Aubergines
Anna Russell
Break
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.
Anna Russell is a Scottish writer and poet. A selection of her poems and short stories can be found here, and her comedy blog can be found here.