it moistened the shredded cardboard that was masquerading as the organic muesli which he ate for breakfast.

Come to that, what did 'organic' mean as an adjective in relation to food? Stewart dug his phone from his pocket, and fired up the on-line thesaurus (Stewart was a stickler for the correct use of words, and this was his favourite app) Organic, Meaning:- 'Characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms.' Wasn’t that true of all food? All food came from plants or animals, so you could just stick the word 'organic' in front of anything, with no fear of being hunted down by the trade’s description people. Organic chocolate, organic pork scratchings, organic butter. All derived from living organisms. Muttering under his breath about the injustice of it all, he turned, and retrieved a knife from the draining rack behind him.

It had been two weeks now. Two weeks since he’d had a decent meal. Who, apart from text books, and his doctor, and the hospital nutritionist, had the right to call him morbidly obese? M-o-b-i-d-l-y obese. It had the ring of death about it. He’d looked it up in his on-line thesaurus, it didn’t even make sense. Gruesome; Grisly, pertaining to diseased parts; Suggesting an unhealthy mental state or attitude. There was nothing unhealthy about his mental state, he loved eating, and he certainly had no diseased parts. Well, apart from the rash, but that was nothing to do with his weight. If it wasn’t for the constant haranguing from his mother he’d have given up after the first day.

He turned back to the salad vegetables. They were still there. Sighing again, he pulled a tomato towards him, and picked up the knife. As he manoeuvred it into position, the tomato slipped from his grasp, and rolled across the table.

"Stay still dammit," he cursed, venting his frustrations on the unsuspecting tomato.

“It wasn’t my fault, perhaps if your fingers weren’t so podgy..” a little voice rose up from the table.

Stewart froze in his tracks. He stood unmoving, like a mannequin. After a few moments, after hearing no further voices, he tentatively reached out and grasped the tomato. Carefully putting it back on the chopping board, he stood back and waited. Auditory hallucinations were a sign of starvation, he knew that. He had researched the topic extensively before commencing this diet, and frankly he wasn’t surprised. After a while, he approached the bench, and picked up the knife again.

“Bloody vegetables will be the death of me,” he muttered under his breath.

“Actually, I’m a fruit,” came the little voice again.

“What the fuck?” Stewart stubbled away from the counter, dropping the knife on the floor as he did so.

“Well, technically, a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. It’s to do with the seeds being…” the tomato got so far and Stewart interrupted again.

“What the fuck?”

“Could you not be so liberal with your profanities please? There are ladies present,” the tomato admonished.

Stewart managed to look confused, shocked, and offended all in one expression, no mean feat.

“I’m…sorry?” he responded, still not quite believing his ears.

“Apology accepted,” said the red pepper.

Stewart looked at the capsicum. He could see no discernible mouths, but he seemed to automatically know where the voices were coming from. Still reeling from these revelations, he replied, “So, aah; capsicums are female?” was all he could think of to say.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” chipped in the green pepper, “Only the red peppers are female. And, for your information, we prefer the term peppers. Capsicum is a little racist.”

“Sorry, no offense intended.” Stewart could not believe he found himself apologising for being racist and sexist to a capsic… sorry, green pepper.

“So what were you intending to do with that knife?” asked a particularly belligerent sounding radish.

“Knife?” replied Stewart. “What knife?”

“The knife you had in your hand not ten seconds ago you fat bastard!” replied the radish, raising its reedy little voice. Before Stewart could respond, the celery chipped in.

“Hey, Marty, chill man. There’s no need to get all angry and name calley.”

“Don’t ‘chill man’ me, you doped up hippy, that lard arse was going to mutilate us, chop us up, and eat us,” the angry radish, apparently called Marty, replied. “And, as far as I’m aware, there’s no such phrase as ‘Name Calley’.”

“Hey man, don’t call me doped up. I told you, I don’t touch the stuff anymore,” the hippy celery replied.

“Don’t give me that Dave. I saw you snuffling into that left over dukkah last night,” Marty accused. Dave the celery looked suitably admonished, and kept quiet.

“God, you’re such a bully Marty, leave Dave alone. What he does in his private life is none of your business,” the lettuce interjected.

“Oh shut up Sebastian. You’re only sticking up for Dave ‘cause you fancy him, you big poofter,” Marty the radish said, rather spitefully, Stewart thought.

“That is not true!” Sebastian the lettuce screamed, in what Stewart had to admit, was a rather girly voice.

“Now, now. Let’s all calm down shall we. This is getting us nowhere,” said the Tomato (who Stewart had yet to put a name to) in a placating voice.

“It’s all very well being civilised and pleasant about things Arthur, but it did appear, at the end of the day, as if he was going to use that knife on us,” replied a rational sounding zucchini.

During these conversations, Stewart found himself surreptitiously trying to manoeuvre the knife with his foot and sweep in under the bench to hide the evidence.

“I very much doubt it Pierre, no-one puts courgette in a salad,” Arthur the tomato said.

Before he could stop himself, Stewart blurted out. “Courgette? Buggar! I thought it was a cucumber.”

“A cucumber!?” exclaimed Pierre the courgette, “A fucking cucumber? You’ll be calling me a bloody Zucchini next you racist bastard. What is it, ‘we all look the same to you’ I suppose?”

