Author: Anna Russell / Labels: ,

Does the size of the aubergine really matter? None is so different from another as to be noticeable and it’s not like she wants it for a specific recipe. But still she examines each one under the synthetic light as though she’s judging a contest. I want to go home.

The skin of the aubergine is smooth and unblemished; inside lies a tougher flesh, one that does not yield easily and will offer only bitterness unless care is taken in preparation. She is the antithesis of it.

When they first sent me to her, she gave me money. She seemed to think community service was something people volunteered for and their generosity should be rewarded. When her lip quivered, I stopped trying to explain and took the cash. I bought a packet of chewing gum with it.

On my first visit, she showed me thick albums of photos that were cracked with age and I forgot who was in them when she turned the page. On my second visit she told me the stories behind each dusty ornament in the glass cabinet that dominated the living room. My third visit brought the mutual realisation that our time together needed a focus. It was that or feign interest in each other’s lives until smiles became snipes.

Cleaning was out – she had someone who did that for her while she napped. I can’t cook and she didn’t seem to want me to, so there was no sense in trying that. No garden to speak of either.

Care and interest can be mutually exclusive. I had never seen such a delicate creature until I met her. Her sweetness seemed less to do with age than a naiveté imbued in her DNA. There had been a husband once. I tried to imagine her having sex, but in my mind, it snapped her. Perhaps if she had been born in another, later era, she would have found a woman’s touch preferable, softer. Perhaps she had. I wasn’t going to ask her. The past holds no more interest for me than the future does for her. The present wasn’t something either of us had much to say about. Hovering death smells like urine and boiled potatoes.

I wish I wanted to hear her stories. I wish I could give her that. She won’t be hearing mine – the purity of her shouldn’t be sullied with my tales.

So, we had a stalemate until visit number six when she mentioned the supermarket had stopped doing home deliveries. Perfect, for both of us.

When I arrived for visit number seven, she greeted me at the door wearing a hat, gloves and coral lipstick that hadn’t quite stayed on her lips. We bought milk that day, and butter. She studied every carton of milk on the shelves before settling on just one and my visit took nearly an hour longer than it was supposed to.

Visit eight took us to the canned good aisle to pick up two tins of sweetcorn and some sardines in brine. She’s very selective about her sardines. I was late for my meeting with the probation officer after that one.

And here we are, visit number nineteen: aubergines. We’ve been standing in the vegetable aisle for over an hour. Everything looks too waxy, as if the shelved items are showroom cars instead of vegetables.

Finally, she selects the aubergine she wants and pops it in the basket.

“Ready to go to the till?” I ask.

“Yes, dear. Oh, look – a two headed mushroom! I bet your Billy would get a kick out of that.”

“Billy? How do you…”

“The day we bought the cereal, dear. You told me all about him.”

I had, now she came to mention it. Funny, I hadn’t realised it at the time. We pay for the single aubergine and I take her arm as we return to the car.

When we get to her house, I go through the ritual: place the aubergine in the crisper section of her fridge after removing the mouldy vegetables that have been gathering all week; not a single one of them with so much as a bite out of it.


Author: Anna Russell / Labels: , ,

Think Tom Waits’ voice after a night of sex and booze. Think the corner of Hieronymus Bosch’s brain that even he didn’t know was there. You wouldn’t really be close, but it’s something to work with.

I thought the cat would talk first. He seemed the type. But no, he laid dead mice at my feet like I was his disgusting queen and never uttered a word. The cactus did the talking instead.

There’s nothing wrong with me, you understand. Not the kind of wrong that needs to be whispered about behind my back, sympathetic overtones masking relief that it’s not you, fear that one day it could be. I pay my bills on time and button my coat up correctly. Folly finds me no more or less than it finds everyone else. My parents are neither happy nor sad enough to give me cause for issues beyond the usual childhood wishes of finding out I was secretly adopted and my real family are royalty from a country whose name I can’t pronounce.

The cactus just started talking.

Cacti are members of the Cactaceae family. The flowers are bisexual and, in this particular cactus, only bloom at night. I’d like to say that’s why I bought it – so that when the moon was ripe for milking I could watch flowers bloom in the half-light and be in wonder. But I bought it because I pricked my finger on it and taking home something that had made me bleed by virtue of sitting there doing nothing seemed like the thing to do.

For seven whole months, it didn’t say a word. The cat got a face full of spines in the first week after a failed attempt at domination and refused to look at it again. The seasons happened, as they do, and when spring came around, hitching a ride on winter’s coattails and thickening blades of green, the cactus told me I had nice hair. I said thank you. Manners are a reflex conducive to sanity. If you ever find your houseplant complimenting your hair, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Upon asking the cactus how life was treating it, I discovered that cacti don’t think in terms of life doing anything for them. I discovered this because it laughed at me. I asked it if it planned on creating some kind of cacti army to enslave humanity and it made a noise that sounded like what a shrug would sound like if it had a noise. Then it told me I had pretty eyes. I blushed.

When I came home from work the next day, it wolf-whistled at me. I took my hair out of its clasp. It told me the cat sometimes peed behind the television when I wasn’t home. I told it about Louise in accounting’s obsession with counting the staples in the stationary cupboard to make sure nobody was stealing supplies. It tutted at me when I reached for the cookie jar – I lost four whole pounds in a month.

We watched movies and soaps together. I discovered it had a thing for French cinema so I pretended the subtitles didn’t give me tension headaches. I started taking baths instead of showers so it could sit on the windowsill and talk to me whilst I scrubbed.
The first flower grew out of the top of my head four nights ago. It tickled. Now, the spines have begun to form on the tops of my thighs. Louise in accounting told me I looked a little green. I smiled. It’s waiting for me when I get home. Just for me.