A parsnip yesterday.

A parsnip yesterday.

The dentist yesterday morning patched up my threadbare molar and declared that the tooth was unlikely to last long.

“But it might see you through until… well… the end, as it were.”

“You appear to be telling me that I don’t have long to live,” I observed. “Funny, but I always expected to hear that from a doctor.”

“Oh don’t be like that,” she squealed as she hit me on the collar bone with her dental mirror. “We’re none of us getting any younger.”

“You can’t be more than twelve,” I told her.

“Oh just a little more,” she demurred, a tiny, twinkling crystal visible on a front tooth.


My mouth was a dripping tap of drool as I walked home and so I took the long route to avoid coming across someone I might know. The day was oppressively dark and layers of damp leaves slid apart under my feet as I walked. Of course it’s when you try to avoid people that they so maliciously appear and so there was Alfons, sitting on a bench, frowning at his phone.

He looked up just as I thought I’d made it past unseen.

“Dentist, is he?” he asked and I nodded, tissues still held to my jaw.

“Come and sit by me, old friend,” he said preposterously. He was clearly in a preposterous mood. “No, you’re no old friend. You are more like a mother to me. May I call you Mama?”

I couldn’t tear the tissue clump away fast enough.

“No, of course you bloody can’t,” I spat.

“You have spirit, isn’t she,” he exclaimed and he chatted a while about how mothers were the backbone of society and that we should venerate them. I cut him short when he got onto the “breasts that sag with the weight of so many children and lovers”.

“Why aren’t you at work?” I wanted to know.

“My writing life is over,” he announced, just like that, flatly and with no apparent sense of loss.

“What? What about Julius Pettigrain and Plankton and all the rest of it?”

“Oh don’t be coyful, please not,” he sighed. “You understand. Who reads us, the self-published? We are considered excrement. We are shunned.”

I couldn’t speak. I suddenly felt very low, trapped in a conversation I’d always dreaded.

He went on: “We struggle. We say we are independent. We say we don’t need nobody. We are artists. But maybe we are just all manure-makers.”

Oh where did that come from? A tear formed in the corner of my right eye. I raised the wad of spit-and-blood-soaked tissue and added the salt water to its foul contents.

There has to be some fight left. You want to survive. I needed to rise above him somehow, to crawl out of the manure.

“As a matter of interest, Alfons, how many books did you manage to sell?”


“Twelve hundred?”


“You wrote four of the bloody things.”

He didn’t seem quite as appalled as I did.

“I give it a good shooting,” he continued. “It is time to move me on.”

“On to what? What will you do?”

And without any inkling of humour anywhere about him, he informed me: “I am Nordic. I will go into crime-solving next.”


“I saw Alfons in the park today,” I told Peony later on. We were in the kitchen and I was trying to work myself up into boiling something. “He looks more and more like that chap holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. You know the one. Are you still sleeping with him?”

“On and off,” she said as she continued to scrape parsnip shavings directly onto the kitchen floor. “Why?”

“I’d just hate him to beget a child by you,” I told her. “Or indeed, you by him.”

She froze and her eyes widened with fear and guilt.

“Ah…,” she managed.

“Peony! Oh surely not.”

And of course she bellowed with laughter at the sight of me.

“Oh don’t be ridiculous, Ma!” she howled. “Look at your face. It’s boss! Of course there’ s been no begetting. We don’t do that kind of sex.”

“Well how many kinds of sex are there?” I called after her as she and the parsnip departed for the hall.

“Mum. Honestly. What are you like?”

Well how many?

I’m only like this because another birthday has been and gone. I look back at the past year and of course it is still fallow.

Fallow with a good sprinkling of manure.