• Maureen Little

A Nice Green Salad

This is a post with a difference – it’s a short story (or should that be s-hort story)! Plant based, of course. I hope you enjoy reading it – any feedback would be welcome.

She knew she would be late – again. But her tutor was sympathetic and knew the score; he just nodded when she slipped in and took her usual seat at the back of the class. She didn’t drive so she had to catch the bus which invariably got her to college at least ten minutes after the start of the morning class.

‘Ok, this morning we’ve got a plant ident session on umbellifers,’ the tutor said as he handed out a plant list. ‘We’ll start at Bed 2 over by the pond in about ten minutes, everyone, please.’

The class gathered up their notepads and plant list and headed out. She held back, waiting for Steph, neither her best friend exactly nor someone she could completely confide in, but Steph was aware of the problems she was having at home.

‘Away again, is he? Spends more time away than at home these days, it seems,’ Steph said. ‘Still, perhaps not a bad thing I ̓spose, if you know what I mean.’

She did know, all too well. He wasn’t a bad husband in the scheme of things, but it hadn’t worked out as she had thought it would. He wasn’t abusive – not physically anyway. But his almost-snide remarks were a constant in her life. Instead of either saying he did, or didn’t like, a new top, he would comment that it was perhaps a bit too trendy for her. Or, yes, he liked his chilli hot but not that hot, but never mind, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing specific, but enough, and often enough, to wear her down.

‘Yeah. Scotland this time,’ she said. ‘Four days. I lose track a bit, but he’ll be back in time for dinner.’ Her heart sank as she said it.

At first, she’d been relieved when he’d said he would have to travel more with his work. The only problem was that now, when he was at home, the almost-snide remarks had grown into full-blown snide remarks, and then into downright sarcastic commentaries. Nothing was ever quite good enough.

The horticultural course was a godsend, a lifeline. He didn’t like her working – why should she when he was earning enough, was what he kept saying. Using the money she’d been squirrelling away from the housekeeping, she’d enrolled on the one-morning-a-week gardening course without telling him – most of the time he was away and if he was at home, she could disguise it as a shopping trip.

The class gathered at Bed 2.

‘Right. Umbellifers. Umbelliferae or Apiaceae family. Here we have fennel,’ the tutor began. ‘Latin name, anyone?’ A pause. ‘No? Foeniculum vulgare.’

The tutor went down the list pointing to various plants as he did so. She hadn’t realised there were quite so many umbellifers that were ‘garden-worthy’ - one of the tutor’s favourite sayings - and she thought about what makes something ‘worthy’. Being of a suitable standard? Deserving of respect, perhaps? Worth paying attention to? Then it hit her. In her husband’s eyes she was none of these. She just wasn't worthy.

‘Ok. Now I’d like you pay really close attention to the next three plants which you’re more likely to find in the wild rather than in the garden,’ the tutor said. ‘They look pretty similar but there are important differences. First is wild carrot, Daucus carota. Note the single, tiny, very dark red flower at the centre of the umbel. That’s a really important point of identification. Also, note the solid stem. A forerunner of the cultivated carrot and edible.’ He turned to another plant. ‘Ok. Next is cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris. It has similar flowers but no red one in the centre, and it’s got triangular shaped, hollow stems. Theoretically it’s edible, but you’d have to be pretty desperate. So far so good.’

The tutor pointed to the next plant. ‘Now look at this.’ The whole group leaned in.

‘This is hemlock. Conicum maculatum. Similar to the other two but this has round, hollow, smooth stems with distinct purple blotches. And, as Socrates found out, it’s deadly poisonous. Half a dozen leaves of that in your salad and you’re a gonner, pushing up daisies,’ the tutor said, half smiling. ‘You’ve been warned!’

The group moved on to another bed.

‘Ok. Masterwort and sea holly. Astrantia and Eryngium,’ the tutor continued. ‘They may not look much like the other umbellifers we’ve come across, but they are members of the same family, nonetheless.’

They eventually headed back to the classroom.

‘So, what’s on the menu tonight for his lordship, then?’ Steph asked.

‘Oh, I think I’ll do his favourite,’ she replied. ‘Salmon with new potatoes and a nice green salad.’

(The characters and events in this short story are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental.)








#Conicum maculatum