Cruciferous by JP Seabright
It was her first dinner party in the new flat, and in addition to her usual collection of friends she had also invited the gentleman from work that she was strangely attracted to but hadn’t yet worked out why.
On his arrival he presents her with a gift-wrapped bouquet of broccoli. ‘It’s a housewarming present’, he says as she receives it with surprise. ‘I know you like broccoli,’ he smiles. And it’s true, she does like broccoli, so she smiles back. The dinner party goes well, although some of the appetisers are a little undercooked and the pudding takes longer to prepare than she expected, but she has a quandary: in much the same way as when someone brings a bottle of wine - you don’t know if you should open theirs or the one you have chilling in your fridge that perfectly complements the food - she doesn’t know if she should keep or serve the broccoli.
In the end she serves half of it, deciding it would only be polite to keep some back for herself since it was given as a gift. It doesn’t really go with the rest of the food, but people eat it and find it amusing. He smiles at her a lot over dinner, so she thinks it’s meant to be amusing too, but isn’t entirely sure.
Later that week at work, he asks her out. She accepts because she thinks she likes him. They see each other a few times, going to the cinema and sometimes a museum and often out for dinner. Each time they eat out, he makes a point of telling her that he’d checked the menu in advance to ensure they serve broccoli. She laughs at this at first, because it seems funny, and she thought he was joking. When he keeps doing it, she realises he’s not joking, and she finds it rather odd.
She wishes she’d never mentioned the broccoli thing, it wasn’t such a big deal. They’d both been in a training session at work and the external trainer had attempted some awkward inadvisable icebreakers, including asking ‘what’s your favourite vegetable?’. She’d answered, ‘I like broccoli.’ Adding, ‘it’s the king of vegetables!’ The other people on the course had laughed at her insistence, including the man that she was strangely attracted to.
After a couple of months of them seeing each other, once or twice a week, he arrives at her house to take her out to dinner. When she opens the door to him, he’s standing there with another, altogether larger, bouquet of broccoli, featuring white and purple sprouting broccoli as well as the normal green. But instead of saying ‘oh that’s lovely’ and taking it from him and putting it down somewhere, she says ‘oh god, not another bloody bunch of broccoli!’ ‘But I thought you liked broccoli,’ he says in reply, clearly very hurt. ‘Yes, but not all the time!’ She says, with more than a little exasperation in her voice. He looks crestfallen, and she tries to make him feel better by kissing him on the forehead which she knows he likes.
In the car, on the way out to a new gastropub that’s in the country, he’s still sulking. He had been hoping they might stay there the night, as he’d checked ahead, and not only did they serve organic locally produced sprouting broccoli, but they also had rooms available. He hadn’t mentioned this to her yet, it was going to be a surprise, but he had bought her a toothbrush and some new underwear, something that he thought she might like. Then she would see just how generous, kind and thoughtful he was.
He had not yet seen her in her underwear, somehow they hadn’t quite made it yet. He hoped that tonight would be the night.
He liked her very much, although wished that she didn’t make such an issue about the broccoli. He thought it was funny, it was their own little joke, the thing that made them special, and demonstrated to her just how considerate and caring he was. Not like the other men in the office. But she’s being distant from him now, and they lapse into silence after his attempts at conversation are left hanging in mid-air.
After a while she says, ‘Look I’m not really sure we should do this anymore. I don’t think we’re very compatible.’ He is shocked by this and has to stop himself swerving too hard around a corner. ‘What do you mean?’ He says. ‘We like each other’s company, and we have so many things in common.’ He pauses a few seconds, before delivering his punchline. ‘We both love broccoli!’ he says, forcing the laughter out.
‘Enough of the fucking broccoli!’ She says with frustration, and he is shocked at her callousness and profanity. It makes him feel reckless, freed somehow from his attempts of polite, considerate and gentlemanly behaviour. He turns the car headlights off, he hates driving along country lanes having to use full beam, turning them up and down every time there’s an oncoming car. He does it only for a short while, just enough to scare her, just enough for her to beg him to stop, just enough for her to need him and realise how unfair and unkind she’s being.
But it’s just enough too long, and he crashes headlong into a truck turning out from a side road that hadn’t seen him in the darkness. The truck hits her side of the car first and she is thrown forward through the windscreen and killed instantly. As he lies there crushed and paralysed waiting to see if he’ll be rescued, he sees for the first time her underwear, visible now that her skirt has billowed up around her lacerated thigh and disjointed hip. Before he passes out, he notes with satisfaction that the new panties wrapped and waiting in his briefcase would suit her perfectly.
He had chosen well.
JP Seabright likes making stuff up and writing it down. Sometimes people even publish it. Their work can be found online and in print in various places. Further info at https://jpseabright.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter @errormessage. They are Assistant Editor for Full House Lit Mag.