Stewart wisely kept quiet. Indeed he had always called them Zucchini, as far as he knew they were the same thing, and he often confused them with cucumber. But now was probably not the best time to bring that up. As he was quickly learning, vegetable etiquette was a minefield, and the vegetables (and fruits, he reminded himself) appeared to be easily offended.

“Look, I’m sure there was no disrespect intended. He is merely unfamiliar with our ways," reasoned Arthur, the tomato. “I mean, as far as we know, he might not be an orang-utan, and some other species of monkey entirely.”

“I’m not an orang-utan!’ Stewart spoke for the first time in ages. “I’m a human being.”

“Ha, it doesn’t like it when the shoe’s on the other foot!” remarked the Marty the radish. “Human being, orang-utan, what’s the difference?”

“Quite a bloody lot actually," Stewart replied, becoming angry now. “A fair amount of DNA, body hair, and opposable thumbs for starters. It’s not just a different name for the same thing, capsicum, bell pepper; zucchini, courgette. There all just names humans have given you."

"Is human another name for men?” piped up a rather droopy looking carrot.

“Well, yes it is, but that’s not the point. Well, I suppose it is the point really. It just the names we gave you.” Stewart was becoming exasperated.

“What like Kevin?” asked a young sounding mushroom.

“No! Not like Kevin. You are a mushroom. Vegetables don’t have Christian names!”

“Actually,” Arthur the tomato interjected, “Mushrooms are fungi, not vegetables, its to do with the spores…”

“I DON’T FUCKING CARE!” screamed Stewart, now reaching the very limit of his tolerance. “You are a mushroom, you are a tomato, you are a lettuce, you are a radish, and you are a zucchini.” He jabbed a finger at each one as he spoke.

“I’m a courgette, not a…” began Pierre.

“Shut. Up.” Said Stewart, threateningly.

“He’s talking about our slave names.” Said Marty the radish. “The names they’ve been using to suppress us for years. Just like the way he assumes we have “Christian” names. Why would a vegetable, or a fruit, or a fungi, be a Christian? I don’t think there’s anywhere in the bible that says 'And lo, Jesus gave up his life for all mankind. And also fruit, vegetables and fungi?' Does it?’”

“Right, I told you to shut up,” Stewart snapped, “I warned you, but you kept on.” He bent down and retrieved the knife from the floor, wielding it menacingly over the vegetables, fruits and fungi.

“No, please,” begged Arthur the tomato. “At least let the women and children go free.”

“Women and children?” Stewart said, incredulously. “Women and children?” he repeated again. He took several deep breaths and thought for a moment. “Okay, okay. Here’s the deal. All the women and children put your hands up, and I’ll let you go.”

All the food just sat there, looking inanimate, and a little disgruntled.

“That is not funny,” said Arthur the tomato, who until now had been the voice of reason among the salad fixings. He didn’t sound happy. Stewart’s shoulders slumped.

“Look, I’m sorry, okay. I’m just finding the fact that I’m arguing with a bunch of veg… I mean a collection of salad things? (no-one seemed to object to this, so he pressed on) very, bizarre and troubling. How come you haven’t spoken to me before?”

“Because you’d never spoken to us before, it’s only polite,” Arthur replied.

Stewart then remembered cursing at the tomato as it rolled away. It made a perverse kind of sense. At least as much as anything did in his current situation.

They stood in silence for a few moments. Then, from the direction of the refrigerator came the sound of a muffled voice, shouting what sounded to Stewart like a stream of expletives.

“Oh, sorry. That’s Marty’s brother, Karl,” apologised Arthur.

"Sounds like he’s got a mouth on him, what’s his problem?" asked Stewart.

“He has Tourette’s Syndrome,” replied Marty, tersely.

Stewart stared at the radish for a moment, then said, “A radish.” Marty nodded. "With Tourette’s.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes, do you have a problem with that?” Marty responded.

“Yes. Yes I do actually. I have a problem with that. In fact I have a problem with everything. Swearing vegetables. Talking vegetables. Female vegetables. Atheist vegetables. Hippy vegetables.” Stewart began backing away from the workbench towards the door. “Buggar this for a game of soldiers. I’m going out for a double burger with cheese, AND NO SALAD!” With this Stewart exited the door, and slammed it behind him.

Silence fell over the kitchen, and all was still. Then Arthur broke the silence.

“Well, that went well,” he said, happily.

“Yes,” replied Marty¸ in a much calmer voice than he had been using. “Works every time.”

“It sure does,” chipped in Dave the celery, now sounding not at all hippyish, and more Bond villainy. “The sooner we stop all these humans dieting, the sooner the human race will be wiped out by ill health, and then salads will control the world. Bwahahah!” Arthur and Pierre looked at him questioningly.

“What?” he asked. “It was the evil, maniacal laugh wasn’t it? Too Much?”

“Waaay too much Dave,” Arthur replied. “Come on. Let’s get Sebastian back in the fridge before he goes all limp.” The others sniggered.

“Oh, ha, ha. Another gay joke. Very funny. For the last time, I am not gay!” objected Sebastian the lettuce.

“Yeah, right,” said Marty. “I saw that copy of ‘Big Cucumbers Monthly’ in your side of the salad crisper drawer.”

Sebastian fell silent.

“Come on, enough teasing. Everyone back in the fridge,” said Arthur. “Last one in don’t forget to turn the light off.”