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Under the Cauliflowers

Haworth Hodgkinson

 

It began as a blank sheet of white paper, across which she drew a single diagonal line. Shading beneath the line started to lend a sense of perspective, and before long a barren hillside was taking shape before my eyes. She added colour, the greens and browns of grass already old from the ravages of unseen weather. Soon there were ill-defined objects appearing on the hillside, creatures of some kind inspecting the grass. Further detail from her pencil transformed these wiry grey balls into sheep, all facing the same direction.

Another line became a wall, and then a road. On the right hand side of the picture was a derelict barn, and on the left some old farm buildings, at first looking empty, but then with grey columns rising from the farmhouse chimneys. A tractor pulling a slurry tanker left a wet trail along the road.

But that wasn't smoke rising from the chimneys, I realised, as the columns soon began to branch. Were they trees growing in an old abandoned dwelling, I asked.

‘No! Cauliflowers!’ she replied, as the branches subdivided into rounded florets. ‘Look at these!’ she added, pointing to the oversized slugs and caterpillars that were starting to crawl along the stems. There was a mixture of pride and revulsion in her eye at the monsters she had created. Next she drew herself in the centre of the picture, and then me by her side. She took me by the hand and led me along the lane towards the old farmhouse so that we could have a closer look. We could hear the caterpillars crunching through the canopies above each chimney.

Slowly, a large grey slug began to climb down towards us, leaving a trail glistening on the wall of the farmhouse. We stepped backwards in fear, and she set to work with the pencil again. Soon there was another figure between us and the slug, a shapely figure with a shield and lance.

‘St George,’ she explained, ‘only... St George is a woman.’

Battle ensued. St George was more agile than the slug, but her lance could not penetrate its rubbery jacket, and she was careful to avoid treading in the slime. Her designer-label trainers were brand new. The caterpillars observed from their viewpoints, and the sheep gathered round to watch. St George fenced with the slug's tentacles until the poor creature must have been cross-eyed, and when she judged that sufficient tension had built in her audience she revealed her secret weapon. From her lunchbox she produced a packet of crisps, and out of it she took a little blue bag of salt. She threw the salt over the slug, and in an agonised silence the beast began to shrivel.

The caterpillars retreated into the upper crowns of the cauliflowers as St George bowed deeply to the applauding sheep, but soon another tractor came along, with flashing lights. Two helmets climbed out and arrested St George, ‘for the possession of an offensive substance’, my companion explained. St George was bundled into the tractor and rushed away to the barn at the opposite side of the picture, now apparently converted into a jail.

St George adopted a series of heroic poses behind the bars, but the sheep returned their attention to the grass, and the caterpillars resumed nibbling the cauliflowers. But this was only to be a brief return to normality: a giant black beak and a beady eye began to take shape at the edge of the paper.

The pencil was laid down.

‘Finished! Do you like my picture?’

I tried to think how I could explain the need to maintain a sense of proportion.

‘I think I liked it best before the cauliflowers started coming out of the chimneys,’ I replied.

Evidently frustrated at my failure to grasp her sense of fantasy, she gave me a look that seemed to ask: ‘Then why didn't you say so earlier?’ She crumpled the paper and reached for a new blank sheet, across which she drew a single diagonal line....

 


Written 1995-1999
Revised 2000
Edited 2002/2008

Published in Pushing Out the Boat Issue 7, 2008
(Pushing Out the Boat)

Pushing Out the Boat 7


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