White Asparagus

A couple spend their evening together eating a special anniversary dinner.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

To keep asparagus white it must be entombed. When the sun hits the spear it will green. The earth must be built around the plant as it grows, forcing it down, down, back into the soil, as it constantly struggles to surface. It takes three years from planting to plucking to produce an asparagus spear. That’s three years of living internment if you like it white. Three years thwarted struggle to see the sun. No wonder it costs.

He watched her thrust the spear into oozing butter, stabbing it like a sword, then ramming it through pink rubbery lips, straight down the throat without pause. Odd to imagine he might once have found that alluring. She reached for the sweet white wine she so liked. That was the fourth glass, so that soon the laments would begin. He could measure the evening’s progress by the conversation. He almost yearned to hear them. They would signal the start of the end, the drowsiness, the desire to scrape pink lips and dark eyebrows from glowing skull, to unpack the corpulent flesh from its restrictive scaffolding, then head for bed.

For now, she reached for another spear, fingers glistening with grease in the half-light. You can’t harvest asparagus by machine. A human being must bend and reach to hand-cut each stem after its long imprisonment.

A sudden light from his phone showed a message from his sister, congratulating them on their anniversary, the words spiked through with sarcasm and spite. A waiter reached forward to top up her glass. Odd, the way the public sating of certain appetites was socially permissible. Try masturbating or defecating in a room full of people dressed in their best. But eating, drinking—equally disgusting, messy, noisy—actually encouraged. Vast industries built up around the practice. Picnics, barbecues, banquets, obscenely over-priced restaurants, marking achievements or the passing of years. Even though eating contains an inherent, inevitable disappointment. We arrive at the table grumpy and ravenous and leave nauseous and wretched, knowing the cycle must begin again in a few hours’ time. No wonder waiters always seem so morose. The more expensive the restaurant, the more miserable the staff, as if depression were the chicest of all mental states.

He’d married her at a moment he’d believed he couldn’t feel worse. At a time he could imagine no greater joy than to never know passion again. Surely he could rely on her not to go, never find a better option, nor seek out an upgrade. That had proven true, but how quickly the joy of that certainty waned.

It was beginning. He could start to count out the ebbing night. Her wretched childhood, the nuns that slapped her, the cold hard floor against her knees, the blackboards she couldn’t see since her parents couldn’t afford glasses, nor the time or attention to notice she needed them. As she spoke she continued to push the oily white stems down her gullet. Mingled spit and mashed vegetation.

His small pale hand dug down for his wallet.

Melissa Todd completed an MA in creative writing at Canterbury Christchurch in 2009, and writes novels, short stories and opinion pieces.

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