In pouring rain, Johno Jackson looks at the 1930s semi where he’ll lodge until he finds a flat. Standing in the porch, he dumps his dripping backpack and rings the doorbell. The intense smell of boiling cabbage hits him as the door opens; stepping back in shock, he unnecessarily asks, Is that cabbage I can smell?
It’s your dinner, Valerie replies. Are you my new lodger?
Yes, I’m Johno, and you’re Mrs Valerie Alsop?
Can I leave my coat out here to dry?
I didn’t expect you to have such long hair.
Is that a problem?
Only if you use all the hot water washing it clean.
I don’t wash my dreadlocks.
But you’re not coloured.
I’m like you, coloured white.
Come in and I’ll show you the room.
Here it is, she announces, opening a door.
Wow, Johno says, I wasn’t expecting a double bed.
Every man needs a double bed, Valerie says.
To his embarrassment, Johno finds himself flushing red as he sees a folded nightdress on one of the pillows. Jesus, he thinks, she’s propositioning me, but says, I’ll need a desk to work on.
The dining room is all yours. It’s just the two of us since my husband left. Tea’s at half-five. Just follow your nose and you’ll find the kitchen.
Just one thing, Johno says, is that your nightie on the bed?
Yes. Do you mind sharing?
It’s not what I was expecting.
In the kitchen the smell of cabbage is at its most intense. Johno struggles not to retch.
You look pale, Johno, it’ll be the excitement. Sit yourself down and pour us a glass of Blue Nun.
The glass of Blue Nun doesn’t help his nausea.
Here we are, Valerie says.
Johno stares at the plate of over-cooked potatoes, a pile of soggy pale cabbage and a grey slab of meat floating in a muddy puddle of gravy. He rushes out of the back door and vomits.
When he’s finally back inside, Valerie asks, Are you ill?
I’m vegetarian and the smell of cabbage makes me vomit. No offence, but your bed’s not for me. It’s the cabbage that’s to blame.
As Johno pulls on his still wet coat in the porch Valerie sobs in the kitchen.
It’s almost dark and raining so hard that the road, beneath streetlights, appears as a fast moving river. In a terrace of once grand Georgian residences, one has been turned into The Scrumpy House. A dishevelled man of indeterminate age totters out and stands on the top of the stone steps leading down to the road. Looking perplexed, he smiles, nods, gives Johno the thumbs up, and dives onto the road, as Johno shouts, No! Cars screech and skid to a halt. A greengrocer’s lorry, swerving to avoid hitting a spinning car, sheds boxes of cabbages over the unconscious man.
The man’s still breathing as Johno throws cabbages aside. Shit, Johno thinks, if you survive this, you’ll be a cabbage yourself. Fucking cabbages.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.