When the numbers wore away, trampled down to dust through over-use and the telecommunications market collapsed as a result, Tim was forced to look for a new career. He decided to take his skills as a salesman into a more stable market and moved into vegetables, finding employment with a garrulous grocer named Gary.
There was one tiny problem. Tim had never, not once in his thirty years of human existence, seen vegetables in their natural state before. Deprived of this pleasure until now he was, understandably, a little suspicious of them. Potatoes he could deal with, so too carrots and onions, he had seen pictures of these. But when it came to the likes of parsnips, sprouts and cabbage, Tim was convinced that they were up to something.
Gary would let out a great big hearty laugh whenever Tim expressed misgivings about a cauliflower he suspected of untying his shoelaces or a courgette he thought might be taking money from the till. Although Tim’s worries took time to solve and caused bother that he could do without, Gary did like a good laugh. He could not deny that Tim was a fine salesman either, convincing customers that they would get better value for money if they switched to a potato contract rather than pay-as-you-go.
To help Tim along Gary would introduce the vegetables to him as and when he needed to deal with them. He would pick up a yam and demonstrate to Tim that this yam had no dastardly plans by cutting it open and showing him the insides. It made Tim more relaxed around the vegetables but often as not he still harboured suspicions about these strange creatures that would lie around in piles, up to no good.
As the romanesco season began Gary knew that he would have problems with this one. Half-broccoli half-cauliflower, the strange fractal vegetable, triangular, pointy and luminous green, looked to even the most veg-aware like something from outer space and was sure to blow Tim’s mind. Predictably, when introduced to the romanesco Tim harboured deep reservations, inching away and refusing to touch it. He muttered something about it being unnatural, alien, evil. After half an hour of being coaxed Tim had reached the point where he could pick up the romanesco. He would hold it gingerly at the bottom, arms outstretched a pained expression on his face whilst Gary chuckled away.
Tim was left to lock up that night, quickly tidying away the vegetables he was quite confident with and taking a little longer over the others. All he had left to clear away were the romanesco, he took a deep breath, faced his nemesis and…
“…this huge luminous beam came straight out of one of the pointy bits,” he explained to Gary the next morning, “and zapped me in the forehead.” Gary burst into an even more enthusiastic guffaw than usual, slapped him on the shoulder and walked away. Tim had not expected to be believed but continued throughout the day to insist to anyone who would listen that he had been ‘zapped.’ Colleagues and customers alike laughed off his story and the romanesco continued to sell like hot cakes (or whatever the grocery equivalent is).
But anyone watching Tim would have noticed something very different about him – he seemed to be handling vegetables – both the weird and the mundane – with a new-found confidence and an ease which he had never shown before. Tim barely noticed it himself but as he walked home from work later that day he realised that not once that day had he been struck with paranoia over parsnips or felt wrong handling radishes. He beamed to himself with pride at his accomplishment and put the romanesco to the back of his mind, it was clearly just some strange vegetable thing. He slept a sound sleep.
It was a sunny morning and Tim whistled his way to work. Breezing through the door of the grocery he stopped dead in his tracks – on his knees in the centre of the room, surrounded by vegetables was Gary, shaking and stammering, wide-eyed and haunted, looking around with terror etched into his every feature until he suddenly seemed to summon the strength to find his feet and, spluttering, he sprinted to the door and out into the street.
Tim looked at the racks full of harmless vegetables. Something was very wrong.
TO BE CONTINUED
Photograph courtesy of Jon Sullivan at PDPhoto.org (http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?mat=pdef&pg=8232).